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KM and DD in HE

November 8, 2010

Understandably, the above appears to be some sort of code or recipe for some cryptic or esoteric knowledge about something…undefined the imagination runs wild, inserting words into the sentence fragment, but without something or someone to assist in the sensemaking process the guesses could repeatedly be incorrect.

And so goes knowledge management (KM) in distance delivery (DD) in higher ed (HE).

The problem of KM within the scope of DD in HE has been evolving as Web 2.0 tools have evolved and educators have found the need to go outside of the typical university-provided content management system or LMS. (See http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/11/08/sloan3.) Let’s imagine for a second that I teach TECH 4321 in a distance format and I have been using a cocktail of open-source Web 2.0 tools. The course has changed considerably over the few years I have been teaching it and if it were to become necessary to hand off the course to someone else, a fair amount of background information would need to change hands. But what if that background information isn’t documented anywhere within university resources and nobody really knows where to look? If I am not available to inform those who search for the information (as in say in the unlikely event I got hit by a city bus on my way to work…) then what?

While the extreme of getting hit by a bus doesn’t need to come to fruition for one to see the problem, it does highlight another layer of issues relating to the administration of distance delivery programs in the university setting. Turnover happens – for whatever reason. Succession planning, especially in the critical path courses in any program, must be a part of the landscape. Corporate organizations undertake these sorts of activities regularly and as a matter of positioning themselves strategically and sustainably in line with their strategic objectives. Universities would be well-served to take a cue from organizations and do whatever they can to harness the evolution of information and knowledge which is regularly generated by distance delivery instructors in the form of discovery and usage of new tools. Conceptually, taking the time to document new knowledge, processes and technologies ideally during the time they are inserted in the distance delivery process would save the notion of recreating the wheel if/when the course is to be handed off – or assumed by another instructor if an emergent situation arises.

We know the virtues of KM in organizational learning from the literature. We also know that KM in the organizational environment, regardless of type of environment, is difficult at best. Imagining that organizations outside of the university environment are not as strapped for resources as public universities, the challenge of KM in DD becomes even more cumbersome. Nonetheless, universities must address the problem otherwise knowledge will be lost – and that seems like a counterintuitive outcome in an environment dedicated to learning.

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