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Social Networking for Knowledge Sharing

Knowledge management owners need to know that workers are getting information in fundamentally different ways than a few years ago. The source of knowledge has moved away from a central authoritative body that dispenses knowledge to the masses into a highly distributed group in which the lines between expert and learner are blurred.

Knowledge management can be an effective strategy to collect knowledge and make it available to those who need it. Technologies, such as e-learning, online or broadcast learning, have sought to minimize physical constraints by making it possible to educate groups of people who were in different locations with the same content, but did nothing to change the teacher and student model or to actively have learners contribute to the knowledge base.

Social networking tools, such as Facebook and MySpace, have found a way to make collaboration engaging and productive for millions of people. MySpace has more than 100 million active users, while Facebook claims more than 175 million active users, adding more than 600,000 new users a day. While many have said social networking is for the younger generation, Facebook’s fastest-growing demographic is over 30 years old. Active social networking is a worldwide phenomenon and boasts users in nearly every country in the world.

The growth of these applications and the number of active users who are contributing their videos, pictures, content and general knowledge represent a change in how people are willing to share information with their communities. Facebook and MySpace as platforms are not appropriate corporate learning platforms, but the shift in attitudes toward sharing widely should be utilized to expand the learning knowledge management portfolio.

CLOs need to be willing to combine traditional knowledge management methods with social networking capabilities to create a collaborative knowledge sharing approach as an overall learning strategy. By adopting collaborative knowledge sharing, the learning organization facilitates the breakdown of the one-to-many model and encourages connections between subject matter experts who have the knowledge and knowledge consumers. The expert and consumer roles are fluid, changing independently on the need and expertise of each contributor.

In effect, everyone is a potential learner and teacher. The connections that are possible in a truly open system such as Facebook are huge, but even in relatively modest-sized organizations, the number of connections that can be established goes well beyond what traditional classroom or online learning systems could achieve.

The challenge and the opportunity for learning organizations is to give control of the content over to the community, utilize the best learning tools for the application and to facilitate information learning and collaboration. Users will want to add their own content, including videos, blogs and documents, along with ability to comment and rate content.

Cisco Systems is well along the path to a collaborative knowledge-sharing approach to learning. The company, a leader in Internet networking, has a large number of products and solutions with limited time to manage and deliver new information to the field. Add to that challenge the complexities of a large, geographically dispersed customer base.

To meet the needs of its global sales audience, the worldwide sales enablement organization is utilizing a large library of video-recorded presentations as its knowledge base and extending the knowledge with user-contributed content, blogs, ratings and communities. Users are free to collaborate on the existing content, but also to “mash up” content from anywhere in the portal and create new learning content. Users from across the organization can find the experts in the content area they are looking for and make connections across the organization and contribute the result to the knowledge base.

Using a collaborative knowledge sharing platform, Cisco is able to efficiently collect knowledge from subject matter experts anywhere in the organization and make it available for all in a vast library of content. From this base of content, employees have created hundreds of focused communities and blogs and posted thousands of user-generated documents to the Cisco learning portal.