Wednesday, December 13, 2006

KM and Learning

Jay Cross has posted a relevant (but not necessarily new) question on his blog about the difference between Knowledge Management and Learning. Personally, I think this is a question that the learning technology industry has been debating for some time, and not terribly productively. KM and Learning are still largely separate functions in most corporates we work with. They have separate agendas, separate teams, separate budgets and separate systems. Why?

One of the reasons I think is historical. When KM first appeared it was high-jacked by the IT industry. I remember doing lots of work with Lotus and IBM in those days who were early adopters of the KM story, and have subsequently made large investments of their own resources, and of their customers in progressing the KM agenda. At the time learning was mainly about "training", and maybe it still is in many companies. I believe that, at the time, it was in the vested interest of the KM afficianados to distance themselves from training, and to create a parallel knowledge agenda, which has largely led us to where we are today.

Does this separation make sense? I would argue no, but only if we've well and truly got the message that learning isn't training. This is of course why Jay is currently asking his question. With his current focus on informal learning, the separation looks incredibly artificial. Once we focus on learning from medium other than formal learning materials, i.e. course books or their e-equivalent, the differences between KM and learning very blurred.

For us to view knowledge as something distinct from learning implies that knowledge has a purely transactional value, distinct from it being retained or used by the person accessing it. Yes there are other processes around knowledge, but similarily their are other processes around learning. I think it would be much more useful if these were part of the same not separate agendas.

This also therefore brings me to maybe the real reason why learning and KM are mainly separate - organisational vested interest. Ultimately, in most corporates, these two functions exist as distinct groups, often in different reporting lines within the organisation. Why? If what I've said is true and they should be a continuum of the same thing, surely they should be integrated. The reason why they haven't is maybe more down to organisational politics than it is to an understanding of the real differences or similarities.



jay said...

David, I am reading your blog from front to back and just arrived at this post. If management looks at an orange and workers look at the same fruit but they describe it differently, it is still an orange, is it not? Similarly if one group looks at KM through golf-course glasses and another with web 2.0 blinders, is it not KM either way?

David Wilson said...

Jay, I agree, although I'm not sure some of those philosopher chappies would! Although given KM is a conceptual thing or behaviour, I'm not sure the orange analogy is quite right. I would like to see KM and learning as integrated functions as well as integrated processes ... but the labels don't help here, at least not in most of the organisations we work with!