Knowledge management efforts that focus solely on deploying technology to deliver content efficiently are missing a vital element: they don’t provide the means of helping the knowledge worker learn collaboratively from the experiences of colleagues. In other words, they don’t create or exploit natural learning processes within an organization that lead to the adoption of best practices and lasting cultural change.
A 2007 study sponsored by the Swedish Agency for Development Evaluation, entitled “Knowledge and Learning in Aid Organizations” noted that
Although the main focus remains on the development of technology for the effective handling of data, the recognition that knowledge transfer involves extended interpretation processes rather than simple information communication has led to a certain rapprochement between the knowledge management and learning organization fields. Knowledge management initiatives are increasingly seen as parts of larger organizational strategies aimed at creating climates and cultures that facilitate sharing and collective learning from experience (Pedler et al. 1991).
[I found this study courtesy of KM4Dev, a great website offering knowledge management resources for development professionals.]
What are some ways of exploiting the synergies between KM and learning (or training/professional development)? In the law firm context, ensuring that the firm’s professional development materials are included in the knowledge management collection is a good start. More importantly, no new best practices guide or model document should be distributed solely by e-mail. It is far preferable to tie the launch of the new KM content to a specific training session where participants can talk with the authors and each other about the document. The resulting interaction broadens and deepens the opportunities for learning and cultural change. Then periodically, sponsor a session at which lawyers can review current practices or model documents to see if they still reflect the best of the firm’s experience and judgment. Each session reinforces the learning and cultural change that should be the desired outcome of knowledge management efforts. And, along the way, the firm also creates lawyers who produce higher quality work product more efficiently.
Purposefully marrying formal training opportunities to knowledge management content is a great way of leveraging both and creating something that is greater than the sum of its parts.