Schools are knowledge-based organizations. We may want to change the balance of skills and content instruction, but our core business is and will always remain rooted in knowledge. We don’t make things; we make “things” (people) smarter through the management of knowledge.
Two blog posts grabbed my attention over the weekend as I am working on translating the keys of innovation into the specifics of how they work for schools. The first comes from Paul Hobcraft and is a bit “wonky”, but it is important. Paul states “absorptive capacity is a critical dynamic capability in knowledge-based organizations. It is the ability to recognize the value of external knowledge, assimilate it, and apply it to new commercial ends”.
In schools, we absorb knowledge and pass it along to students. In the past, most of this knowledge has come from scholarly texts, the educational experience of teachers, and textbooks. That era is gone. The rate of increase of both raw knowledge and knowledge sources has exploded traditional conduits of knowledge absorption within the school system. As new sources of knowledge access are available, the ability of an organization to use those sources will reflect on both what and how they create a revised learning experience. The “what” of the learning experience is changing as students and teachers access avenues to absorb external information and help to re-mold, recreate, and pass that information along, both internally and externally. The “how” of learning will change as a function of the school’s ability to take new ideas and procreate them across the organization much more quickly than in the past. In combination, this ability to absorb and shape knowledge instruments to enhance the learning capacity of our students will determine the degree of valuable innovation taking place in the school.
The second post comes from Steve Denning writing in Forbes about managing knowledge. Of particular note are Steve’s comments about the value of knowledge and the investments required to obtain it. Steve says that “knowledge has no value per se; it acquires value from use”. He also points out that the amount of money that could be spent on acquiring knowledge is infinite, but that any amount of investment has negative value if the organization does not use the knowledge it has obtained.
Since knowledge is the core value of a school, it is critical that we wisely acquire and use it. How do we acquire that knowledge today, and are those efficient uses of resources? I can think of two in particular that may not be. First, we spend a ton of money on textbooks that are out of date when they are published. Second, we spend a ton of money on professional development that does not procreate across the system, that is not “absorbed” as defined by Hobcraft. This later does not mean that all professional development is wasted. But when a school sends two teachers to an annual meeting and they come back charged up and excited and then nothing results of it, that is probably a negative drain on value. The good news is that there are an almost infinitely expanding number of free resources available to both students and adults in the educational system, which should drive down the cost of accessing knowledge, and drive up the value it has in real time if we absorb it.
School leaders must realize that this knowledge transfer is key to our success, and in a time when the transfer mechanisms, costs, and benefits of leveraging are radically changing, we have to adapt or lose both opportunity and value.