Monday, October 21, 2013

Social Networking, Knowledge Management and the EPSS

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It appears that many characteristics that are inherent in social networking platforms would greatly enhance and perhaps even challenge the traditional view of the purpose of the Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS).

Deborah Alpert Sleight discusses what is meant by an EPSS in her article "What is Electronic Performance Support and What Isn’t?". She describes a two part characteristic of EPSS which is, firstly, "access to the specific information and tools needed to perform a task," and secondly, "access to the information and tools at the time the task is to be performed." Both parts need to be present for it to be a characteristic related to an effective EPSS. She continues her discussion that the specific information can be provided in various media, including textual, visual, audio, computer programs/tools, along with advice or guidance.

When we consider how most users interact in social networking, we can easily link these experiences to many of the media that Sleight includes. In fact, social media can provide an opportunity to create a space for support, advice and guidance which Sleight includes as one way that specific information can be shared. Additionally, text, visuals, videos and audio files are all types of media that can easily be included in social networking platforms.

The benefit of social networking is also evident in Sleight's observation that EPSS should "reduce the need for prior training in order to accomplish the task." In other words, the specific information that the user needs should be easily available and accessible in an effective EPSS. Indeed, social networking is familiar to many people today, and even for those unfamiliar with social networking platforms, they are usually easy to access and learn with little to no prior training required. Social networking also can provide other requirements that Sleight argues need to be present in an effective EPSS, including easily updated information, fast access to information, and the exclusion of irrelevant information.

Some of these requirements that Sleight explores are also addressed in the article "Wiki and the Wiki Way: Beyond a Knowledge Management Solution" by Jennifer Gonzalez-Reinhart. Wikis can provide a social networking space for users while also fulfilling the role of knowledge management for an organization. When we consider fast access to information and excluding irrelevant information,  Gonzalez-Reinhart discusses the "organic principle" of wikis and how wikis work as "a collaboration tool" where all users have "the power of deletion" which can "ensure information clutter is kept to a minimum, erroneous data is quickly removed and knowledge is relevant."

Gonzalez-Reinhart warns that centralized knowledge management systems do not always create an environment where users are willing to share their knowledge, and one big challenge is capturing the tacit knowledge, "the know-how" knowledge which is, essentially, the fundamental purpose of an EPSS. Citing various sources, Gonzalez-Reinhart argues that "two essential catalysts for knowledge sharing [are] mutual trust and mutual influence." Open source social networking like a wiki space can help foster and build this trust and influence. One challenge, however, as discussed by Gonzalez-Reinhart is the need to "surrender power to employees and collapse the hierarchy of control (citing Jesdanun 2004). 

Indeed, Piyus Kanti points out in the video "Knowledge Management - Connecting People to People" that sharing and mobilizing what employees know still requires a "buy in" along with support and encouragement from management. Managing knowledge through social networking is an easier sell to employees since many are already engaged in sharing their own information and experiences.

Both Gonzalez-Reinhart and Kanti's observations are further supported by Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. McDonald in the article "Social Media versus Knowledge Management." They argue that "business leaders recognize that engagement is the best way to glean value from the knowledge exchanged in social media - and not by seeking to control social media with traditional KM techniques." Similar to Gonzalez-Reinhart, they discuss a new view of collaboration called "mass collaboration" that includes "social media technology, a compelling purpose and a focus on forming communities." In fact, they argue that social media and knowledge management are distinctly different, and until an organization recognizes the differences, they will fail to get the full value out of both.

Kanti's discussion on social networking left me wondering if I could not be spending some of my class time more effectively. Sometimes I will invest time in trying to get to know the students through what usually seem to be contrived and stilted classroom activities. Considering his comments, I wonder if it would sometimes be more effective for me to check out their "digital footprint" so I can get a picture of who they are through their interests, activities, mutual friends, hobbies, etc. Students share a lot of information through social networking and even knowing what book a student is currently reading, or what film they recently enjoyed or disliked can possibly help me to link course material to make the information more engaging and relevant for them. This is, essentially, what Kanti calls "user derivable content."

Finally, while I was exploring this topic I was also doing some research on the social networking platform, Ning. It seems to me that this platform could be a very effective way to create the types of knowledge sharing and support systems that Gonzalez-Reinhart and Kanti discuss. Ning allows you to create and cultivate your own online community. It is not a free platform, but it does allow for easy customization and could possibly be an effective way to build mutual trust and support with other peers. I think, however, it would be best suited for an organization that is looking to create a mass collaboration effort as discussed by Bradley and McDonald.

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