Knowledge is a central asset to any organization. A firm’s ability to acquire, retain and communicate knowledge is the core of an organization’s competitive advantage. Knowledge management (KM) is an offshoot of the premise that postulates that similar to human being’s inability to utilize the full potential of their brains, organizations are essentially incapable of utilising the knowledge that they possess. Ergo, KM is a vital feature that enables organizations to accrue or create potentially useful knowledge to achieve optimal results and precipitate positive organizational performance. Organizational learning is the medium through which a company could incorporate the acquired knowledge into the operational fabric of the organization. However, to grasp the scope of knowledge management, one must understand knowledge itself. Therefore, the following essay will endeavor to explore different dimensions and characteristics of knowledge within an organization with the goal of harnessing its power and realizing organizational goals. To this end, the thesis will investigate knowledge management concepts. Further, it will feature a case study of iCademy Middle East through the perspective of KM and organizational learning (OL) and future strategies fashioned to improve knowledge management in the school.
iCademy Middle East: Size and Composition
iCademy Middle East is the largest school of its kind in the respective region. The school considers that all learners should obtain education suitable to their abilities, interests, and needs. The flexible programs are tailored to support an individual, self-paced and structured learning. The online school is for grades K-12, and the Learning Centres cater for grades 3-12. Its curriculum receives global recognition for its intense interactivity, flexibility, and emphasis on the individual (Icademymiddleeast.com, 2015). The learners receive independent learning skills that prepare them for university. The school has an eclectic composition of the teaching staff, encompassing fully certified members and content specialists. Further, the school has hired a team of counselors, subject-specific teachers, and academic coaches. As it relates to learners, iCademy composition is gifted, talented and advanced. Moreover, the school targets individuals with social anxiety who suffered bullying in a school setting and have learning difficulties or special needs such as a disability or medical needs.
Scope of Operations
iCademy is an offshoot of Pansophic Learning, which is an education company that strives to provide students and educators with the pedagogic experience. The education company has operations in Switzerland, the United States, and the Middle East. iCademy operates in the Arabian Gulf region. It caters to students in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran.
The school mission is to create a high-quality online and blended learning school for students around the world. The vision presupposes a flexible and stimulating learning environment that incorporates technology with a thorough and engaging curriculum (Icademymiddleeast.com, 2015). The school aims to foster the highest standards of intellectual and personal development. The school ethos follows an educational template based on principles of educating the whole person promoting international understanding and a curriculum that integrates cultural diversity. The lower school remains tailored to the early years of development and awareness of the child’s curiosity. Therefore, a team with a keen focus and guidance orientation surrounds the children. Middle school courses continue to build on four core subjects: maths, science, language arts, and social studies (Icademymiddleeast.com, 2015). Learners gain requisite independence and confidence in their online learning that prepares them for the upper school. The upper school features a plethora of academic coaches, counselors, and subject-specific instructors to lead students on their route to their imminent careers. Parents play a supportive role, but the students are encouraged to invest the necessary effort to succeed. Pansophic learning is the mother company to the iCademy Middle East. The education company strives to provide students and educators with exceptional learning solutions designed to maximize their success academically and in life, regardless of financial, demographic or geographic circumstances or backgrounds (Icademymiddleeast.com, 2015). The company features several operating education businesses in the United States, the Middle East, and Switzerland. With this in mind, the paper will proceed to plot the case study regarding knowledge management concepts.
Knowledge Types and Acquisition
Knowledge creation and knowledge acquisition are differing concepts (Nonaka, 1994). Acquisition describes acquiring knowledge from external sources such as the Internet, outsourcing and grafting (hiring instructors, coaches, and counselors with specific and desirable knowledge to iCademy). After the acquisition, the knowledge finds itself molded for storage in a manner that optimizes its impact and longevity. Ergo, knowledge refinement is a requisite policy for iCademy. In refinement, tacit knowledge finds itself explicated, organized and codified into an applicable format through a methodology known as culling (Schwartz, 2005). It refers to identifying the most significant emerging paradigms to an organization (for instance, amplified technological integration in the learning process).
Further, it involves identifying recurrent themes and connecting individual knowledge items to the themes, for instance, emphasis on pedagogical theories such as the constructivism and activity theory (Attwell & Hughes, 2010). Ultimately, the identified knowledge is then stored in the organizational memory. However, for knowledge to have an extensive organisational impact, knowledge transfer and sharing are necessary (Alavi & Tiwana, 2003). Cumulatively, the processes facilitate innovation, individual learning, collective learning and collaborative problem solving for iCademy (Alavi & Tiwana, 2003). Furthermore, it enables the embedding of solutions in iCademy systems, products, relationships, and practices through the establishment of knowledge-intensive organizational capabilities (Schwartz, 2005).
Acquisition of knowledge (for iCademy) takes place via activities such as market research (such as the best pedagogic practices) or relevant books retained in company profiles and communicated in organizations via apprenticeships, internal annual or quarterly meetings, memos, and person-to-person contacts. Knowledge management is the organizing, planning, controlling and motivating of iCademy workforce, processes, and systems (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). The aim is to ensure the enhancement and resourceful use of knowledge-related assets. The assets include patents and manuals, electronic repositories (such as a best-practice database) and knowledge embedded in iCademy processes, relationships, products, and services. Essentially, the course of KM (as articulated) follows knowledge acquisition, refinement, storage, sharing, transfer, and utilization. Explicit and operational knowledge exists in the form of documents, organized data, and contemporary computer programs present in iCademy. However, a fundamental problem common to KM measures is the process of explicating tacit knowledge and making it available for organizational use (King et. al, 2002). The problem of dealing with tacit knowledge can impede knowledge management feasibility and consequent organisational performance (Polanyi, 1967). Tacit knowledge stems from the knowledge that is either impossible to describe in propositional terms or implicit. As it relates to iCademy, one cannot state why technological programs could impede the instructional process, while others prove beneficial. Implicit connotes the ability to articulate but with difficulty because it inhabits the minds of people. Consequently, there is a logical gap between our capacity for cognition, action, and experience, on the one hand, and our acuity for verbal articulation, on the other (Polanyi, 1967). For instance, in the iCademy setting, examples of tacit knowledge are leadership, instructor acuity, and innovation. There is no guaranteed training or process that can make one a leader. Teaching is a complex social skill. Often, prodigious teachers find themselves described as naturals. The same applies to innovation: a company may struggle with innovative products, while another firm (in the same industry) may seem to achieve it effortlessly. Subsequently, tacit knowledge can have an unmanageable component, and if inadequately harnessed, it can be detrimental to organizational performance.
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Knowledge types feature tacit and explicit knowledge. In the iCademy context, the school features the prevailing tacit knowledge referred to as blended learning. The instruction template is a product of the school aim to enrich student learning and individualize education. In the organization process of knowledge acquisition (as it relates to blended learning), they feature grafting, evidenced by the myriad of academic coaches, counselors and subject-specific instructors meant to lead students on their route to their future careers (King, et. al, 2002). In the knowledge creation dimension, the school incorporates an online learning curriculum for students at home. Social exchanges throughout the world merged with the latest trends in technology to provide a means of assessment and characterize the curriculum. The next phase in the KM process, refinement, features identification of emerging paradigms relevant to the school. The school student-centered learning focuses on educational and pedagogic approaches to using technology to achieve learning (Attwell & Hughes, 2010). The knowledge becomes stored in the organizational memory (as evidenced by the school’s ethos). Presently, the transfer strategy targets individuals in the Gulf region, while sharing targets gifted, talented and advanced learners and individuals with social anxiety who suffered bullying in a school setting. It also targets students with learning difficulties or with special needs such as disabilities or medical needs. The formulation of the school’s instructional medium (blended learning) gives evidence of utilization in the KM context (King, et. al, 2002). The school has managed organizational success, evidenced by alumni enrolled in prestigious universities such as Duke, NYU, Notre Dame and Harvard (Icademymiddleeast.com, 2015).
As it relates to the school, it is noteworthy to state that knowledge is a construct that differs from data or information (Davenport, 1998). Confusion arising from the difference in connotation can reciprocate colossal expenditures on technology initiatives that seldom deliver value for money (Cross & Baird, 2000). As a result, explicit knowledge depicts the notion that technology has presented itself as an indispensable factor in learning environments. In fact, research suggests that institutions lagging behind in integrating technology will be unable to meet the needs of contemporary knowledge-based societies (O’Neill & McMahon, 2005). It enables course administrators to vary lesson presentation styles to motivate students of variable interests, gifts and learning opportunities outside the class setting, thus amplifying learner interaction with the language, and gains the perception of catering for individual differences. Furthermore, it amplifies semantic retention. For one to attain the maximum benefits from ICT in the learning environment, there are requisite conditions that iCademy needs to achieve for optimal performance. There is a need for the availability of computers and e-learning specialists who are paramount to the success of any ICT integration (O’Neill & McMahon, 2005). As articulated, the school has gone to great lengths to achieve this. As it relates to KM, the school has acquired necessary information fashioned to create an optimal learning environment. The iCademy website postulates evidence of knowledge retained in its company profile and communicated to its staff, prospective learners and parents. ICademy organizational success or failure hinges on knowing which of the concepts a firm has and needs, and what the company can or cannot do with each one of them. Understanding how each of the notions matches each other is a focal point in KM (Davenport, 1998). Ergo, a comparison of the three notions and the factors involved in the transformation of data into information and the latter into knowledge is the necessity for the formulation of recommendations.
Data is a conglomerate of discrete and objective facts about a scenario relevant to a company (Davenport, 1998). An example of data in the iCademy context is the enrolment history or performance record of the school or the demographics of students in a department. The data does not elaborate on why students would prefer one department to another or explain the performance of the school. It does not present the opportunity for prediction or highlight if the school falls short of its organizational objectives (Davenport, 1998). In principle, data on its own has a minuscule purpose or relevance to the firm. Too much data can impede the acuity to identify and reveal valuable information to a firm (Davenport, 1998). Information remains envisaged as data endowed with relevance and efficacy. As articulated, data lacks an inherent implication. It is a preview to a scenario and does not provide suitable judgment, interpretation and a platform for sustainable action. Alternately, information has an influence on judgment and organizational behavior. It informs and makes a difference (Davenport, 1998). The term ‘inform’ connotes ‘to give shape to’. Ergo, information shapes the vision, insight, objectives, and mission of the organization. For instance, information on the level of effectiveness of blended learning propels iCademy to provide a quality learning environment, regardless of geographic locations. Moreover, the phenomenon communicated is of greater significance to its means of communication (Davenport, 1998). Therefore, iCademy should be less interested in technological innovation and remain focused on the integrity of the information collected. Information technology does not necessarily correspond to the improvement of the state of information.
Knowledge, in the iCademy setting, is a fluid amalgam of values, contextual information, experience and expert insight that provides a framework for appraisal and assimilation of information and new experience (Davenport, 1998). It controls the routines, practices, culture, and norms of the school. Further, it is an intuitive and abstract concept that defeats a strictly logical comprehension. However, it germinates from information the same way information emanates from data. From the knowledge management perspective, it is the thresholds of consequence, connection, and conversation (Davenport, 1998). It must answer the following questions: What implication does the information reproduce? How does it relate to the organization and its industry? Moreover, what do experts think of the information?
KM Strengths and Weaknesses
A vital strength is a fact that KM provides experience, which gives hindsight through which iCademy can utilize and understand new events and scenarios. In the KM context, knowledge arising from experience recognizes familiar patterns and associations between present situations and historical scenarios (King & Lekse, 2006). For instance, it may enable a manager to identify subtle nuances of iCademy’s corporate complacency that may have precipitated problems in the past. These experience-based insights are valuable iCademy assets. Further, KM provides enhancement and resourceful use of knowledge-related assets.
Weaknesses can emanate from the articulated problem of tacit knowledge, inadequate managerial support, insufficient workforce proficiency levels, absence of performance indicators and improper implementation of technology.
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The KM process is a people-intensive and less technology-intensive venture (King et. al, 2002). However, proper deployment of the contemporary knowledge-enabled system with applicable information technology promises to improve iCademy performance. The goal of KM is the leveraging and enhancement of iCademy knowledge assets to reciprocate superior organizational practices, behavior, decision-making, problem-solving and overall organisational performance (King et. al, 2002). KM is an organizational (iCademy) activity with the emphasis on what administrators should do to organize, plan, control and motivate its company’s workforce, processes, and systems to achieve a competitive advantage (Alavi & Leidner, 2001).
There are three fundamental ranks of knowledge that iCademy should know (Grant, 1996). They are ‘know what’, ‘know-how’ and ‘know why’. ‘Know what’ postulates what action to undertake after the presentation of a set of stimuli. For instance, an education instructor trained to know which lesson plan or instructional learning template to use for a subject has a ‘know what’ level of knowledge. ‘Know-how’ stipulates the ability to decide on a suitable response to a stimulus. The level illuminates the relationship between appropriate response and stimuli. It is a necessary feature that deciphers symptomatic information and allows for the formation of a direct link between student performance (response) and the curriculum (stimuli). ‘Know why’ is the zenith of knowledge in the KM context (Grant, 1996). It is the actualization of values, contextual information, experience, and expert insight. At this stage, the knowledge-based theory of the organization is a composition of interactive effects, causal associations and deep comprehension of observed symptoms or stimuli (Grant, 1996). Subsequently, KM delivers an invaluable framework of the underlying theory and a range of experiences that embrace correlates, anomalies, exceptions to norms and conventional wisdom to iCademy. While the blended learning environment articulates several benefits, future strategies should focus on failure factors associated with KM. Ergo, formulated strategies should feature performance indicators, adequate management support, proper planning, coordination, design, and evaluation (Frost, 2014).
If iCademy was to consider the dynamic nature of technology, the school cannot expect that the products and practices that made them efficacious in the past will remain viable in the future. It is now a requirement to provide quality, service, innovation, speed, and value. The pressure created makes knowledge critical to organizations (Davenport, 1998). As it relates to the school and its global online learning endeavor, the education provided must be in step with the way individuals are now using technology to work and socialize (Moeller & Reitzes, 2011). Technology provides ubiquity and rapid feedback that may change the expectations of contemporary education and learners. Therefore, the school must adapt accordingly by increasingly formulating programs that are in line with the expectations (Moeller & Reitzes, 2011). While the school postulates an impressive line-up of instructors, their skills should match KM expectations and achieve organizational objectives, achieving a high-quality learning environment.
Consequently, adequate budgetary allocations are a necessary feature of future strategies. As a school, the organization should focus more on pedagogy and less on technology (Attwell & Hughes, 2010). While technology will magnify education beyond traditional boundaries, the school must adapt to providing skills relevant in the 21st century and align with the current research on how people learn (Cross & Baird, 2000). Therefore, the school should know that not all individuals have the same level of technological literacy. Software tools and computer programs should strike a balance between simplicity and interactivity. The school should also find a way to tap into social media platforms because most of their learners use it, especially after school.
After reviewing the available literature on KM, additional research is a necessity to identify precisely the cause and effect of failure and the success of KM in the organizational context. However, the investigation of knowledge concepts highlights KM as a critical feature that facilitates potentially useful knowledge to achieve optimal results and precipitate positive organisational performance. Knowledge can provide a sustainable advantage. Eventually, competitors can usually match the quality and price of a market leader’s current product or service. However, by the time the competition catches up, a knowledge-managing company will have moved on to new levels of quality, ingenuity or efficiency. Unlike material assets, which are susceptible to depreciation, knowledge assets increase with use. Ideas breed new ideas.
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