Knowledge Management?

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article today entitled, “Companies Struggle To Pass On Knowledge That Workers Acquire.” The website requires a subscription but you might be able to get the article here. The article describes a common problem in business today, namely how firms lose the knowledge learned by workers on the job when those workers leave their position.

We’re all “knowledge workers” now. But few organizations have figured out how to share knowledge among employees, or to pass it on when employees leave or change assignments. … Business gurus have offered dozens of potential solutions. Most involve technology, like asking employees to submit tidbits of expertise to a database that other employees can tap. But few of these efforts have produced big payoffs.

Describing one initiative to capture that knowledge, the author notes, “[T]he technicians were reluctant to submit tips. They didn’t “find it natural to write down what they knew.”

As I read this article I couldn’t help thinking of the parallels with academia. It seems to me that academics are even more reluctant to talk about their craft than most professionals. And yet teaching really is a craft or an art. It’s not something you can learn from a book. The sad thing is that most of us don’t really know how our colleagues do what they do in the classroom. It seems ironic given that we’re in the business of public speaking, just as long as its not too public, I guess.

There ought to be a serious way we could capture that knowledge and share it with others. (Sounds like a job for our Teaching Innovation Program.) But every idea I come up with tends to be trivial–like asking faculty to write down their teaching tips and putting them on a webpage. The best teaching insights I’ve found to date I’ve gleaned from reading teaching blogs, but few of my colleagues at Mary Washington blog.

I’m not too optimistic about finding a solution to this. As the article notes,

We don’t necessarily understand enough yet about optimizing the conditions for knowledge work, even though we’ve been doing it for 25 years,” says Hadley Reynolds, research director for the Delphi Group, a consulting firm. “Most organizations are still managing as if we were in the industrial era.”

That goes for academia, too.

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1 Response to Knowledge Management?

  1. Gardner says:

    Great post. I have to get hold of this article. DTLT is trying hard to come to grips with this issue, and the lessons for academia are, as you note, clear. But will we learn?

    I think blogs are probably the place to start. It would also be very helpful if our online course activities were not locked away in Blackboard.

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