Practices in Higher Education
Colleges and universities have significant opportunities
to apply knowledge management practices to support
every part of their mission
by Jillinda J. Kidwell, Karen M. Vander Linde, and Sandra L. Johnson
re the concepts of knowledge We believe there is tremendous value tual assets into enduring value. It con-
management (KM) applicable to to higher education institutions that nects people with the knowledge that
colleges and universities? Some develop initiatives to share knowledge to they need to take action, when they
would argue that sharing knowledge is achieve business objectives. This article need it. In the corporate sector, manag-
their raison d’être. If that is the case, then the outlines the basic concepts of knowledge ing knowledge is considered key to
higher education sector should be replete management as it is applied in the cor- achieving breakthrough competitive
with examples of institutions that leverage porate sector, considers trends, and advantage.
knowledge to spur innovation, improve explores how it might be applied in But what is knowledge? Knowledge
customer service, or achieve operational higher education and whether higher starts as data—raw facts and numbers—
excellence. However, although some education is ready to embrace it. for example, the market value of an insti-
examples exist, they are the exception tution’s endowment. Information is data
rather than the rule. Knowledge manage- Knowledge Basics put into context—in the same example,
ment is a new field, and experiments are Knowledge management is the process the endowment per student at a particu-
just beginning in higher education. of transforming information and intellec- lar institution. Information is readily cap-
28 E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY • Number 4 2000
tured in documents or in databases; even the people in an organization. It involves management is to make the right knowl-
large amounts are fairly easy to retrieve perceptions, insights, experiences, and edge available to the right people at the
with modern information technology craftsmanship. Tacit knowledge is: right time.
systems. • Personal
Before acting on information, how- • Context-specific New Trends in Knowledge
ever, we need to take one more step. • Difficult to formalize Management
Only when information is combined • Difficult to communicate Several trends will shape the field of
with experience and judgment does it • More difficult to transfer knowledge management in the not-too-
become knowledge. Knowledge can be Most business actions require the distant future:
highly subjective and hard to codify. It guidance of both explicit and tacit • Emerging technology solutions
includes the insight and wisdom of knowledge. • The convergence of knowledge man-
employees. It may be shared through e- How does knowledge work in organi- agement with e-business
mailed “best practices” memos or even zations? Knowledge originates in indi- • The movement from limited knowl-
sticky notes on a cubicle wall. And once viduals, but it is embodied in teams and edge management projects to more
we have knowledge, we can put it to organizations, as shown in Figure 1. In enterprisewide projects
work and apply it to decision making. an organization, examples of explicit • Increasing use of knowledge manage-
A popular framework for thinking knowledge are strategies, methodolo- ment to enhance innovation
about knowledge proposes two main gies, processes, patents, products, and • Increasing use of tacit knowledge
types of knowledge: explicit and tacit (see services. Examples of tacit knowledge in (rather than explicit knowledge)
Figure 1).1 Explicit knowledge is docu- an organizational context are skills and
mented information that can facilitate competencies, experiences, relationships EMERGING TECHNOLOGY
action. It can be expressed in formal, within and outside the organization, SOLUTIONS
shared language. Examples include for- individual beliefs and values, and ideas. Lotus Notes, the software that packaged
mulas, equations, rules, and best prac- Knowledge also is embedded in work e-mail with data repositories and basic
tices. Explicit knowledge is: processes, and it exists in all core func- collaborative tools, was the first catalyst
• Packaged tions of an organization as well as in its for knowledge management. Since Notes,
• Easily codified systems and infrastructure. Effective most KM applications (including later
• Communicable knowledge management programs iden- versions of Notes) have migrated to
• Transferable tify and leverage the know-how embed- intranet-friendly, Web-based platforms.
Tacit knowledge is know-how and ded in work, with a focus on how it will Currently available solutions for search
learning embedded within the minds of be applied. The challenge in knowledge and retrieval, e-mail, collaboration, and so
forth are much better today than they
Figure 1:Tacit and Explicit Knowledge were even a year ago. However, no single
Know-how and learning application does all of these things well.
Documented information embedded within the
that can facilitate action minds of the people in It is likely that the next “killer applica-
the organization tion” for knowledge management will be
Formulate, Books, Mental the corporate portal—a gateway to
Equations, Databases, models, Insights Know-how
Rules Text Patterns applications that integrate collaborative
Knowledge Tacit Knowledge tools, business intelligence, and unstruc-
tured text search capabilities. Portals
practice and Policies Beliefs,
Skills, Values started as a way to organize a variety of
Packaged Craftmanship Personal
Easily codified Products, Designs, Context-specific Web-based information sources on one
Communicable Machines Blueprints Difficult to formalize
Transferable Difficult to desktop interface: a search tool, news
Can be communicate
expressed in More difficult to feeds, links to favorite Web sites, content
formal, shared transfer
language organized by topic, and so forth. Corpo-
rate portals do the same thing, allowing
Knowledge guides actions and informs decisions.
users to customize their desktops to
Source: Copyright 2000, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP show information from a variety of
Number 4 2000 • E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY 29
sources within the organization (and One reason for this trend is that the pany could be recognized as a best-prac-
usually from outside the firewall as well). Web-based technologies that support e- tice exemplar of knowledge management
Some universities are already making business are now being applied to sup- by having a single successful initiative—
use of the corporate portal concept. For port KM (and vice versa). A more pow- for having developed a robust intranet, for
example, one major state university sys- erful reason is that both disciplines are instance, or initiating communities of
tem is developing Web-based portals to about creating conversations, sharing practice or redesigning a core business
deliver integrated services previously knowledge, and building communities. process around knowledge sharing.
addressed in a very disaggregated fash- Knowledge management has been about This early tendency to focus on one
ion. The business objectives of the first breaking down barriers within the orga- type of initiative has fueled the debate
portal—for the university’s central nization, and e-business has been about between experts advocating a technocen-
administration—include institutional breaking down barriers between the tric approach to knowledge management
marketing, creating brand identity, organization and its customers. and those advocating a learning-centric
building community with prospective A major application of the conver- approach. Organizations are already real-
students and parents, becoming the gate- gence of e-business and knowledge man- izing that it does no good to have robust
way for finding information about uni- agement will be in managing business- technology solutions if the existing cul-
versity resources and programs, and pro- to-business customer relationships. ture prevents knowledge sharing, and
viding a rich information environment conversely that it does little good to have
for decision making. The portal serves pockets of robust knowledge sharing
multiple functions for multiple cus- Knowledge management has without some technological means of
tomers with one tool. been about breaking down making knowledge widely accessible.
Development of a second, similar por- As organizations share their lessons
tal supports the vision of a new inter-
barriers within the learned about implementing knowledge
campus collaborative for teaching and organization, and e-business management programs, some are discov-
learning with technology. That vision has been about breaking ering the interdependent nature of KM
calls for uniting the collective interests capabilities. They are finding that a bal-
and goals of the campuses in the system down barriers between the anced portfolio of knowledge manage-
in nurturing excellence in the use of organization and its ment initiatives yields the best results
technology for teaching and learning. and that excelling at technology-related
The portal will improve the efficiency of capabilities does not preclude excelling
knowledge exchange and deliver a set of at people- or process-related capabilities.
shared business objectives that include (In fact, excelling in one area may well
communications around best practices, a Extending the organization’s communi- depend on excelling in another.)
gateway to research on the use of teach- ties to include the customer in the gen-
ing and learning through technology, eration and exchange of knowledge MOVING FROM BEST PRACTICES
professional development, policy devel- promises to be an effective competitive TO INNOVATION
opment and review, and resource devel- advantage. A March 2000 Conference Board survey
opment. The portal provides the faculty report indicated that most knowledge
members at the individual campuses with FROM LIMITED PROJECTS TO management programs are still focused on
efficient, direct links to current knowl- HOLISTIC PROGRAMS creating repositories for storing and dif-
edge about teaching and learning As knowledge management matures as a fusing best practices, focusing on opera-
through technology among the cam- corporate discipline, more companies will tional excellence and cost reduction.2
puses of the university system, nation- gravitate toward a more holistic approach While many companies have earned a
ally, and internationally. to KM. Research shows that although significant payback from these efforts, the
many companies have begun to develop real payoff may lie in applying knowledge
CONVERGENCE WITH E-BUSINESS some sort of knowledge management management to spur innovation.
The trend toward portals as the technol- capability, very few (6 percent) have Nokia is a good example of a company
ogy tool of choice for knowledge leads implemented knowledge management that has applied knowledge management
to another trend: the convergence of programs on an enterprisewide scale. to encourage innovation in its R&D and
knowledge management and e-business. Over the past two or three years, a com- product development functions. The
30 E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY • Number 4 2000
company uses knowledge management staff who possess institutional knowl- ent in an institution’s readiness to
practices to make sense of market trends edge. For example, what institution does embrace knowledge management is its
and customer requirements and quickly not have a faculty member who has led culture—the beliefs, values, norms, and
puts that knowledge into action in the successful curriculum revision task behaviors that are unique to an organiza-
product development pipeline. Industry forces? Or a departmental secretary who tion. Informally, it is the unwritten rules
analysts report that Nokia delivers a new knows how to navigate the complex pro- or “how things really get done.”3 Higher
mobile communication product about posal development or procurement pro- education is moving from the old culture
every 25 days. cesses? Or a researcher who has informal that considers, “What’s in it for me?” to a
connections to the National Science new culture that says, “What’s in it for
ADVANCES IN WORKING WITH Foundation? Or a special assistant to the our customer?” And it is developing a
TACIT KNOWLEDGE president who has uncovered (or gener- culture that is ready to embrace knowl-
Explicit knowledge, which consists of ated) useful reports that individual deans edge management.
formulas, equations, rules, and best prac- or department chairs could use to As institutions launch knowledge man-
tices, is easier to work with than tacit develop their own strategic plans? agement initiatives, they can learn lessons
knowledge, which involves perceptions, Relying on the institutional knowledge from their counterparts in the corporate
experiences, and insights because it can of unique individuals can hamper the sector. Some key points to remember are:
be recorded, stored in databases, and • Start with strategy. Before doing any-
transported easily. The problem is that it thing else, determine what you
is a little too portable—if you have it want to accomplish with knowledge
today, your competitors will likely have it management.
An institutionwide approach
tomorrow. And in any case, the mechan- • Organizational infrastructure—human
ics of managing explicit knowledge are to knowledge management resources, financial measurements of
sufficiently well known that it will not can lead to exponential success, and information technology—
provide a lasting competitive advantage. should support knowledge manage-
The ability to manage tacit knowl-
improvements in sharing ment. Think of technology as an enabler, and
edge, on the other hand, promises to knowledge. measure the impact of KM in financial
deliver huge returns for organizations terms, such as cost reductions, cus-
that learn to use it effectively. The rea- tomer satisfaction, and speed to market.
son is that in the most valuable knowl- • Seek a high-level champion for the initiative—
edge-intensive businesses—software flexibility and responsiveness of any someone who believes in its benefits
development, say, or product design— organization. The challenge is to convert and who can advocate as needed.
the difference between a good performer the information that currently resides in • Select a pilot project for knowledge manage-
and the best performer is huge. And the those individuals and make it widely and ment—ideally one with high impact on
difference that matters most lies in tacit easily available to any faculty member, the organization but of low risk to build
knowledge: a deep understanding of staff person, or other constituent. credibility for knowledge management.
how to act on knowledge effectively. An institutionwide approach to If possible, make the pilot one that par-
knowledge management can lead to ticipants will enjoy and find rewarding.
Applying KM in Higher exponential improvements in sharing • Develop a detailed action plan for the pilot that
Education knowledge—both explicit and tacit— defines the process, the IT infrastruc-
Using knowledge management tech- and the subsequent surge benefits. ture, and the roles and incentives of the
niques and technologies in higher educa- Tables 1 through 5 illustrate how knowl- pilot project team.
tion is as vital as it is in the corporate sec- edge management applications could • After the pilot, assess the results and refine
tor. If done effectively, it can lead to better benefit a number of university processes the action plan.
decision-making capabilities, reduced and services: the research process, cur-
“product” development cycle time (for riculum development process, student Summary
example, curriculum development and and alumni services, administrative ser- Colleges and universities have significant
research), improved academic and admin- vices, and strategic planning. opportunities to apply knowledge man-
istrative services, and reduced costs. Is higher education ready to embrace agement practices to support every part of
Consider the number of faculty and knowledge management? A key ingredi- their mission—from education to public
Number 4 2000 • E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY 31
Table 1: Application and Benefits of KM for the Research Process
Knowledge Management Application Benefits
A repository of: • Increased competitiveness and
• Research interests within an institution or at affiliated institutions (potential responsiveness for research
subcontractors). grants, contracts, and commercial
• Research results (where possible) and funding organizations (federal agencies, foundations, opportunities.
and corporations) with easy search capabilities to facilitate interdisciplinary opportunities. • Reduced turnaround time for
• Commercial opportunities for research results. research.
• Minimized devotion of research
A portal for research administration procedures and best practices related to: resources to administrative tasks.
• Funding opportunities. • Facilitation of interdisciplinary
• Pre-populated proposals, budgets, and protocols. research.
• Proposal-routing policies and procedures. • Leveraging of previous research
• Award notification, account setup, and negotiation policies and procedures. and proposal efforts.
• Contract and grant management policies and procedures. • Improved internal and external
• Technical and financial report templates and policies and procedures. services and effectiveness.
• Overview of internal services, resources, and staff. • Reduced administrative costs.
Table 2: Application and Benefits of KM for the Curriculum Development Process
Knowledge Management Application Benefits
• Repository of curriculum revision efforts that includes research conducted, effective- • Enhanced quality of curriculum and pro-
ness measures, best practices, lessons learned, and so forth. grams by identifying and leveraging best
• Repository of content modularized and arranged to facilitate interdisciplinary curricu- practices and monitoring outcomes.
lum design and development. • Improved speed of curriculum revision
• Portal of information related to teaching and learning with technology, including fac- and updating.
ulty development opportunities, outcomes tracking, lessons learned, best practices, • Enhanced faculty development efforts,
technology overviews, and so forth. especially for new faculty.
• “Hubs” of information in each disciplinary area, including updated materials, recent • Improved administrative services
publications, applicable research, and so forth. related to teaching and learning with
• Repository of pedagogy and assessment techniques, including best practices, out- technology.
comes tracking, faculty development opportunities, and research. • Improved responsiveness by monitoring
• Repository of analyzed student evaluations updated each semester for lessons and incorporating lessons learned from
learned and best practices for all faculty. the experiences of colleagues, student
• Portal for new faculty with guides for developing curriculum, working with senior fac- evaluations, and corporate or other
ulty, establishing effective teaching styles, advising do’s and don’ts, supervising PhD stu- constituent input.
dents, and so forth. • Interdisciplinary curriculum design and
• Repository of corporate relationships to identify curriculum design advisory task development facilitated by navigating
forces, guest speakers, adjuncts, case study sites, and so forth. across departmental boundaries.
Table 3: Application and Benefits of KM for Student and Alumni Services
Knowledge Management Application Benefits
• Portal for student services for both students and for faculty and staff at the institution so that they • Improved services for students.
are well informed to advise students. Information could include policies and procedures related to • Improved service capability of
admissions, financial aid, registration, degree audit, billing, payment process, advising and tutoring, faculty and staff.
housing, dining, and other services.This portal could be personalized for individual schools or stu- • Improved services for
dent groups to customize service offerings. alumni and other external
• Portal for career placement services (potentially part of a large portal for all corporate connec- constituents.
tions) to provide a one-stop service center for students, but also for faculty and staff to ensure they • Improved effectiveness and
are informed. efficiency of advising efforts (to
• Repository of student affairs services for faculty and staff to ensure all constituents understand integrate fragmented efforts
existing services and can provide proper advising. currently undertaken by fac-
• Portal for alumni and development services to minimize redundant efforts; capture contact reports; ulty, academic support staff,
and link to research, curriculum, and career development efforts. student services staff, and stu-
• Portal for information on outreach constituents to integrate efforts and minimize redundant efforts. dent affairs staff.
32 E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY • Number 4 2000