Fall 2000

 

See some of Allee's other writings

The Knowledge Evolution: Expanding Organizational Intelligence. Verna Allee, 1997. Read an excerpt.

New Tools for a New Economy. V. Allee. In Perspectives on Business and Global Change, Vol. 13, No. 4, December 1999 World Business Academy. 

Origins of Knowledge (interview with Verna Allee). Exec! On-line edition, February 1998.

The Value Evolution. V. Allee. From Journal of Intellectual Capital Volume 1, Number 1, 2000 [Requires Acrobat Reader]

The Art and Practice of Being a Revolutionary. V. Allee. From Journal of Knowledge Management
Volume 3, Number 2, 1999. [Requires Acrobat Reader]

The Knowledge Economy. V. Allee. May 2000

Knowledge as a Resource V. Allee. May 2000

A New World of Value. V. Allee. May 2000

Visit Verna’s Website http://www.vernaallee.com.

Visit Karl Eric Sveiby’s website http://www.sveiby.com

 

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At those big training conferences, I love wandering the exhibition halls. Most of the old-line stand-up training companies have either disappeared or languish in lonely obscurity in dark corners, relegated to some undesirable low budget spot uncomfortably near the trash bins. Hogging the choice spots these days are the big glitzy elearning booths with multi-media showstoppers, swarms of fresh-faced sales people, and dazzling lists of offerings and features. Not the least of their attractions are innovative giveaways such as boldly emblazoned psychedelic gel markers and chocolate in myriad forms.

I’m not merely trying to learn all the latest gizmos, buttons and whistles. What I most enjoy is actually talking to the people who eagerly staff the eLearning booths and tallying up the dizzying number of misconceptions, conceptual leaps and outright hoodwinks they innocently bandy about. I especially relish chancing upon the elearning booth that suggests they have the ultimate knowledge management solution. Hmm…really?

Upon closer investigation, I rarely find anyone at the booth who even can define what they mean by knowledge management. At the huge Training 2000 exhibit, I found only two people who had read a book on knowledge management. No one had read anything on intellectual capital (only the most powerful new thinking about business strategy and learning of the last fifty years) or, they would blithely reassure me that developing elearning courseware allows a company to manage "all" its knowledge.

I don’t think so. Most elearning companies really offer training management, not knowledge management. There is a very big difference.

eLearning could be a cornerstone of knowledge management but most elearning companies have failed to master the basic theory and practice of knowledge management. They not only cannot intelligently speak about knowledge management practice from a marketing perspective, they don’t even have a coherent internal understanding of knowledge management or a serious knowledge management strategy of their own. Nor can they speak the language of business results other than in terms of ROI (return on investment), completely missing the huge strategic impact of intangibles and intellectual capital measures.

A couple of months ago, as I wandered that exhibit hall, talking with people from literally every major elearning company, I found the prevailing language of elearning was focused around "build and distribute." How is that different from the classic industrial age production line model of design, build, and deliver based on old assumptions about expertise and learning?

How could elearning companies expand their offerings to offer real knowledge management solutions? How would this classic training model have to change if we really incorporate knowledge management principles? What does it mean for the kinds of features and services elearning companies will need to offer or partner with? Let’s see.

1. It’s not just about ROI, it’s more about building intellectual capital. Knowledge and learning is a much bigger business story than return on investment can capture. Traditional ROI concerns efficiency and cost reductionthe classic industrial age way of telling the business story. The newer and more powerful way of telling the story about knowledge and learning is to focus on intellectual capital and build the capacity for the future. Intellectual capital is not jargon or a buzzword. There is a whole body of very serious thought and practice essential for anyone who wants to make a strategic case for investment in learning.

    What this means for elearning? Marketing teams and consultants need to master this new language of knowledge management and intangibles. Check out the recommended books and resources list on my website or browse the articles there. Want a really rich learning site? Go to Karl-Erik Sveiby’s website. Karl-Erik is a founding father of both knowledge management and intellectual capital.

    2. It’s about learning communities as well as individual learners. Knowledge is a social phenomenon. We learn through experience, application, and conversation in community with our peers. We are on the verge of an explosion of interest in communities of practice and knowledge networks. Read Etienne Wenger’s book on Communities of Practice, or he and Bill Snyder’s article "Learning in Communities" in the last issue of LiNE Zine, or John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s The Social Life of Information. Chief Knowledge Officers and Chief Learning Officers are putting more and more focus on building learning communities. This learning frontier is one that few elearning companies are addressing intelligently. (Please note: a community is not a portal or software.)

    What this means for elearning? Build in the capacity to profile whole communities of people. Companies need ways to make the experts more visible to each other and to the entire organization. Some elearning companies are getting the picture very quickly. Docent, for example, has a built-in model for developing skill profiles and links to human resource information systems databases, such as PeopleSoft. Look for more features that will help people pull up a variety of demographic profiles like "weather maps" that show the distribution of skills across entire communities and populations or even communication linkages.

    3. Experts are everywhere. The prevailing assumption built into most elearning models is, "We know what is best. We will tell you." The usual design process includes identifying the subject matter expert or experts as partners in the design effort. Seems to make sense if that were really how knowledge happens. There are two challenges here. First, only the most routine of processes and procedures really lend themselves to training and job aids, including elearning. The non-routine or more expert levels simply cannot be captured in readily taught formulas. More advanced levels of knowledge and skills are learned in tacit ways, by actually hanging out with the experts.


    Second, any expert will tell you that people usually don’t follow a process or formula or steps. They want to tweak it or put their own spin on it. People, however, will support what they help create. So the real "experts" are the entire community that needs the knowledge, creates it, identifies what is most valuable and continually renews, validates and revamps it. Burck Smith, reporting in the May/June 2000 issue of
    e-learning magazine reminds us that "when distributed learning or technology replaces a highly formative or socializing environment…distributed learning and technology perform poorly."

    What this means for elearning? Ultimately this means putting the means of production of knowledge (and the elearning modules that spin out of that) in the hands of those who need itthe communities of practice and expertise within the company and the extended enterprise. This requires a radical rethinking of how courses (web or otherwise) are really created. Just as most elearning is focused on the individual learner, most design work currently focuses on an individual expert. Upfront work with the learning community is far more important than most elearning companies realize. eLearning service providers can contribute more consulting support to really identify the community of users and the community of experts. Then they can build in ways to work with that community through the life of the elearning module to assure that it is relevant and continually updated.

    4. Quality learning requires quality knowledge objects. Fully appreciating and utilizing the community of experts and users is the surest path to high quality knowledge objects. A knowledge object is any document, schematic, drawing, tool, software, job aid, or guide that helps people do their work. Too frequently training courses use obsolete materials or irrelevant examples. The best of elearning is built around or linked in directly to the actual knowledge repositories that are continually renewed and updated by the learning community.

What this means for elearning? Peer3, a recent spinoff from TSC is expanding their offerings beyond elearning to include people-to-people profiling, people-to-knowledge capability as well as people-to-learning modules. They are creating ways for real communities of practice and user groups to create real-time knowledge objects that can be rolled into elearning modules. For example, instead of a diagram being dropped into an elearning module, the module may link directly to a repository or website that is a real-time resource for a community of workers.

For elearning providers to really support knowledge management, they would expand their focus to learning communities and link to the real-time knowledge object repositories that people use in their daily work. A more complete knowledge focus would mean having the capacity to:

 Connect people to people in ways that build learning communities

 Support learning communities in creating knowledge objects

 Connect to those knowledge objects in elearning modules

 Create expertise and learning profiles of the community...

How many of these steps in creating, socializing, and applying knowledge do you really support? Do your product and service offerings cover the whole spectrum? Then you can indeed claim to be well on your way to helping companies leverage their knowledge assets.

Verna Allee is an internationally recognized thought leader in knowledge, intangibles, and new business models. Her book, The Knowledge Evolution: Expanding Organizational Intelligence is available in four languages and was declared one of the top 25 business books in Australia in 1998. You can reach her through her website http://www.vernaallee.com or e-mail her at verna@vernaallee.com.

 

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