Links between concepts of learning organization and knowledge management

Organizational learning

Innovation can be usefully characterized as a learning process.
Learning is intrinsically cumulative: firms, regions and countries usually innovate along specific and quite rigid trajectories.
Technological progress and innovation usually involve a variety of learning processes which may be obtained either from internal or external sources. The relative relevance of these sources of knowledge is largely firm- and technology- specific.
Learning and innovation are intrinsically a collective and interactive process that involves access to, interactions among, integration of and complex feeedbacks between heterogeneous agents, technical skills and fragments of knowledge, competencies and capabilities.
Main concepts on organizational learning
Lewin proposed a model for change that was used also as a model for learning and that suggested three phases: unfreezing of existing system, introduction of new values and behaviours and refreezing. Unfreezing is supposed to be caused by the evidence that certain actions brought unintended inconsistencies, that should be naturally refused by human beings, determining the search for new and more satisfactory ellements to be introduced in the system.
Argyris (1992) underlines an aspect that is strictly connected with innovation processes:
“Learning is defined as occurring under two conditions. First, learning occurs when an organization achieves what it intended; that is, there is a ma

atch between its design for action and the actuality of outcome. Second, learning occurs when mismatch between intentions and outcomes is identified and it is corrected; that is, a mismatch is turned into a match.”
Moreover, Argyris differentiate between two types of organizational learning according to the reaction to errors. If there is a correction without questioning or altering the underlying values of the system, we have a single-loop learning, while if questioning and altering takes place we have a double-loop learning.
The model developed by Nonaka (1995) is built on two new aspects:
• Knowledge can be created, other than distributes
• Relevance of the relational aspect of knowledge, which is generated not only from individual learning but also from social interaction.
The model incorporates Polaniy’s classification off knowledge in tacit and explicit. These two types of knowledge are linked through four knowledge conversion processes: socialization, exteriorization, combination, and interiorization.
A list of organizational conditions that support learning processes within an organization: availability of information, management style, personal and structural resources, organizational structures and systems, rules, procedures and power dynamics, culture, external factors.
Solutions for organizational learning
Organizational learning can be promoted in different ways and using different tools.
The alternatives are selected according to the specific situation, which is determined by
y numerous factors. According to how the situation is positioned among these and other dimensions, the enterprise can use one or more of the learning solutions.

Knowledge management

Whether an innovation is developed internally or acquired from an external source, it implies new knowledge for the organization, that has to be managed in all the phases of the process in order to transform it in a sustainable competitive advantage.
Knowledge concerns a higher level of the organizational mechanisms and entails much more than information:
• it is partly tacit
• it is specific to agents and applications
• it is much less easy and more costly to transmit than information
• it is local
• its creation and use implies (often substantial) competencies, investment and efforts
• also the acquisition of knowledge from external sources (e.g. imitation) is not costless and automatic but requires pre-existing capabilities
• hence, agents will typically differ in what they know: heterogeneity in technological capabilities becomes a central characteristic of economies
• levels and distribution of knowledge become a fundamental source of competitive advantages for enterprises, regions and countries
Knowledge management consists in the ability of identifying and manage the knowledge that is available in the organization in order to build a competitive advantage, the ability of leading and managing hu

uman resources with a competencies approach and the ability of acting dynamically on accumulation/destruction/regeneration cycles of knowledge/competencies (Ruta and Turati, 2002).
Knowledge can be transformed in value for the organization in different ways: its reuse allows efficiency and effectiveness gains, while its refining and its recombination allow incremental innovations.
Knowledge management systems
There are four main expectations toward a knowledge management system:
• Decrease of research time
• Increase of effectiveness of the research process
• Quality guaranties on intercepted knowledge
• Guaranties on effectiveness of re-contextualization of intercepted knowledge
Roles that a knowledge management system should perform to meet these expectations:
• Facilitate feeding processes to the knowledge stock
• Guarantee on the available knowledge stock
• Facilitate the meeting between knowledge demand and supply
• Optimize knowledge flows, eliminating inefficiencies
It is important to underline that technology is only a mean that can be used in performing these roles. The great opportunities that technology offered also in this field have led a good number of organization to consider knowledge technology as a synonym of knowledge management, leaving aside all the rest of organizational context and focusing only on the classification, storage, transfer and retrieval aspects.
If we move from the knowledge management system level to the organizational level, the issue becomes even wider. The role of the organization (which wo
ould then be a Knowledge Based Organization, or KBO) is mainly to ensure that the knowledge creates value: that is it exchanged, it is useful, it is applied etc. The organization should, in other words, create a context that derives from the organic interaction of its parts (like for example human resources management, performance appraisal systems, organizational development, organizational structures) and is oriented to knowledge.
Six knowledge practices are listed (Ruta and Turati, 2002): knowledge technology, knowledge structure, knowledge assessment, knowledge human, resources management, knowledge culture, knowledge sponsorship.

Links between concepts of learning organization and knowledge management

Intellectual Capital Management
It is obvious that knowledge management and learning management should be more closely aligned.
Specific reasons for such integration include:
• Both learning management and knowledge management share a similar focus: how to enhance human knowledge and its use within organizations. Professionals in both fields are increasingly looking for ways to categorize and store knowledge, using a database architecture as a foundation, but success is not yet at hand. Collaboration on this critical problem would certainly be beneficial.
• There is growing realization that knowledge in an organization is distributed among its people’s minds and a variety of “knowledge artifacts” (human capital and structural capital). These are the currency for both knowledge management and learning/training work. For the biggest ROI, organizations must manage both simultaneously, as there is constant interchange between these two types of “knowledge.” 
Learning management methods and tools appear well-suited to help. On the other hand, many training and e-Learning initiatives are criticized as being over-hyped and under-performing, in terms of actual transfer and application of knowledge to the job.
Broader, More Systemic Perspectives
Because knowledge management is usually applied to high-level competency areas (strategy, planning, research, engineering, law, design, and so on), there is an assumption that people can only learn by doing. In fact, while it is vivid and engaging, learning on the job is neither foolproof nor efficient. Experts claim that to learn from experience, one needs to reflect on it; it is useful to provide learners with as many examples as possible from previous experience.
Obstacles to the Merging of Learning Management and Knowledge Management
• Organizational and functional barriers. Structurally, learning management almost always resides within the training department while Knowledge Management almost never resides within the training department, and in fact, there is almost never a typical place for the knowledge management function, people, and programs to reside.
• Complex and ambiguous concepts. Knowledge management concepts are among the most ambiguous and misunderstood.
• Divergent communities of practice. While this has begun to change, knowledge management and e-Learning/training people rarely attend or speak at the same conferences.
• Divergent technologies. Knowledge management and e-Learning have spawned totally different software sub-industries, with very few firms trying to serve both markets.
A Common Foundation of Concepts?
What content, activities and communities (knowledge, training and interactions) do the people working in our organizations actually need in order to provide the highest value to customers? It certainly depends largely on the nature of the work being done. It is useful to consider the following categories of work, proposed some years ago by Winslow and Bramer in Futurework.
Knowledge Management, Learning and Training
A good part of the reason why knowledge management and learning/training workers haven’t interacted very much is due to their differing clienteles. Learning and training applications for strategic work are relatively rare, as are knowledge management initiatives targeting operational workers. However, common applications are becoming more frequent, particularly in tactical work such as sales, customer technical support, entry-level consulting work, and so on. At IBM, where the key vehicle for enterprise-wide diffusion of strategic competencies is its global population of 30,000 managers, the firm has focused on leveraging e-Learning for core, critical and common (tactical) skills in the top priority area of management development (not just a strategic work area). In sum, executives are increasingly aware that it’s all about bringing knowledge to bear on real work for demanding customers, whatever its type.
A very troublesome concept indeed, knowledge has a broad array of definitions. We find most useful the distinction between two main types of knowledge:
• Explicit knowledge: explicit knowledge is the kind of knowledge which “can be expressed in words and numbers and shared in the form of data, scientific formulae, product specifications, manuals, universal principles, etc. and can be readily transmitted across individuals formally and systematically.
• Tacit knowledge: highly personal and hard to deeply rooted in each individual’s actions and experiences, as well as in the ideals, values and emotions that they embrace. This knowledge is difficult to process or transmit the acquired knowledge in any systematic or logical manner. Tacit knowledge is extremely difficult to capture; yet for complex work, it is likely more critical to task performance than explicit knowledge.
Knowledge Management
Karl Wiig, considered by many to be the founder of knowledge management, defined KM as “the systematic, explicit and deliberate building, renewal and application of knowledge to maximize an organization’s knowledge-related effectiveness and returns from its knowledge assets.” In terms of output, knowledge management is about getting the right knowledge to the right people, in the right form and in a timely fashion, so they can do their best work.
Key realities are emerging from the trenches:
• Knowledge sharing is not a natural instinct.
• Knowledge is usefull only turned into products, services, innovations etc.
• Organizations must strive to balance the collection and organization of available knowledge with learning, innovation and the creation of new knowledge.
• Knowledge “pushing” and “pulling” strategies work best together. Personal
responsibility for individual development is key, though.
• For some types of knowledge and some types of work, it is best to focus on supporting group interactions rather than structuring knowledge into databases and documents.
• Too much measurement can demoralize people and keep them from using, sharing their tacit knowledge.
• More important to understand how people actually use knowledge on the job.
Content (and Learning Content) Management
Content management is a large component of knowledge management. The APQC defines content management as “a system to provide meaningful and timely informatikon to end users by creating processes that identify, collect, categorize and refresh content using a common taxonomy across the organization. A content management system includes people, processes, technology, and most importantly, the content itself.” The process is illustrated as follows:
On the e-Learning side, the recently formed consortium of learning content management system (LCMS) vendors claim that there is “increasing demand for technologies that will compress the time to develop e-Learning content. In addition, there has been an increased demand at the managerial and end-user levels for more targeted or personalized learning to shorten an individual’s time to performance through the use and repurposing of standards-based learning objects.”
Intellectual Capital Management
The key goal of intellectual capital management is optimizing the continuous development of the entirety of an organization’s knowledge assets and their application to the creation of value for customers. Key processes would then include:
• Setting priorities for intellectual capital investments based on the organization’s mission, value proposition and key competencies—and monitoring/managing these investments over time.
• Developing and managing individuals, competencies and communities (functional or cross-functional groups, project teams, customer or partner groups, etc.).
• Creating, refining and managing object-oriented structured content, for use by various user communities for diverse purposes, including sales, on-the-job use, training, further content structuring, etc.
• Describing, classifying and managing unstructured content so that it is available to those who should use it.
• Creating and managing activities (individual and group learning exercises, competency assessments, online conversations, individual and collaborative Project work, mentoring, peer assistance, etc.) aimed at transferring knowledge to individuals, sharing knowledge among community members and/or putting knowledge to work for customers.
What Kind of Software?
Currently, the knowledge management and learning management software markets are for the most part evolving separately. The two markets are of comparable size.
The Learning Management Software Market
The new crop of Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS), designed to store knowledge/course components at the object level, are likely the closest application yet to bridging knowledge management and learning management.
The Knowledge Management Software Market
In a 1998 Merrill Lynch report, an enterprise information portal is defined as “.applications that enable companies to unlock internally and externally stored information and provide users a single gateway to personalized information needed to make informed business decisions.”
The leading applications will support knowledge and learning support, business process support and support for customer facing activities.
Are We There Yet?
There are signs of the coming integration.
• Ccomplementary relationship that exists between e-Learning and knowledge management. E- Learning is integrated with—and is complemented by—several KM components, including a Web-based expertise directory, numerous knowledge-sharing forums, and eight centers of excellence.
• Most e-Learning success stories are those where the social, collaborative side of learning is well blended into online, packaged learning activities. Knowledge management professionals already focus on this aspect, because their clientele often perform strategic work in a team environment.
• E-Learning/training conferences include knowledge management presentations. There is much common discussion about learning and knowledge objects, classification and taxonomies, XML, portability, ROI on money invested, etc.
• One of the reasons for the purchase is that a lot of people want to purchase the archived contents of those conversations, rather than the live product.

Leave a Comment