Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Learning, Knowledge and Information - are the lines blurring?

My post today has a bit of an academic bent but my ruminations have been in this space for some time. Please forgive me as i take the time to deal with this

Information Management as a term disappears when studying corporate organisations. It is rare to find internal digital or logical libraries of information unless the organisation relies on information for direct income. E.g. television and radio stations, law firms, retail book stores. More so, the term Knowledge management seems to be applied to both information and knowledge and it’s use within an organisation.

It has been stated that many of the processes of production, identification and transfer of knowledge that have become known as knowledge management are not actually new and have been in place at organizations for years (Jeffrey W Alstete, 2003) (Firestone and McElroy 2003) state Knowledge Management is a management discipline that seeks to enhance organizational knowledge processing. Knowledge Management is also human activity that is part of the interaction constituting the Knowledge Management Process (KMP) of an agent or collective.

This last definition reduces KM to the definition of a process. The process is an ongoing, persistent, purposeful interaction among human-based agents through which the participating agents manage (handle, direct, govern, control, coordinate, plan, organize, facilitate, enable, and empower) other agents, components, and activities participating in basic knowledge processing (knowledge production and knowledge integration), with the purpose of contributing to the creation and maintenance of a unified whole system, producing, maintaining, enhancing, acquiring, and transmitting the enterprise's knowledge base.

However, (Wilson 2000) states “In all of this, the term knowledge is avoided, on the grounds that knowledge is knowable only to the knower. It cannot be transmitted – only information about the knowledge I have can be recorded and accessed by another person, and that information can only ever be an incomplete surrogate for the knowledge. Hence, knowledge management systems are nothing of the kind – they are, at best, information systems, just as information systems in the past used to be nothing but data processing systems – and, in some cases, still are”

Ultimately the tremendous amount of information that is generated by organisations is only useful if it can be applied to create knowledge within the organisation. Building and managing knowledge is one of the greatest challenges that faces organisations in the twenty first century. We hear a lot about the knowledge economy and for many organisations it is their knowledge or ‘know how’ that defines their competitive advantage.

However we cannot ignore that in the corporate sphere knowledge is used as a form of management practice by which there is an intent that competitive advantage can be gained. A definition of Knowledge management could be KM is first and foremost a branch of management, which makes it a social science. Moreover, it is a branch of management that seeks to improve performance in business by enhancing an organization’s capacity to learn, innovate, and solve problems. (Firestone 2003)

However, Firestone and colleagues have posited that there is a new form of Knowledge Management hailing from ‘criticalist’ epistemology. The criticalist denies that knowledge is knowable with certainty and relies instead on a fallibilist perspective, largely influenced by the philosopher, Karl R. Popper. Popper’s Critical Rationalism lies deep at the heart of developed theories of the new forms of Knowledge management.The implications of this are being considered far-reaching and profound. Out of this criticalist epistemology has developed a new type of organisation in which knowledge is continually being developed and is always open to criticism: “The Open Enterprise.” Creating and maintaining such environments, even as command and control styles of management continue to prevail, is the overriding tenet and challenge of this so-called, New Knowledge Management.

An in all of this consideration there lies the enabling factor known as learning. Learning, in the conventional definition, is the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, attitudes, or values, through study, experience, or teaching. To be counted as learning, it has to lead to long-term changes in behavior potential; in other words, it has to generate new capacity for alternative behaviors of an individual in a given situation in order to achieve a goal. Learning may be viewed as a change in activity, in the structure of behavior, and in a person’s mode of engagement in social practices (Packer, 1993:264). It is change in mind—metanoia, as Senge (1990) calls it—but also change that is reflected in action.

Our challenge, is to begin, again, to unblur the lines and understand more, the relationship between learning, Information and Knowledge management.

"You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say. "

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