Online publishing, e-learning and knowledge management – Part 1

Online publishing, E-learning and Knowledge management

We have posted to this blog before about convergence between online publishing and e-learning, but a further presence lurks at the back of this discussion. Knowledge Management (KM) is another closely related field of professional practice where we see convergence and overlap.

If you want to get a flavour of current thinking in this area, you could do worse than start with Dave Snowden’s Seven Principles of Knowledge Management. Like both e-learning and online publishing, KM has its own set of concepts and buzzwords, its own gurus (of whom Snowden is one) and its own yearly schedule of conferences and trade exhibitions. And like both of those it tends to keep itself to itself. It’s the silo problem.

KM has its roots in the attempt better to organise, and therefore to profit from, the information that large organisations accumulate in the normal course of their operations. Through the word-inflation rife in the information industry, Document Management becomes Information Management, which in turn becomes Knowledge Management. As a field of study, and as a software sector, KM has many concerns in common with online publishing – e.g. search, discoverability, user experience, taxonomy – and is also affected by the cross-cutting technological developments such as social media that are rocking all digital industries across the board.

Where KM differs from online publishing is that its end users are mainly (but not exclusively) the employees and stakeholders of large organisations and institutions: it has no exposure to the consumer market; the ultimate target of online publishing activities. This tends to mean that KM becomes more about services than about products. There is a turning away in organisational KM nowadays from the text as true repository of knowledge that publishers might find hard to countenance. ‘Knowledge sticks to people’ is the KM mantra: it’s about connection, not collection. In so far as this last point can be characterised as a Web 2.0 effect, however, online publishing is subject to a very similar tension, as we have seen.

We’ve spoken before on this blog about how the rigid cell walls of the book have to become something more like a semi-permeable membrane in order for publishing to realise its semantic destiny on the web. To quote Umberto Eco, ‘books speak of other books’1, and that conversation can become more intimate online than it ever was in the physical world. Online, books can speak not only of but also to those other books. We are moving towards a model beyond either the scroll or the codex, in which text can be chunked, searched, tagged, commented upon, rated, machine-read and recombined in ways that can seem violently in opposition to the traditional model of academic publishing.

In bringing about this change we’ll find that publishing houses themselves have substantial KM needs in organising the huge amounts of information they routinely process. But could they also benefit from some of the more ‘out-there’ thinking in the field of KM?

One of the reasons why the web is such a terrifying place for publishers is that it seems to be putting many historical absolute fundamentals up for grabs. Tumultuous change in industries is, however, always an opportunity for someone. The same chaotic energy is redrawing the map of established disciplines, putting pressure on those silo walls, and there is a lot of potential for creativity in the places where the walls break down.

Why do we at Semantico spend so much time thinking about the interdependence between these closely related but disconnected fields? The answer to that lies in our belief that it is along these fault lines, where the techtonic plates rub together, that we are going to see the most ‘heat’, the largest opportunity for innovation. There is the potential for opportunity for us here as a company and, since we are all in this together, opportunity for our clients.

What is the shape of that opportunity, I hear you ask? To be a bit less abstract about that we have to talk about the third of the vertices in our three-cornered header, and in particular about blended learning.

But that, I’m afraid will have to wait until Part Two!


  1. Eco, Umberto (1983). The Name of the Rose. Harcourt.

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3 Responses to “Online publishing, e-learning and knowledge management – Part 1”

  1. eLearning

    “There is the potential for opportunity for us here as a company and, since we are all in this together, opportunity for our clients.” – Yes, definitely true. Nice article post, I can’t wait for the part 2.

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