Learning + Knowledge = ?

Learning & Knowledge = ? is an article that I wrote recently for Training Magazine Australia. It explores merging your Knowledge Management and Learning & Development teams & activities.

It deliberately downplays the philosophical for the practical but let me stress that was a tactical decision for the article – I am interested in many facets of this topic. I would like to thank Cory Banks, Alison Bickford, Barbara Clay, Miguel Cornejo Castro, Mark Gould, Patrick Lambe, Neil Lynch, Kate Pugh, Liz Reuben, Greg Timbrell and Peter West for their input (if I’ve forgotten anyone then please let me know).

I’d also like to get your comments – see that comments box just below this post? Go on, I’d love to hear what you think.

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31 Responses to Learning + Knowledge = ?

  1. Bill Dixon says:

    Your article was well done and is timely for many learning, knowledge, communication, and HR professionals.
    I am a member of a KM function in an organization that also has a formal Communications department and a somewhat separate Learning team. Our respective teams are starting to learn to collaborate with one another, but we have a long way to go. The fact that we continue to refer to these three functions separately suggest we have room to grow. The observation that “those with little organizational power will attempt to get it by stepping on others” is a point well taken. Our organization is geographically dispersed, with operations in over 100 offices, only 72 of which are in the US. Collocation of a core team may alleviate some kinds of problems. However, experience has demonstrated partial collocation introduces new challenges when trying to avoid playing favorites among groups and building mutual respect.
    The Case Study provided a great affirmation for one of our recent initiatives. Our KM Steering team recently recommended the adoption of a flexible approach to connecting people to documents, people to groups, and people to other people. Called the “Enterprise Intellectual Capital” model, the approach is intended to strategically direct resources, tools, and best practice to the forms of connectedness that are most effective for each of our functional teams.

  2. Matt, as you suggested here’s some of my earlier feedback. Some of it you’ve addressed, and I particularly like the closing references to storytelling and communities as points of convergence. The historical and structural challenges of integration still remain for many organisations I believe, so here’s my piece!

    One of the principal reasons why (I think) L&D is difficult to integrate or even coordinate with KM is that it has become in many organisations functionally very specialised, expressed through mature, stable, well defined processes (eg TNA, training plans, competency analysis) backed up with a professional and academic literature – this gives it the ability to protect its territory (it’s well defined) against the much more fluid, formless and shape-shifting KMers.

    In your last section, “The Future” it’s quite possible to claim that the changes you note are challenging the traditional L&D function and stretching the traditonal ideas about the ways that learning is “delivered”. To some extent the rise of organisational learning theory which arguably forms a potential bridge between L&D and KM expresses one response to that challenge (and aspects of KM express other kinds of response), but even the OL practitioners and the L&D practitioners treat each other as very distant cousins.

    The problem of integration is not just one with L&D and KM, it is a structural divide within the heart of HR itself, between highly process-driven administrative functions that have a life and a momentum and an exclusionism of their own, set against the sense that HR needs to have a capability to rise above logistics and form-filling and be able to grasp and address the human capital aspects of strategic needs. In most organisations (not all) I have seen, the administrative function usually wins.

    So this leads me to ask, if KM and L&D did integrate, would it be a happy marriage? Would KM become tainted by the sclerosis of traditional L&D and become a highly process-driven administrative function? Or would they coalesce around their commonality and become even more obsessed with content and not flow or growth?

    My sense is that this problem can’t be resolved by simply looking/comparing/contrasting the two functions of L&D and KM, that’s too self-referential and inward looking – we need to be able to reference both functions back to the demands of the business and harden the accountability lines. Then it’s less about commonality and differences, it’s about how each function (together with other HR, IT and corporate functions) supplies the needs of the business, by working together in a coordinated way. Integration (or articulation) in response to a common problem, not integration based on anatomical similarity.

    And it’s also, I think, about getting a greater knowledge-and-learning literacy among the managerial population, so that they know how to specify their requirements, and how to manage for learning at individual, team and organisational level. It is those demands which will shape the future of both functions.

  3. I think the article is fantastic. The KM + L&D merger is bound to happen – they’re both fundamentally about ensuring people have the information they need to perform…whether that’s obtained through a knowledge network or rapid elearning shouldn’t matter.

    L&D is my background and I strayed to incorporate many of KM’s methods b/c I didn’t see the effectiveness of too much of the traditional L&D approach. Now one of my favorite soap-box topics is about connecting CLOs to the tactics of KM and related disciplines – if they don’t change with the times I’m afraid they’ll be a relic as well.

    I wrote two blog posts within the past month that illustrate my thoughts [which are very closely aligned with your paper] in response to two recent events:

    1) a Feb report from CLO Magazine highlighting how little L&D departments are changing with the needs of the workforce and…

    2) a question on the Learning Circuits blog about how L&D will look in a decade [I think your paper would make a fine addition to the responses to this BTW]



    Nice job – I really enjoyed reading it.

  4. Marcus Funke says:

    Even though I agree with many of the desired outcomes and the fact that L&D can benefit a lot from KM concepts, I’d like to add a diferent viewpoint to your somewhat monolitic approach.
    Your approach leaves the impression that KM is a monolitic function that only has one valid spot in a company. What about looking at the KM as an overarching concept that fits with many functions (and may even vary over time).
    I wholehartedly agree that L&D can benefit a lot by embracing and implementing KM concepts, but does that mean that all of KM should move into L&D?
    I would make this very much dependent on the overall business objectives/challenges and KM maturity/history of a company.
    There are many scenarios where a standalone KM Function is best to lay the foundation of KM related changes in many areas. A services business may move KM over time to a portfolio management function while a process focused company may find it best to combine it with a central quality/process function.
    The driving force for decisions should be the impact KM can make on core business results.
    A combination of KM and L&D seems to be a good approach for companies where fast and innovative learning, sharing and reuse is vital to the success of the buisness.
    AND – to get to my secondpoint – this does not exclude the need for KM in other functions.
    I am a strong advocate for embedded KM – a kind of distributed system of KM elements across various functions – with a leadership function in that entity that bears closest relation with core business.

  5. innotecture says:

    Marcus – I agree with you. This article was written specifically for an L&D audience and so stressed the links between L&D and KM. I think there are other functions where KM personnel can be active and other ways that KM principles can be applied to work.

  6. innotecture says:

    Bill – Many thanks for your observations. It would be good to hear more about your experiences as you continue.

    Patrick – I’m looking forward to the response from L&D practitioners to your comments.

    Jacob – I’ll check out those links tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Matt,

    I really enjoyed reading your article – I think it is clear, persuasive and well-written.

    However, my enjoyment was doubled with the arrival of Patrick’s thought-provoking comments as well.

    Here’s my 2c for what it’s worth: One of the dangers with your article is that you risk tagging KM as being just “part of” L&D, or a “better” form of L&D. I don’t think this is accurate, any more than you could subsume KM as part of the IT function of an organisation.

    (By the way, I don’t believe that was your intent or implication, but I do believe that some managers could read your article and reach that conclusion.)

    But I think we do need to emphasize again that KM is a very broad discipline which cuts across almost all aspects of organisational life.

    Perhaps it would be more accurate to talk about “KM-enhanced” business functions — ie L&D that embraces narrative and community; IT that moves to an Enterprise 2.0 model; or Finance that embraces a triple-bottom line model of reporting.

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  9. Interesting article, one I will “chew” on for a while. You may find that in smaller, more informal organizations KM and L&D are allready much closer. And I wonder also about what happens in networks of organizations with all the formal and informal communication going on. Also web2 has changed how KM, L&D and communication relate and interact…
    regards, Rosien

  10. Good article Matt. The linkages between KM (and even IM) and broader L&D are clear as you’ve stated – help people learn to improve productivity, how ever you define that term. You’ve also pointed out the key issues in these two groups (or any groups from different disciplines) coming together – shared language, degree of visibility (often related to funding) through funding, and the focus of the group (tactical/transactional or strategic) .

    I’ve had recent experiences trying to develop a wholistic methodology/process with an HR group that seamlessly blends succession planning, orientation and knowledge continuity to maximize benefit to shared clients, and reduced the time burden associated with two separate services groups going to the clients and different times with related questions. We had two issues that prevented us from collectively accomplishing this objective – the HR group’s lack of capacity to extend beyond its existing / pressing operational/transactional objectives, and a basic lack of common definition of “knowledge” – in the HR’s terms it meant knowledge and skill “qualifications,” and I was trying to extend the definition to include the unique experiential knowledge that people accumulate from applying their qualifications and professional knowledge working inside a situation/organization. It was a gulf that I couldn’t successfully bridge at the time.

  11. Mohamed Amine Chatti says:

    Matt, thanks for this great article. I totally agree with you that we are along the convergence path between learning and KM. I would like to share with all of you this article (http://mohamedaminechatti.blogspot.com/2008/01/future-of-e-learning-shift-to-knowledge.html), where we tried to argue that learning and KM solutions have to fuse; that we should speak about union and fusion of the two fields rather than intersection or complementary relationship between them and that the two fields are increasingly similar in terms of input, outcome, processes, activities, components, tools, concepts, and terminologies.

  12. In my organization training and KM are merged as one function. I’m a KM practitioner and conduct soft skills training session as well. Being a small organization of 1900 employees it has worked very well for us.

    I agree with one point that you raised that ‘most learning happens outside the classroom’, to enable that we have one person deployed at the operations floor – he is the Knowledge Anchor (KA). A KA identifies a trainer from the operations team and makes him conduct all the training sessions, a good writer is identified and all documentation is owned by him; this way the reach of each KM / Training initiative is better. I’m sure many of us are aware of this people architecture.

    Another aspect I feel is that people are more open to spend on Training, because its difficult to imagine any function without Training – right from the first day at the ‘Induction training’ till the moment you become productive.

    Lastly, keeping the content aspect in mind, large part of training is the content being delivered; and where does most of the content lie – with the KM team. Many organizations find it a little uneasy to keep a seperate KM Department, they see it as a cost unit.

    A solution to that is tossing any two departments together, within our Mumbai KM Community, we have one manufacturing company that has a ‘KM + Strategy’ department, another manufacturing consulting company has a ‘KM + Process Improvement’ department and you know about mine!

  13. Tony Karrer says:

    Good article. Just a couple quick thoughts …

    I agree with Jacob – “they’re both fundamentally about ensuring people have the information they need to perform…whether that’s obtained through a knowledge network or rapid elearning shouldn’t matter.”

    You seemed to skip over performance (human and business) in your description of both L&D and KM. Ultimately, unless we are in this business – we are always going to be marginal.

    You maybe should submit this as an answer to what Corporate Training will look like in 10 years on the Big Question this month:

    they’re both fundamentally about ensuring people have the information they need to perform…whether that’s obtained through a knowledge network or rapid elearning shouldn’t matter.

  14. innotecture says:

    Mohamed – Thanks for the article – will take a while to process. I deliberately downplayed the Web 2.0 aspect (noted Rosien) for the article because i. I’ve been writing a lot about that elsewhere and I wanted a breather & ii. The link between the “L” and the “K” has always been there – social software just makes it more explicit.

    But saying that, social software is forcing both disciplines to re-examine what they do and how they do – and as such is very important.

  15. innotecture says:

    Dale – I think your comments reinforce Patrick’s observations about some of the issues in mixing a genuinely holistic approach to knowledge with a narrowly focused HR function.

    What do you think we can do about that?

  16. innotecture says:

    Alakh – Small is relative. 1900 people counts as a large organisation in Australia. I think your final comments are interesting because they resemble Stephen’s options but are driven by different priorities.

    Whereas Stephen’s are guided by strategy, it sounds like the examples you mention have been guided by expedience.

    From what you have heard – are they working?

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  18. innotecture says:

    Tony – You are right – I did skip over performance – because there is a lot in both the L&D and KM literature about that (even if this plenitude is ignored rather than enacted). At the same time, the notion of “improved performance” underlies the whole article.

    If L&D and KM are not about “better” (better outcomes, better productivity, better lives) then what are they about? Nothing.

    So what do you see as being the first steps towards “better”?

  19. John Tropea says:

    Some key parts I liked:

    “we know that most employee learning does not occur in classrooms-it occurs when and where people are doing their jobs”

    “people tend to rely on those nearest them for knowledge rather than a databse”

    “L&D and KM share something simple: an interest in improving the performance of an organisation through increased capability”

    I know you avoided mentioning social computing in this paper, but it really seems to be the catalyst that is making a convergence between L&D and KM.

    In a blog post I mentioned that knowledge retention will no longer be an explicit strategy as it will happen by default, and so will learning for this matter.
    That’s because people will tune into each others radars and learn as it happens, or ask a question…this is what makes blogging and twitter so powerful…it’s kind of like KM and learning doing itself via distributed cognition http://libraryclips.blogsome.com/2009/02/01/knowledge-retention-will-no-longer-be-an-explicit-strategy/

    The differences you point out are perfect: L&D from instructional design/training and KM from databases/information science
    – L&D have to shift some training over to social learning, and KM have to leave behind all the information management stuff, and do more human-centred facilitative stuff

    People are not objects, or users…they are more complex, and need to feed when required, and need to be able to source that feed via their social filter. At the moment L&D and KM use an economies of scale approach (that is not centred around the user at all), one is train, the other is database logging and seek. Instead create conditions for people to do this themselves.

    With Snowden’s movement into complexity and decision making, I think he’s taking KM to new ground in a more organic or naturalistic approach that takes into account human behaviour, which is what I think L&D people already do when they design…the cognitive aspect along with social computing is merging these together (sense-making)

    L&D and KM both had a non-humanistic approach – one train and forget, and the other please plug your head into the database for your daily contribution, and in return you can seek the database oracle for answers. As you say both these approaches aren’t conducive to how we behave, instead we want to learn and find stuff as we do it by networking with people (this is what we do offline, so an online version of this makes great sense).

    I just want to point out one thing at my place of work. At the moment our L&D unit is more of a training unit, and our KM unit is more of an information management unit…so they are not even doing what their name suggests. L&D do some multi-media and design, e-learning, and both internal and external training in order to keep our engineers up to speed on the industry. KM do information consolidation by bringing together all our information islands, and employ a federated search.

    I commend our L&D team for their presentation sessions where graduates present to each other, and discuss. And I commend our KM team on deploying CoPs as this is has an element of good incentives to share as it happens, and transfer, via a participative system where people get to know each other and can discuss in order to re-frame information into their context.

    Where I see it going is social computing as a convergence point – both learning and transfer can happen in a social computing environment (all that, find info/people at right time, and actually probe to transfer info to re-contextualise). But in addition to this a facilitative approach where you run workshops to learn and transfer know-how from team to team – OpenSpace, Narrative, World Cafe’s, Peer Assist, Appreciative Inquiry, After Action Review, Nancy Dixon’s Lesson Learned approach, etc…

    What I would also like to see is monitor the social computing ecosystem, and highlight the gems, and pluck the talented people and request them to present, etc…

    Anyway, more of a move to a human-centred distributed approach where there is more facilitation and less prescribed methods.

    I just realised my KM review paper was on this topic…he he 😛

  20. innotecture says:

    John: Thanks. Partly. Maybe. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Thanks!

  21. Joitske says:

    Hi Matt, just read your paper and it links to what I’ve come across- in my eyes KM and OL (organisational learning) are very close but in other people’s eyes they may not be as the fields have stereotype definitions (KM= building databases). Some remarks that may help you improve the paper:

    1. I have the idea that you could make it stronger by distinguishing the fields of KM and OL (I liked the history) from where it is placed in the organisations. Some organisations decide not to have a KM function but to mainstream it.

    2. To confuse it even further: I have the impression both fields have also attracted a lot of professionals from very different backgrounds. KM is already interdisciplinary in itself. For instance, I graduated as an irrigation engineer, working on how professionals can learn together and organisations and teams can learn. I place myself both in KM and OL, but don’t care too much because I have my own ways of working, drawing from various fields

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  23. Ben says:

    Well put together article, Matt. I used to think that the merging of the KM functions into L&D was an evolutionary eventuality, mostly for the reasons you outlined. I’m less convinced that it will happen, possibly because of the tendency for KM to go underground in many organisations – kind of like the religious elements under Soviet Communism. Still practised, but not shouted about in terms of KM.

    Integrating KM & L&D now may sound like a death knell to knowledge advocates whove been through one merger too far. I remember working in an organisation a few years ago where the knowledge function was kicked from IT to strategy to communications to data, till it was finally killed by a lack of management understanding about where it fit and what it delivered.

    The commonality to me is that the 2 units are – ostensibly – probably the most people-focused areas. I think the mutual re-assurance that people ARE key to an organisation’s functioning that the 2 groups could provide is a great motivator. Most experience I’ve had with the 2 areas is that the importance of people is a shared passion.

    Patrick – I suspect the reason the administrative component wins in HR is KM’s arch nemesis – ROI. Squeezing budgets pretty much force a unit to move away from the elements that common sense tells you you should focus on (valued people work better), to things that look good on a balance sheet. Its a “luxury” that KM units don’t really have. At least they can share the pain, 4 Yorkshiremen-style (“e-learning budget halved? Luxury – we just lost all funding for our narrative exercise…”).

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  25. Roan Yong says:

    Hi Matt,

    Good article. I think merging L&D and KM looks good on paper, but it’s hard to implement. There is an issue of office politics. From what I have seen, L&D function is usually under HR department, while KM function is under either IT or Strategic Planning department – with each department has its own head of department. Who is going to give up their turf?

    Furthermore, I agree with Patrick that the L&D function is more administrative as compared to KM function. For example: L&D is often tasked to manage the employee trainings, which means ensuring that employee clocks a certain number of training hours. While KM is tasked to manage knowledge that reside within the employees themselves.

    Although learning doesn’t necessarily mean that one should learn from training courses, learning from peers – one of the goals of KM – is less visible and more difficult to measure. For example, if you spent few minutes, coaching someone on how to use MS Excel, how to capture and measure it?

    In conclusion, to ensure this “marriage” happens, one needs not only mutual respect from employees of both functions, but also a lot of political power (persuasion and a little bit of coercion) – probably CEO’s endorsement is required.

  26. innotecture says:

    Roan – I agree there does need to be political will there. And I wish that more organisations thought about learning holistically (work-based learning) rather than as just training courses. A significant number do – but not enough.

  27. Mark Neff says:

    I would probably go the other way but that is a much longer discussion that we need to get into right now. The bottom line is that learning is focused on the development of human capital which is a subset of intellectual capital which is what KM is trying to build for the company. They work together. Likewise, I would describe how we would knowledge enable the talent development organization as a way to build knowledge practices into the learning processes for an organization. What is nice is that many training organizations now recognize the value of social and informal learning so I see that some patterns from KM are starting to imprint properly. At the end of the day, it does not really matter who merges with whom. We are all connected.

  28. innotecture says:

    Mark – we are indeed “all connected”. Now – fancy being an interviewee for the book?

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  30. John Loty says:

    If you accept the social construction (of knowledge/learning) viewpoint – a foundational principle of the AI (Appreciative Inquiry) approach – then clearly you have been successful in facilitating a better understanding of KM, L & D etc.
    The number and quality of the comments your article has generated is the evidence I rely on for this 1st statement.
    Wherever our preference or allegiance may lie it is also clear that as a community of persons interested in betterment or improvement anything that assists that cause is welcome.
    Robert Wright in his book NonZero surveys a much bigger picture of “civilisations’ progress” (my phrase , not his) and concludes, as I understand it, that it is “good feelings” that are the source or driver of improvements on this world stage.
    This viewpoint is also supported by the more recent research into the “broaden and build thought action repetoire” plus repair effect of experiencing positive emotions such as joy (Barbara Fredrickson et al).
    So whatever the future may be I think the key to any successful marriage or living together (of KM L & D etc bods) will be to ensure that we strive to ensure that there is indeed joy in learning together.
    We need creativity and innovation to address the many challenges of the day and, in my view, that is more likely to happen if we remember the need to feel good and do something about it.
    I’ll give you a hug Matt – the next time I see you! 🙂
    John Loty

  31. Melanie Wass says:

    Great to see some solid discussion behind this topic and the fact it has generated thought in others is refreshing. Good luck with your publishing venture.

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