Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning

hand holding  Knowledge Management tool business cardWhat are the differences between knowledge management¬†and organizational learning? Are there any? These are questions I see posted a lot on training blogs, forums and social networking hubs all the time. There’s a lot of ambiguity to organizational learning, to most people.

So, what are the differences between knowledge management and organizational learning?

First, you have to consider which definition of organizational learning you’re actually approaching, because there are two. The broader definition is that of any form of multi-unit learning involving an organization which must as a whole improve or change for new knowledge.

Therefore, by this base definition, knowledge management is organizational learning, as is any learning system that is not one on one or self-taught. However, there is that second definition of organizational learning, where differences become more real.

In this definition of organizational learning, it specifically means a method and learning flow proposed back in the 1990s, and improved and refined considerably thereafter. It involves a linear learning system that covers the entire group as one set of units, with loops and stages globally applied.

With knowledge management, the story is different. It involves choosing these learning flows as well, but not applying them globally. In stead, you divide the group into small units, not dependent on one another. You apply this learning flow in parallel through these smaller units.

After a while, you shuffle the members of units, probably between phases in the material being learned. So, there are differences, and there are of course alternate risks involved as well.

With Knowledge management tools, you run the risk of things getting ahead of one another, which can cause problems on many levels. You also run the risk of making the units too small or too insular, resulting in a lack of team and community as well. Also, with this methodology, you can make a big mistake by letting unit leadership roles become too permanent, so while your first instinct may be to shift all but leader positions in units, this is a bad idea. Shifting leaders will ensure a lack of drama and a lack of complacency which is important.

However, it has benefits in being easy to take metrics on and easy to manage. It’s also easier to strategize with it, so if you don’t mind the risks, or think you can overcome them, then this might be a strategy to consider using.

Like with anything, it’s all about skill as a leader to pull it all together. Without strong leadership neither of these concepts works, in fact no concept will. You need to be the center around which the system forms, but more than a leader, you must also be a friend.

So, now you see the differences between knowledge management and organizational training. I hope this clarifies things, and also maybe makes you look at knowledge management a little closer now.

Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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