Knowledge Management, E-Learning and the Modern Enterprise

15th January 2015

The old and rather clichéd phrase ‘knowledge is power’ is one that many of us would accept to be a truth in the modern age where for the most part, knowledge is at our fingertips in the form of the web. In business however, it’s not just the power of knowing more and better than your competitors might, in the contemporary enterprise, knowledge is also very valuable in terms of revenue and empowering a workforce.

The idea of knowledge management is nothing new, and there’s been plenty written in recent years concerning management and the rise and growth of knowledge workers. In the past, these employees might have kept what they know mostly to themselves, not least because the older intranet just didn’t enable the management and sharing of such knowledge. This is due to the way that older intranets were constructed, which was really just as a repository for sharing files and internal messaging. The modern intranet though is a completely different animal and one that allows for a range of working practices to be carried out which enable workers to do their jobs more efficiently and productively, whilst learning and sharing knowledge.

Intranets now also contain:

  • Learning environments such as LMSs, e-learning systems
  • Social media aspects such as IM, wikis, profiles, message boards
  • Shared workspaces for collaborative practices

As well as much more. This newer intranet sets the scene perfectly for knowledge sharing, something which in the past has been difficult to do thanks to the way that knowledge tended to filter down from the top. Further to this, intranet based permissions often meant that the only people with access to this knowledge were those that possessed it or those that it was sent directly to.

The Modern Approach to Knowledge Sharing

These days, not only do the social aspects to the intranet give organisations the opportunity to more effectively share knowledge throughout the entire enterprise, they also ensure that an organisation can maintain that knowledge even when a key worker leaves. The way that it’s stored and shared over the intranet means that it becomes a company asset in itself, rather than just the knowledge of one person.

According to Isabella Norén Creutz and Matilda Wiklund, quoting Wang in Learning paradigms in workplace e-learning research: “In the new economy, knowledge becomes the primary source for competitive advantage. Finding ways to help employees to become productive knowledge workers is thus imperative for any company seeking to sharpen its competitive edge.”

Knowledge management itself is not the popular term it once was, since the introduction of e-learning has given rise to further discourse on work-based learning with regard to technologies, collaborative practices and productivity. However, learning management is perhaps more important now than ever before, as technology has allowed for better sharing and retainment within the organisation.

Knowledge management can be defined as “a process for sharing knowledge within a business. Of course you can’t actually share knowledge, which only exists in brains. What you can do is make it easier to use one person’s knowledge to solve another person’s problem. So Knowledge management actually means sharing information about knowledge.”

In order to fully benefit from the knowledge contained in the organisation, it’s necessary to add social elements to the e-learning platform and to the intranet itself. This means that a business that’s to be successful in applying an e-learning environment must be one that’s both “knowledge-based and collaborative.”

However, in order to establish if the benefits outweigh the costs, and organisation must ask itself:

  • If training alone is enough to ensure that knowledge management is also necessary
  • If knowledge management can lessen the need for more training
  • If the LMS and its social elements provide enough content to support e-learning initiatives
  • If learners should be directed towards knowledge repositories in order to supplement elearning

Knowledge management can be built into the LMS by as aforementioned, adding social elements to the LMS. But this isn’t enough without content of course and as such it’s also necessary for learning and development professionals in charge of the LMS and e-learning to ensure that the LMS is populated with comprehensive, easy-to-find information. This can be done by the learners themselves who add to wikis, write blogs and use forums, message boards and shared workspaces in the course of their job and their learning.

This not only provides a useful and valuable learning repository, but it also ensures that knowledge is shared and retained within the organisation and used for training future and existing employees. Even if one worker with a large amount of knowledge then leaves, they don’t take their knowledge with them, thus giving their new employer an upper hand, but it’s retained within the organisation for further use in training scenarios and for further development.

Knowledge management and indeed knowledge workers are a powerful asset to any modern organisation and those that recognise and seek to use this will gain a competitive advantage. E-learning and LMSs can help to facilitate and populate knowledge repositories and allow employees the opportunity to share what they know. This gives rise to a more healthy company culture as employees that are allowed to contribute to the knowledge base, participate in collaboration and become more empowered through training feel that they’re trusted. In turn, this allows for the employee to become more productive as an employee that feels valued will naturally become more productive. It’s in many ways a means of fostering a people-centric organisation which, because it values its workers, has the edge over competitors that utilise a traditional top down model.

Knowledge is indeed power, for the worker, who becomes happier in their work and more productive, and for the organisation, which retains important information and improves their bottom line.

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