Verna Allee whom I met last year wrote yet another article on "e-learning vs. Knowledge Management", which proves that the debate is not over yet. For Verna, elearning companies really offer training management, and do not master the basic theory and practice of knowledge management, which views learning as a social activity taking place in communities.
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...
The elearning pundit George Siemens
comments on this article to criticize it.
Any view that doesn't acknowledge that KM is a learning process is flawed. It's all about learning - KM, information management, elearning, performance support, content management, etc. KM is not a thing to itself. It's a tool for organizational learning (and, as a by product, organizational effectiveness or capacity to achieve intended goals/strategies). Those who over-hyped KM (and made a valuable concept largely meaningless) fail to understand that KM was never about managing knowledge. It was, and still is, about achieving other goals. It's a means.
This eerily echoes some of the discussions I had with our e-learning specialist here in my company. He was in charge of the e-learning program back in 2000, which was really at that time about online training, and presented to the management as a cost-cutting program. Managers loved it, so he had most of the "knowledge" budget at that time, and my community approach to knowledge management was deemed "nice to have" but not essential to the business. After two years, it became clear that communities of practices worked better than expected for learning, and that e-learning did not deliver according to its promises because employees tended to shun online courseware. So our e-learning guy decided -and rightly so- that our elearning approach had to move towards more collaboration and interaction between the learners to be successful. So he introduced Moodle
in the company as an open source learning platform that allowed students to organize as a community of learners. I thought was a good thing (In fact it was I who found and tested Moodle in the first place). And because the choice of a software tool is always -always- a political agenda, the result was an attempt to standardize the Moodle platform as a collaborative tool for e-learning and communities of practice, under the supervision of the same manager of course.
I tend to think that the importance of learning and intelligence gathering is now generally accepted by all managers. But how to do it is another issue. Those who take a top-down, cost-driven, IT-driven approach will tend to favor "learning management systems" (LMS) and synchronous collaboration tools like Breeze because they are somewhat more familiar and easier to justify as cost saving tools. They address the company's learning needs from a management perspective. Those who take a grassroots, knowledge-driven, social-driven approach will tend to favor social software and asynchronous collaboration tools like wikis which are not as easy to understand because they create a new type of working space. They address the company's learning needs primarily from the employee's perpective. To me this is in essence the true origin of the opposition e-learning vs. knowledge management. In the end, it's always of question of who reports to whom, and who controls Information Management systems, which are becoming an everincreasing source of power in large organizations.
Oh, by the way, our e-learning specialist eventually left the company.