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Knowledge Management

Basics of Knowledge Management, Knowledge Management in the Organization, Knowledge Management and the Individual

Due to the wealth of information, the knowledge explosion, and the rapid development of information and communication technologies at the start of the twenty-first century, it is essential to handle complex information and knowledge intelligently and responsibly. Therefore, it is necessary to manage knowledge on an individual as well as on an organizational level. Knowledge management basically encompasses the deliberate and systematic handling of knowledge and the precise use of knowledge in organizations (companies, schools, universities etc.). However, if knowledge management is to be established as a long-term strategy, it must address the following factors simultaneously: individual, organization, and technology.

In most cases an organization's involvement with knowledge management is not the end in itself but connected to specific goals, that can be deduced from the organization's superordinate goals, either directly or indirectly. In other words, to be economically justifiable, knowledge management has to contribute added value to the organization's efforts to meet its overacting goals. This "value added" must be specific and measurable in relationship to organizational goals and their achievement.

Basics of Knowledge Management

The formulation of knowledge goals is the starting point of knowledge management on an individual as well as on an organizational level. The process of knowledge evaluation can be seen as the end of the knowledge management processes. There is a feedback look from evaluation to goals in that the results of the evaluation may lead to changes in the knowledge goals. A wide range of possible tasks and processes are relevant between goal setting and evaluation. These can be grouped into four kinds of processes that are closely connected and interactive: knowledge representation, knowledge communication, use of knowledge, and development of knowledge. These categories describe the knowledge management processes on an individual as well as on an organizational level.

Knowledge goals. The formulation and identification of knowledge goals is necessary to provide the initial direction for the knowledge management activities. Carefully planned knowledge management processes are the basis of knowledge goals on an individual as well as on an organizational level.

Evaluation. Evaluation can be seen as the final stage of the four knowledge management processes. On both an individual as well as on an organizational level it is necessary in evaluation to estimate if the knowledge goals have been reached within this context.

Knowledge representation. Knowledge representation describes the process of knowledge identification, preparation, documentation and actualization. The main goal of this category is to transform knowledge into a format which enhances the distribution and exchange of knowledge.

Knowledge communication. In knowledge communication, processes are combined which concern the distribution of information and knowledge, the mediation of knowledge, knowledge sharing, and the co-construction of knowledge, as well as knowledge-based cooperation. These activities necessitate two or more people communicating directly, indirectly face-to-face, or in a virtual environment.

Development of knowledge. The development of knowledge includes not only processes of external knowledge procurement (i.e. through cooperative efforts, consultants, new contacts, etc.) or the creation of specific knowledge resources like research and development departments. The formation of personal and technical knowledge networks are also part of the development of knowledge.

Use of knowledge. Use of knowledge focuses on the de facto transformation of knowledge to products and services. This category is of special interest because it shows the effectiveness of the preceding actions in the range of the categories such as knowledge representation, knowledge communication and development of knowledge.

Knowledge Management in the Organization

With the goal of knowledge management to develop the potential for learning of individuals and organizations by developing, exchanging, and using knowledge, knowledge management can be seen as a prerequisite for innovations in organizations.

In this context knowledge management is often regarded as a concept and instrument for the realization of the metaphor of the learning organization. Concepts regarding the learning organization emphasize almost the same goals as knowledge management; but in actuality knowledge management can be regarded as a prerequisite for the creation and maintenance of a learning organization. If an organization (company, school, university etc.) is able to handle its knowledge resources well, it can react to shifts in the marketplace faster and more flexibly. Thus it demonstrates its capability to learn. The learning ability of employees provides a major competitive advantage in the framework of the increasing market pressure. In this context, individual and team-based learning are as important as the documentation and distribution of knowledge within an organization.

Knowledge Management and the Individual

The individual as the initial point of knowledge management has been neglected, especially as knowledge management has become a topic important in the business world. Most companies at first relied on technology-based knowledge management, which has mostly led to the implementation of databases.

On the basis of an intensive analysis of the subject of knowledge management, the conclusion can be drawn that most attempts to manage the resource of knowledge have failed. Today it is clear that knowledge management approaches can only be successful if the individual plays a major role in the process. But it is the individual acting as a member of a community that is critical. Etienne Wenger introduced the idea of communities of practice in the workplace as providing added value to companies. According to Wenger, a community of practice is a community in which the members are informally bound by what they do together and by what they have learned through mutual engagement in these activities. Communities are highly self-organized, and it is the responsibility of the members to control the community and distribute the work among its members. Thus self-management, communication skills, the capacity for teamwork and the handling of knowledge are valuable skills for the members of communities. These individual knowledge management competencies are not only important in the range of communities but also for life in a knowledge society. To be able to cope with the new challenges of a knowledge society these skills become core competencies of every individual.

Knowledge Management in Formal Education

It is the task of schools and universities to provide students with basic knowledge management skills needed for life in a rapidly changing society. However, the traditional system of schools and universities does not meet the requirements of a knowledge society. Schools and universities should be transformed into learning organizations where knowledge management comes to life. The core aim should be the mediation of deep understanding of topics and the development of individual knowledge management skills. This new orientation requires a holistic change process in schools. In schools the analog of communities of practice is learning communities. Learning communities offer multifaceted possibilities for the integration of knowledge-management processes in schools and universities. Communities can be developed among the learners within the school. Thus long-term and deep engagement with a topic, inter-disciplinary learning, and the development of social skills can be facilitated. At the same time, the exchange of knowledge between the teachers can be stimulated by implementing communities among teachers. In this context the initiation of a community that reaches out over the school boundaries can further enhance this process of knowledge sharing and mutual learning.

Issues in Implementation

In this context the question arises of how the implementation of knowledge management processes to organizations can be facilitated. Within the field of knowledge management, research activities are still limited primarily to case studies. On the basis of several case studies with focus on small and medium-sized companies, six critical success factors for the implementation of knowledge management processes have been found. These factors can also be applied to different kinds of organizations (companies, schools, universities, etc.).

Corporate culture. Successful implementation of knowledge management is closely related to the corporate culture. However, these cultural changes need time. In the context of the implementation of knowledge management activities, it is important to know how knowledge management initiatives interact with the culture and to determine how the culture should be changed.

Qualification of employees. The competencies and motivation of employees strongly influence the success of knowledge management. Thus human resource development and the design of incentive-systems are highly important.

Learning culture. The implementation of knowledge management can be seen as a step-by-step learning process which has to be nurtured.

Management support. Knowledge management activities only have the opportunity to be successful if they are supported by the executive board.

Integration of knowledge processes to organization's processes. It is important to connect knowledge management closely to the organization's processes in order to gain acceptance and for reasons of economical legitimacy.

New information and communication technologies. The implementation of knowledge management does not necessarily have to be connected to an investment in new information and communication technologies. The potential for such technologies evolves only if the cultural and organizational conditions exist.

To confirm and empirically verify these findings further research–basic as well as applied research–is needed in the field of knowledge management. Basic and applied research should be closely connected. Moreover, research questions should be oriented on authentic and current problems. Research initiatives on knowledge management should be designed to be interdisciplinary and extremely precise. Furthermore they should be based on a wide range of methods.


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