Learning Theories/Knowledge Management: Challenges

While the field of Knowledge Management has long been studied by scholars of several disciplines, there remain significant challenges for the future. These challenges reside in both theoretical and conceptual studies as well as practice and application. Change will be omnipresent – requiring organizations to make incremental or continuous improvements, and breakthrough or “game-changing” advances. The question is: What are the contributions that Knowledge Management will make as a field of study and a relevant practice (Dierkes, Berthoin Antal, Child, & Nonaka, 2003).

According to Reinhardt, Bornemann, Pawlowsky and Schneider (2003), "With knowledge as one of the most important resources today. . . management obviously should attempt to identify, generate, deploy, and develop knowledge" (p. 794). The concept of knowledge management and the degree to which its value is outpacing the tangible assets of companies has become an issue of concern for many organizations and managers. "Human capital is seen as a company's total workforce and its knowledge about the business...It is seen as crucial for marshaling the company's assets, both tangible and intangible" (Reinhardt, et al., 2003, p. 796).

The theoretical/conceptual challenge lies in the lack of common definition of Knowledge Management. There exists widespread variation in how scholars define it. Like the field of Leadership, there needs to be further study and dialogue on what defines Knowledge Management. It is only from that common understanding that the field itself will flourish rather than becoming a popular management fad.



Dierkes, Antal, Child, & Nonaka (2003) state, "If knowledge is an essential resource for establishing competitive advantage, then management obviously should attempt to identify, generate, deploy, and develop knowledge. Hence, managers need more knowledge about knowledge and about how it can be managed, if it can be managed at all" (p. 794). In a world replete with knowledge and information (often similar in meaning), or its possible acquisition, what is often missing within organizations are the processes for dissemination. As with most things, knowledge is only as good as its contextual applicability. Once knowledge/information has been determined to be useful, and applicable to a particular context, its manageability must be determined, i.e., how it should be dispensed, who should be the recipients, what effects it will have on an organization and even the market in general.



The initial challenge of knowledge management is synthesizing the information processing technologies in your organization and the unique abilities of the people to allow the organization to survive and thrive on knowledge. Knowledge management is not just knowing everything the organization knows. It is creating a synthesis between the people and the information to the point that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Bellinger (2004) offered that “The value of knowledge management relates directly to the effectiveness with which the managed knowledge enables the members of the organization to deal with today's situations and effectively envision and create their future (p. 1).”

The technology dimension of Knowledge Management, while important, is not essentially where knowledge actually resides. Technology can accumulate information, sort information, communicate information, and do so at high rates of speed. But knowledge resides inside human relationships and experiences. So, the challenge becomes one of building a culture that values face-to-face human relationships, reflection, and sharing. Organizations must challenge themselves to engage as many people as possible in the experiences, such that the organization learns to the depth and breadth that will sustain its growth in knowledge and ultimately its survival.

The individual


The challenge of the individual versus the team in knowledge sharing is created by the very culture and context in which it resides. In the western culture mindset Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner wrote “our education system is based on accumulating knowledge individually” (Goldsmith, Morgan, & Ogg, 2004, p. 14). This form of defining working culture is antithetical to a social structure that believes and embraces knowledge sharing and management without having to accrue personal gain. This challenge presents itself in many ways within corporate America because those who prescribe to it limit our ability to work more effectively together and share intellectual capital.

According to Grant (1996), the major challenge of knowledge management is in the process of capture and integration. In order to be successful, an organization must first concentrate on changing the mindset of its followers. The goal in using knowledge management is to aid them in the performance of their duties. Knowledge management challenges that were once focused on financial aspects are now facing the challenges of measuring human and intellectual value too. It can assisted by human language technology (Maybury, missing retrieval date). The technology can include but is not limited to "retrieval, extraction, summarization, and presentation/generation" (Maybury, missing retrieval date, p. 1). Not only is this technology meant to enhance access, but also to enhance interactions between people by improving knowledge awareness.



Knowledge Management, likewise, must have practical application to organizations – human organizations. The tools, databases, and technological aids are not themselves Knowledge Management. Knowledge and learning come from people and their relationships with each other and their experiences. The real challenge, therefore, comes in the form of developing a culture that embraces learning, sharing, changing, and improving, all through the collective intelligence and knowledge of people.

Kluge et al. (2001) tell us that their examination of a variety of companies revealed that many of them had attempted to implement knowledge management efforts but failed due to the lack of an appropriate cultural context that would “create and nurture reciprocal trust, openness and cooperation” (p. 25). They maintain that employees must be enthused with a thirst for knowledge and that many failures in this arena are the result of top down efforts to “push” information. Push approaches can often be identified by management's reference to information technology initiatives.

Flexibility & change


“…The availability of information is changing everything…and it is creating the greatest mass empowerment of all time” (Wheatley, 2004, p. 53). In this world of constant change, the organizations that learn how to be smart, quick, agile, and responsive are the ones that will survive long into the future. Organizations, though, are not machines. They are made up of people who need time to experience, reflect, and learn. Likewise, knowledge is not something that can be quantified and it is far more complex in that it is derived out of human relationships and experiences. This, then becomes the greatest challenge of Knowledge Management – the organization's ability to embrace, grow, and attend to the human dimension (Wheatley, 2004).

Shared leadership


One of the greatest challenges of knowledge management is the assurance that knowledge will prevail by ensuring that knowledge workers are given “voice” – sometimes referred to as shared leadership. Goldsmith (2004) defines knowledge workers “as people who know more about what they are doing than their managers do [and adds that] while many knowledge workers have years of education and experience in training for their positions, they often have little training in how to effectively influence upper management” (Goldsmith, et al., 2004, p. 19).

Goldsmith et al. (2004) quoting Peter Drucker provides an explanation for this lack of influence when he says, “The great majority of people tend to focus downward. They are occupied with efforts rather than results” (p. 19). In reality this concept might be taken further – suggesting that the answer lies not in focusing on efforts or results, but rather focusing on shared purpose. The responsibility for having “voice” within an organization does not necessarily rest with a perception of permission from upper management but with courageous followership. Ira Challef (2003), author of The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To & For Our Leaders, states that shared leadership has its limits when given a top-down approach. Instead, he purports that both the follower and leader share a common purpose and that the “loyalty of each is to the purpose and to helping each other stay true to that purpose” (Chaleff, 2003, p. 17) – something that can only be done holistically, by giving knowledge workers “voice” within the organization.

Building blocks


Garvin (1993) points to five building blocks that reflect some solid challenges to knowledge management:

  1. Systematic problem solving.
  2. Experimentation with new approaches.
  3. Learning from one's own experience and past history.
  4. Learning from the experiences and best practices of others.
  5. Transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization.

These five building blocks need to function in harmony and balance with one another. Effective knowledge management can be increased as systems and procedures are developed to address and improve each of these five foundational stones. The challenge facing the organization comes in maintaining the dynamic nature of the interrelationship of these five areas of knowledge management. Garvin (1993) supplies three suggestions for addressing the first building block of systematic problem solving. First is reliance on the scientific method (hypothesis testing) rather than on guesswork when it comes to problem solving. Second, decision making should be based on data, not assumptions (fact-based management). And third, use simple statistical tools (charts, diagrams) to organize and communicate data.

Overcoming knowledge management challenges


Knowledge management can improve an organization's ability to achieve development results. In its most basic form, knowledge management is all about converting the available raw data into understandable information. This information is then placed in a reusable repository for the benefit of any future need based on similar kinds of experiences. Knowledge management contributes towards streamlining the ideas, problems, projects and deployment in light of organizational goals driving towards productivity.

Goldsmith, Morgan, & Ogg (2004) suggest the idea "of knowledge management is fundamentally flawed-it involves neither knowledge nor management and therefore cannot be expected to succeed" (p. 39). Rather, they suggest that the real focus should be upon “the intellectual capital” that workers possess. This creates a wide misunderstanding of the purpose and context of sharing that intellectual capital. Far beyond facts stored in memories of individuals, groups, or computers, intellectual capital deals with applied expertise gained through understanding and experience. Effron continues suggesting by illustration that best practices for hiring new workers may not be knowledge or facts easily gathered and stored. Often, a talented human resources or other organizational leader may possess significant skills and insights not learnable via a book or computer file. He suggests that learning from such individuals can be an important learned and shared intellectual capital.

Case studies & workplace examples


One of the greatest challenges in organizing KM is desire and motivation. Without people within the company or organization having the motivation or vision for sharing information, they shut down. Without the vision of why KM is important, people are not willing to give. Another problem comes from the organization itself. If it is not willing to change it turns on those that try to initiate it. We have been trained that knowledge is power. To give up that power is antithetical to building our own importance verses the best interests of the organization. I experienced this from the only company that I was released from. I was invited to succeed elsewhere because I had too much initiative. In trying to share knowledge I initiated change within a company that did not want to change. In the end, change did not occur, KM was challenged, and I had to find a new job.

Within the Center for Life Calling and Leadership, there is a disconnect between knowledge acquisition (research and curriculum development) and its dissemination with the organization as a whole. Leadership has decided that there must be intentionality between knowledge acquisition and its dissemination. This is being accomplished through personnel assigned to develop programming designed to integrate Life Calling into academia and student life. Life Calling knowledge has been embraced conceptually, but the next stage is to integrate this knowledge throughout the entire organization to positively affect the lives of individual students, whether it is in the classroom or in residence life.

At Medical Protective, the reality of virtual teams in the organization posed a significant threat in the area of shared learning/knowledge management. In order to overcome this obstacle, information managers and organizational leaders determined that the use of technology would have to be leveraged to bridge the gap in connecting these teams to each other. Simple technologies such as shared network drives were used to maintain training material and commonly used forms and documents to keep the teams aligned. After mastering the simple technologies, Medical Protective then moved to more complex systems such as imaged filing programs, virtual telephony services, and web-based mainframes, so that teams were connected, despite their logistical distances.

Organizational Learning: Practice · Knowledge Management: Processes

Organizational Learning: Practice · Learning Theories · Knowledge Management: Processes
Introduction · References ·  This box: view  talk  edit 
Theories : Behavioralist · Constructivist · Post-Modern · Adult Learning
Organizational Learning : Contributions by Discipline · Triggers · Influencing Factors · Agents · Processes · Interorganizational · Practice
Knowldege Management : Challenges · Processes · Leadership · Change