Understanding knowledge is one of the most difficult endeavours of mankind. This module is not going to challenge Plato, Socrates, Russell, Hume, Polányi, and other brilliant writers on this topic. Rather it will briefly introduce fundamental ideas about knowledge and dig into the aspects of knowledge relevant to an SME more than the philosophical, social, and historical ones.

The value of knowledge is a key question given that the amount of information and knowledge is increasing exponentially.

This information overload, globalization, rapid change (making knowledge obsolete faster), the need to constantly learn and innovate, and the need to share best practices have been significant factors behind the growing importance of knowledge management within organizations in recent years. It has received the attention of managers at all hierarchical levels, not only knowledge management experts.

1.1 Types of knowledge

As there is no universally accepted definition of knowledge, there are numerous classifications of the knowledge types.

Most of them are irrelevant for an average SME.  But the division of tacit and explicit knowledge perhaps can be interesting.

Polányi states that learning is a personal process, where previous knowledge influences how new knowledge can be gained. Therefore all knowledge has a tacit component and explicit (codified) knowledge that can be expressed and easily transmitted.

Transmission cost of codified knowledge is an interesting topic. On one hand, since it can be well articulated and stored, the marginal costs of transmission may be low. On the other hand, understanding codified knowledge may require prior (codified and tacit) knowledge and in its absence the transmission costs can rise significantly. Distance in terms of time, space, culture, and social environment are factors which can complicate the transmission.

1.2 Definition of knowledge management

Knowledge management means organizations‘ attempts to acquire, coordinate, diffuse, create, and utilize knowledge. When something is to be managed many people feel that in order to do this, it must be quantified, counted, organized and measured; it must be possible to be build, own, and control it if its value is to be maximized. For this reason, critics argue that knowledge in itself cannot be managed and that KM is just another management fad. Despite this extremist view, thousands of researchers are successfully active in the field of knowledge management, and as a result, there are numerous approaches to knowledge management.

Knowledge management processes, the role of knowledge in an organization have been studied in detail from many points of view: core competencies, organizational learning, dynamic capabilities, managerial cognition, organizational memory, distributed cognition, intellectual capital, and communities of practice.

Knowledge management strategies and instruments for companies include (Wikipedia, 2012):

  • rewards (as a means of motivating for knowledge sharing),
  • storytelling (as a means of transferring tacit knowledge),
  • cross-project learning,
  • after action reviews,
  • knowledge mapping (a map of knowledge repositories within a company accessible by all),
  • communities of practice,
  • expert directories (to enable knowledge seeker to reach to the experts),
  • best practice transfer,
  • knowledge fairs,
  • competence management (systematic evaluation and planning of competences of individual organization members),
  • proximity & architecture (the physical situation of employees can be either conducive or obstructive to knowledge sharing),
  • master-apprentice relationship,
  • collaborative technologies (groupware, etc.),
  • knowledge repositories (databases, bookmarking engines, etc.),
  • measuring and reporting intellectual capital (a way of making explicit knowledge for companies),
  • knowledge brokers (some organizational members take on responsibility for a specific "field" and act as first reference on whom to talk about a specific subject),
  • social software (wikis, social bookmarking, blogs, etc.),
  • inter-project knowledge transfer.

What can you do with this ramifying discipline in a course for SMEs? There is only one solution: you need choose the most relevant topics, and concentrate only on them.

On the basis of this starting point we’d like to focus mainly on three topics:

  • Knowledge management in a new, web-enabled environment which integrates several new technologies (Living Lab)
  • Knowledge management in virtual communities
  • Collaborative learning

The topics mentioned above are connected with each other and lots of other areas of knowledge management, but they are can be seen as focal points of the discipline in SME’s point of view.