Monday, January 03, 2005

Education and KM

Happy New Year - I just returned from 4 days in a mountain cabin with a group of educators. As you can imagine, there was a lot of lively discussion on how to improve the education system. I was struck with the similarities between the challenges educators face and KM for my organization. I'll give some of these below.

Teaching to core concepts - I remember being in school and trying to memorize the text book and the all the obscure facts that I'd never use or even remember after the test. However, what was important (and often overlooked) was the concept - how can this be used in every day life. The challenge to teachers and in KM is to separate the core concept from all the details. We want folks to learn how to do something, but we often focus on the minute details. It takes more work to teach the concept, first you must understand the concept yourself, then decide which details are not relevant, and finally to express the concept in some context that the student can understand. In science, our model is to produce at 150+ page report to describe our project. However, what's important could often be summarized in a paragraph or two and possibly a recipe or procedure that can be used. Also the controversy comes in interpreting the results. It's very safe describing facts and data, interpreting the results requires judgment, which is risky (and valuable).

Teaching to the individual (customization) - Each student is an individual and comes to the class with different strengths and weaknesses. My daughter is in first grade and is already reading on the 2nd grad level. How can the teacher, who has 25 other students, help my daughter advance while at the same time helping students who are below grade level? Students also arrive with different experiences, values, customs, etc. They view the information with the blinders of their past experience, i.e. the context of the information is different. The teacher must tailor the curriculum to the different individuals. This is equivalent to customization in KM, tailoring information to reach different individuals. With customization comes cost, it would be best if the teacher student ratio would be 1:1 and the teacher spent time in each students home to understand their learning context. In reality the ratio is 1:25 and the teacher meets the parents in quarterly conferences. This is related to resources (which includes qualified and motivated teachers). The odds can be improved somewhat through technology or training.

Experimental/ contextual learning - In college, I learned analytical chemistry by testing wines. We learned that different chemical components impart different flavors and through analysis were able to predict the tastes. Of course the high point of the class was tasting the wine to see if our predictions were on. In the business world, when we want to teach our staff something we write a procedure, manual or e-mail. Putting something on paper or e-mail doesn't mean that folks will learn it, what's missing is the learning process. The challenge is designing games or experiments that can be used in a business context. "Dumb games" (as they are described in our office) are effective means to organizational learning. These do push folk's comfort zone, which if you don't push them too far, makes them more open to learning, however, this uncomforted creates resistance. Using games does require a delicate balance and a lot of time in the planning and execution. There's a continuum in teaching/learning/level of effort/discomfort with written manuals or presentation on one end of the spectrum and experiments/games on the other end. The challenges is getting folks to have some emotional/contextual connection to the material.


At 8:24 AM, Blogger Molly Merry said...

It is quite exciting when someone outside the realm of public education understands that we are more than dispensers of information. Conceptual understandings are the foundation of making connections across all areas of life, and the earlier kids understand that, the smoother the transition into life. Life is all knowledge, and knowledge is meaning and interconnectedness. Information has no meaning without the underlying concepts. The mountains are the perfect environment to understand that concepts are nature, knowledge is culture. We were close to nature, our own nature, and the power of seeing the interconnectedness of everything.


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