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B:System Components

Knowledge management systems can have many different features, and some systems have more features than others. Following are the key features that many knowledge managements systems will employ, organized into three major categories: services and tools, collaboration, and content.

Components of an eLearning systems

Knowledge Management Feature




• Allows users to select from a variety of functional modules, depending on need.

 • Allows companies to position certain modules as required and others as optional. • Provides a common design environment for future module building, resulting in a

high degree of interoperability and reusability. Once created, the module can be used anywhere within the portal framework. Multiple departments and users can reuse the functionality.

• Allows different business units opportunities for differentiation, while

preserving a common platform and look-and-feel and other enterprise-required elements. • Emerging suppliers provide increasingly robust tools so that creating a portal from scratch may not be necessary.

• A common portal technology is essential to create enterprise or organizational impact; multiple portal technologies can create confusion and waste.

• Decisions will be needed as to who can build new modules and what standards to adhere to. This is a governance issue. • Portals can become too crowded with too many choices. Continuous usability testing is critical.













• Provides a common repository for critical documents.

• Provides a common and easy way for people to access documents.

• Ensures a higher level of reliability through version control, access to authors,

document ownership, and expiration strategies.

• Has flexible entitlements to allow permissions at the user, organization, and document level.

• Has metatags that accurately define the document and its uses and makes searching


• Quality control of incoming docu

ments will be an issue.

• Balancing “open publishing” with

quality assurance and other screen-

ing requirements will be important

in preserving quality without discouraging participation.



Archives, tracks, and man ages a wide array of content objects, including graphics,

text, animations, video and audio, and code so that it can be accessed, updated, and

reused efficiently.

• Can be a general content management system, which has broad application across

• Successful imple-mentation re-

quires a great deal of discipline and

process manage-ment, across the

organization, to use the tool

uniformly and appropriately.


• Can search across all knowledge repositories and file types.

 • Does an analysis of the search request and finds or orders results based on user requirements or needs (personalized search).

• Can save searches for future and regular use.

• Adjusts results based on value, past searches (dynamic searching). • Can use metatags and filters to refine searches.

• Personalized search is difficult but very valuable.

• Getting search engines to work across different databases is challenging.

 • Reducing the number of irrelevant hits will help make the search more valuable

 • Inaccurate tagging of content may result in inaccurate search results (for example, missing items, wrong items).

Work Flow




• Ensures that knowledge flows to the right people in the right sequence.

 • Allows individuals in the work flow to perform one or more operations or tasks (such as editing or approval) on the knowledge asset before passing it along.

• Very useful in managing processes, especially where sign-offs are required.

• Leaves an electronic “paper trail” for compliance and other requirements.

• Useful for quality assurance purposes.

• Can get very complex. • Cannot substitute for effective project or program management, although some people may see it that way.



• Creates a process and a tool set to ensure that knowledge assets (such as documents and Web sites) are added to the knowledge base (repository) in a similar manner.

 • Can disperse document publication to multiple authors.

• Can be combined with templates and other support tools to ensure consistency and ease of publication, as well as improving quality over time.

• Strongly linked to document management.

• Publication tools are essential whether the publishers are a special central group or dispersed to end users.

 • Governance of the process will be critical so that publishers can effectively balance freedom to contribute within style, quality, confidentiality,

approval, and other necessary guidelines.


• There are two basic types of alerts: • “Notify Me”: end user sets some parameters within the system to monitor activity. When a change (addition, modification) occurs that matches those parameters, an alert is created. • “Notify You”: publisher (content owner or author) makes a change (addition,

modification) and generates an alert to a predetermined set of end users who were previously identified as interested in the information. • Alerts can appear directly in the portal or in e-mail with a link to the knowledge asset. • In sophisticated systems, alerts can be generated through the matching of user profiles and metatags.

• Too many alerts can overwhelm the end user. • Publishers may need to use discretion in determining who really needs to be alerted, lest they alert virtually everybody about everything. • The same alert approach should

be used across all the applications of the knowledge management system. • Alerts, by their very nature, imply a priority or a sense of urgency. Too many dilute their value.


• There are multiple levels of personalization (in increasing level of sophistication): • Portal: using portal technology allows the end user to select which functional or content modules are on his or her screen. • Filters/metatags: allows the user to personalize a search based on filters and metatags that are meaningful to him or her. • Profiles: the end user’s profile (role, expertise, interests, and so forth) is used by the system to present content that matches the profile. • Previous work: the system monitors the end user’s work and searches on the portal and attempts to find new material based on past use.

• The more complex the personalization, the more complex the system (but also the more effective). • Personalization improves efficiency and user satisfaction, but can be hard to do and maintain.

Filters and Metatags

• A coding scheme that categorizes knowledge assets by domain (sales, technology, HR), type (budget, technical manual, user guide), or other taxonomy. • Publishers establish the metatags when publishing a knowledge asset; end users use metatags as filters when searching; administrators use the metatags as knowledge asset inventory control points.

• Metatags are normally used to categorize and filter knowledge assets. Using them to organize expertise or people is often ignored but should be explored (see personalization



• Restricts access by unautho

rized users and allows differing access for authorized users according to a predetermined scheme. • Enables knowledge owners to manage access to information by any number of criteria (level, location, role).

• Creating the right

security around the right content without overly restricting access. • Ensuring that security and entitlements requirements are followed (governance).


• Enables information to be received by workers who have mobile or virtual jobs or who travel extensively. • Promotes more 24/7 access and availability to key personnel. • Promotes just-in-time and “just enough” information access at the moment of need (performance support).

• Filtering information so that only essential content is transmitted. • Security. • Multiple platforms and devices may require multiple instances of the solution.

Services of eLearning  Systems

Collaboration Services

Knowledge Management Feature




• Communication tools are essential for community building and collaboration. • There are several communication approaches: • Real-time: one-to-one or group tools enable “conversations” on the Web (chat, instant messaging).

• Asynchronous: one-to-one or one-to-many tools that enable the capturing of ideas and content (e-mail, discussion groups).

• Conferencing: one-toone or group tools enable interaction with content through collaborative tools and document sharing. • These tools can be provided independently from a portal but, ideally, there are links to them within a portal.

•There is an equal danger of overuse of these tools, leading to a glut of conversations or content that loses its value, or an abandonment of these tools, diminishing the collab orative benefit of the system.

 • The key is to make the tools easy to use and establish specific purposes for their use; incentivize and reward contributions made through these tools. • Capturing and codifying collaboration content is often difficult.

Application Sharing

• Enables people to work in a collaborative way on documents, presentations, spreadsheets, business software, and other material in real time. • Promotes efficiency by reducing time for feedback and development of ideas and reports. • Creates a sense of team by allowing more inclusive participation in knowledge development.

• Need protocols for managing the development. • Does not replace good document management and approval

Community Building

• Can associate people and the content they own and create collaboration opportunities. • There are two types of communities:

• Vertical: resembles an organizational hierarchy, consisting of different roles and levels organized around a specific function (for example, everyone in a technology organization).

 • Horizontal: cuts across organizations to bring together people with common roles, skills, interests (for example, all Java developers).

 • Allows new communities to be established and dissolved as needed.

 • Membership in multiple communities is allowed.

• Need to control proliferation of communities; some should be controlled centrally

. • Communities will not succeed without leadership within a community; identify specific people to lead or facilitate communities.

• Communities can conflict with organizational charts and existing lines of authority.

 • Communities may represent significant cultural change.

Expert Locator

• Provides an opportunity for experts to surface (either appointed or through self-nomination).

 • Enables the organization to identify expertise that otherwise would be hidden.

 • Enables experts to be recognized for their expertise.

 • Expertise can be shared online or off-line (or in combination).

• Experts often resist being identified, as it represents additional work that is often unrewarded.

 • Danger of creating a schism between experts and novices.

 Content Services


• Provides direct, one-click access to employee information (external contacts also possible).

 • Allows individuals to update their own information, ensuring greater accuracy.

• Can evolve into personal pages that can contain more than contact information (expertise, projects, interests).

 • Can be linked to an online organizational chart (dynamically generated).

• Ease of access to e-mail addresses could result in a significant amount of e-mail traffic (not necessarily bad).

 • Important to instill responsibility for individual maintenance of personal information.

Learning and


• Direct links to course reg

istration, competency assessment, learning plans, university education and other forms of training, often managed by learning management systems.

• Can use other features of a portal to add value to the learning program (for example, communities, access to knowledge assets).

• Effective learning

plans and programs require manager involvement; it’s important to integrate this component, or the process could create conflicts between employee and manager.


• Placing bookmarks on the portal instead of on the browser allows access from any networked computer.

 • Adds additional personalized value to the portal for the end user.

• Too many bookmarks may overwhelm the portal space.

Internal Content

• Serves as a uniform internal news source. Key organizational information is pushed to all employees or to selected employees based on their profile.

• Replaces e-mail as key news source, although alerts can be sent through e-mail with links to the portal.

• Ensures message consistency.

• Examples: corporate press releases, stock price, product information, IT policy, organizational chart.

• Can consist of enterprisewide news and/or content and news tailored for specific business units, roles, departments, regions, or other divisions.

• While internal news is critical to keeping employee attention focused on the knowledge management system, it will be important not to let the content of the page be controlled too much by any one source

. • It will be important to balance internal company news with exter

nal news about the company (adds relevance, authenticity).

Syndicated Content


• Content acquired from outside, specialized content vendors.

• There are two types of fee-based syndicated content:

 • General: news, weather, sports, entertainment (CNN, ABC, New York Times, Reuters).

• Specific: news related to a specific industry (telecommunications, travel, financial services).

• These services are either provided to users in a set pattern, or users can select the

syndicated content modules

they are interested in.

• Content services can be free or subscription based, sometimes part of the portal service. Special services may carry license, copyright, or usage restrictions that can be costly.

• For industry-specific content sources, it will be important to

determine content accuracy and relevance to the

business (avoid

ing wrong or contradictory information).


• Collects information from a specific set of sources (internal or external) and presents the information in a unique way to give the user a customized view of an organizational process, business results, progress toward a goal, status of resources, or sales figures, for example. • Pulls data from different databases and presents a dynamic representation of the information. • Some dashboards can be set up and managed centrally; more sophisticated versions can be customized by the end user.

• Important to select the right data and not overwhelm the user. • Accuracy of the data will be critical; if the data are inaccurate, the business can be severely affected if decisions are based on dashboard information


Technology: E-Mail

What It Does

How It Supports Collaboration and Learning

Challenges in Use

As ubiquitous as

the telephone (or

more so), e-mail

has become the

primary messag

ing technology of

the modern orga

nization, as well

as for individuals.

People use e-mail to ask

questions, distribute informa

tion, and update each other.

It is an excellent vehicle to

notify people (provide alerts)

of the availability of new

information or distribute

knowledge to entire com

munities or organizations. In addition, it can be used by members to “subscribe” to information resources so that they receive the content as soon as it becomes available.

As instantaneous as e-mail

seems, it is primarily a one-way

medium. When people use it

to hold synchronous conversa

tions, the technology becomes

cumbersome, as delays in send-

ing and receiving each piece of

the dialogue tend to interfere

with collaborative nature of the conversation. Furthermore, e-mail is often used by individuals to archive content (in personal e-mail folders). This makes it difficult for other members of the community to access the information when they need it, adding more delay and noise into the conversation.

Recommendation: Use e-mail primarily to inform or alert community members of new content, community activities, work assignments, or other information appropriate for the membership. URLs of new content or features can easily be transmitted to members (and subgroups of members). Do not use e-mail to transmit the actual content, as it is usually unsearchable by the community and is subject to loss or deletion by individual members.

Examples: News organizations such as CNN and MSNBC use e-mail to alert subscribers when critical events important to them are posted on their Web site.

Medical sites like WebMD use e-mail to alert users when new advances in specific areas of medicine are announced. This makes users aware of the existence of new information by making it common knowledge. This is critical because if you don’t know knowledge exists, you can’t learn from it.

 Instant Messaging

Technology: Instant Messaging

What It Does

How It Supports Collaboration and Learning

Challenges of Use

IM has taken the

desired immedi-

acy of e-mail

and removed the

delay in sending

and receiving

each individual

piece of the dia

logue. The format

of IM more accu

rately represents


behavior. In ad

dition, multiple

and group con

versations can be

held just as easily

(much more so

than conference

calling on the


The instantaneous nature of

IM allows single or multiple

conversations to begin at the

moment of need, making it

much more convenient than

telephone or e-mail commu

nications. More important,

community members who

share IM “buddy lists” can

instantaneously see who is

online at any particular

time. This “presence aware-

ness” enhances collaboration

by facilitating easy connec

tions among community


Community members might

remove themselves from

“availability” (going “invisi

ble”) or withdraw completely

from the community if they

perceive that the IM traffic

they are receiving is more than

they can handle or if it is not

valuable enough for them to

pay attention. If this happens a

lot, IM conversations are

either ignored or become more

background noise. Like any

other communication or col-

laboration technology, it can

be overused and abused. Also,

IM may hog bandwidth and is

perceived to be less secure

than e-mail. Some corporate

networks block IM traffic.

Recommendation: Use instant messaging as a primary real-time communication vehicle inside communities. The IM functionality can be incorporated directly into your community work space, or it can be one of the many external commercial tools that are available. Try to limit IM conversations to community- or business-related activities so that users will not get overwhelmed and turned off by all the chatter.

Examples: Accenture uses IM to enable experts within the firm and those seeking expertise to use IM to build and manage their own personalized knowledge networks (see the case study in Chapter Five). Because these IM lists are personalized to each user, they have more value and are more likely to be used and trusted. This makes the information shared more trusted as well, and when trust within a collaborative environment is high, more learning is likely to take place. Of course, why IM another person when you can query an automated agent? Often called a bot (short for robot), this type of software can find information for you; all you have to do is ask. The sophistication of bots is always increasing; they can be “trained” by users to find particular types of information or cover specific domains of knowledge.


  Discussion Threads and Chatrooms


Technology: Discussion Threads and Chatrooms

What It Does

How It Supports Collaboration and Learning

Challenges of Use

These tools allow

structured Web

sites to be devel

oped where indi

viduals can ask

and respond to

questions in a

way that allows

users to follow

the logic of the


These tools overcome the

limitations of e-mail by

allowing all members of a

community to have access to

all discussion threads. This

enables everyone to see the

contributions of everyone

else so that responses can

more easily reflect group

thinking. All conversations

can be archived for future reference. This can be very effective for problem solving, for example, because everyone in the community can see how people previously talked about and resolved an issue. Many technical support Web sites use this technique so that customers can learn from prior discussions rather than ask the same questions over and over again.

Logging on and using these

tools requires significant moti

vation—a need to solve a spe

cific problem or ask a specific

question, for example. Once

the issue is solved, users don’t

often return to the site until

it’s needed again. Characteris

tically, then, users often get

very involved in a discussion

thread for a short time, until their need is met, and then don’t come back. So there is a great deal of work to keep interest and involvement in discussion forums high over time. This is where facilitators, alerts, and a careful attention to ease of use become important. Without these extra efforts, most discussion threads and chatrooms are either used by just a very small group of enthusiasts or quickly wither and die.

Recommendation: Use discussion threads and chatrooms for specific topics, issues, and problem-solving activities, not for general dialogue or interaction among community members. Be sure that important threads are monitored or facilitated and that access to these services is as easy as possible. When new ideas emerge or problems are solved, do not expect that all community members will check the thread to learn about them; be proactive in publishing the findings using other collaborative and alert tools.

Example: IBM wanted to query its thirty-two thousand managers about the role of the manager in the twenty-first century. More than eight thousand of those managers submitted ideas, stories, questions, and suggestions over a forty-eight-hour Web discussion event called “Manager Jam.” The company created the high level of participation, and collaborative learning, by tying the event to a critical business issue, providing extensive technical facilitation and leadership support, and limiting the time frame to create a sense that this was special.

 Web Conferencing

Technology: Web Conferencing

What It Does

How It Supports Collaboration and Learning

Challenges of Use

Allows individu-

als and groups to

collaborate over

distance. Com-

bines audio con-

versations with

codified knowl

edge assets, such

as presentations,

documents, Web

sites, and appli-

cations, and can

allow groups to

talk and work

with these

resources collec

tively. Many of

these tools

employ a form of

instant messag

ing for communi

cation between

presenters and

participants or

between partici

pants themselves.

Training organizations have

embraced this technology for

virtual course presentations.

When used well, these pro

grams allow participants to

use the technology to share

ideas and ask questions in

ways that can approach the

interactivity advantage of

the traditional classroom.

More interesting, however,

this technology allows work

teams and communities to

collaborate on projects by

working on knowledge assets

and applications in real


Often this technology is used

primarily for one-way knowl

edge dissemination (for exam-

ple, one-way delivery of

training content). This is an

acceptable and efficient use of

Web conferencing because it

facilitates the distribution of

knowledge and expertise to

large numbers of people in a

short amount of time. But it is

not collaboration, because par-

ticipants have little opportu

nity to share what they know

and discuss what they are

doing or learning. The danger

is in confusing the two pur

poses: if communities tout

one-way presentations as a

form of collaboration, mem

bers may get frustrated and

tune out of future collabora

tive opportunities or wait for

the recording of the event to

become available and watch it,

asynchronously, at a later time.

Recommendation: Use Web conferencing to create opportunities for members to work interactively on an application, document, presentation, or something else. Use the application sharing features of the tool to enable real-time participation, and be sure to post the work so that it can be accessed asynchronously later. It is also appropriate to use these tools for one-way information and training presentations, but be sure not to promote them as pure collaborative activities.

Example: A retail company used Web conferencing to enable buyers to collaborate on retail trends, competitive positioning, vendor status, and other issues important to buying decisions. Buyers in different parts of the company were able to learn about and comment on new products as a team in a much shorter time frame. This allowed the company to address the buying decisions, vendor management, and supply chain issues faster and more uniformly, and it also provided a forum for each buyer to offer guidance and ideas to the group. Over time, this collaboration created a great deal of trust in the buyer community, resulting in a stronger and more innovative team.

Knowledge Network Building Tools

Technology: Knowledge Network Building Tools

What It Does

How It Supports Collaboration and Learning

Challenges of Use

Although almost everyone builds some sort of personal knowledge network, specialized software can aid this effort by identifying people who are likely

These tools address one of the great promises of collaborative learning: if people could easily find others with experience and expertise in the same area they are working in, the knowledge that could be shared would be significantly greater. Just

While these tools have tremendous potential for linking people, projects, and expertise, the fact is that in order to do this, they have to “snoop” around your work activities, e-mails, and other aspects of your virtual life. While most ask for permission first, some

to be working on similar projects or who have similar expertise. Some tools analyze the resources people use to find affinities, while others might look at e-mail or discussion threads to help people answer common questions like, “Who can help me answer my question, or show me what to do?” or “Is there anyone else out there working on the same things I am working on?”

being aware of others working on similar projects or in the same knowledge domain as you are opens up learning opportunities that would be impossible if the knowledge continued to go undiscovered.

people may feel this violates privacy rights, although privacy rights inside corporations can be debated. More challenging is the tendency of some people to hide or protect what they are doing, thus running counter to the knowledge-sharing goal. Establishing the right balance between the advantage of work and knowledge affinities across an organization, and creating a sense of being spied on or being overly intrusive, will always be difficult.

Recommendation: Use knowledge network building tools carefully. Where people all agree to use this approach, the results can be very beneficial, especially in bringing expertise together, fostering innovation, and reducing redundant work. However, caution is advised when launching these tools to be sure that they are being used for the right purposes and have some limitations on where they can look.

Example: Two groups of managers in two different countries are working on very similar projects. Using a knowledge management system that has an affinity component, one group queries the system to identify anyone else who has accessed documents similar to the ones they are using. They discover the other group by seeing documented usage patterns almost identical to their own. After contacting the second group, they all decide to pool resources and complete the project more quickly and at lower cost. As each group contributes its knowledge, the expertise of both groups increases, and the confidence everyone has in the final results is much stronger.


Weblogs (Blogs)

Technology: Weblogs (Blogs)



How It Supports Collaboration and Learning

Challenges of Use

Enables almost anyone to be an instant publisher of content on the Web. Weblog software creates a templated environment where “authors” publish news, commentary, and other items, usually in reverse chronological order (most recent at the top). No programming skills are needed. Most blogs can handle a rich variety of media.

Extensive use of hyperlinks allows “bloggers” to link to related content, creating a vast interconnected web of related knowledge. Weblogs tend to focus on specific knowledge domains and therefore attract a community of people interested in the same topics. Some weblogs allow readers to post commentary back to the blog. Because of their ease and immediacy, weblogs can be an ideal way to generate new ideas for comment by a larger audience.

The reliability and accuracy of information on weblogs vary greatly, depending on the author. Multiple blogs can have competing, sometimes contradictory information. This may be fine in the arena of public debate, but in a business, this could have the undesirable effect of communicating inappropriate or wrong content, providing conflicting direction, or even putting the organization at risk from a legal standpoint. Proper management and publishing permissions can reduce this problem. Blogs can also get very long, and some early information can become dated. Keeping up with content accuracy will be a constant challenge. Finally, while the use of a great many links to other resources contributes to a richer blog experience, users can get lost in the process. Good and consistent navigation protocols can help here.

Recommendation: Weblogs can be useful tools to communicate important and immediate information to communities of practice or an entire organization. They can generate interest and participation in knowledge creation. But they can get out of hand. Start slowly and carefully, and be sure to restrict blog authoring, at least initially, to those who know the content well, are highly responsible, can write well, and have some journalistic sensibilities.

Example: A company is about to launch a major product update. Many groups (sales, marketing, manufacturing, distribution, and others) must be updated on a regular basis. Resellers, advertising agencies, and other partners need time-critical information as well. The product manager starts a weblog containing all relevant information about the launch. Other project leaders can submit information and links. Everyone who is authorized to have access to the blog has a secure log-in and password, so the weblog is protected. Not only does the blog keep everyone informed, but it provides a history of the project. The information it contains can be transferred to more structured knowledge repositories and training courses, so others can learn from the experience in the future.