Saprasang Vyakhya

Continuing on the topic of context … anyone who has studied Hindi (i know this of CBSE board in India, though i would think this would be there of other boards too) would not have been able to escape the concept of the Saprasang Vyakhya. So what is Saprasang Vyakhya? Lets translate, and try to see the significance.

Saprasang … prasang translates into context, so saprasang means within the context.

Vyakhya … vyakhya translates into definition.

So, even as students, when we interpreted poetry, or dohe (couplets), we did not just define the meaning of the poem as it occurred to us. Rather, the entire definition was within the context. And this is something important to understand. One thing that comes from here is that the definition doesnt stand outside of a context. In other words, without the context, the definition itself may not be totally clear, or, one could say that without context the same poem could be interpreted in totally different ways by different people. Or, the meaning of the poem becomes a bit obscured withou the context in which the poet has written.

This is true of most stories. the same story, seen from different contexts, or different viewpoints, may lend itself to completely different tellings, and to completely different interpretations. Take it out of its context, and its meaning either changes so completely that you would have difficulty trying to identify the story, or it completely loses its meaning.

And this is the role of context in any form of knowledge. Without it, there usually isnt knowledge. The way i see it:

Information + Context = Knowledge

In other words, context is what converts information into meaningful knowledge, something which we can understand, internalize. And yet, a lot of KM doesnt look too closely at context, or not as closely as we ought to, i suppose. What do you feel?


Ever walked into a meeting room which has been used by folks before you, who have left their scribblings on the whiteboard? Even if you can read what they have written or drwan, its usually quite difficult to understand what they must have been talking about.

This is about context. In this scenario, you have the content, but not the context, and it is a combination of the two that helps to understand, thereby creating knowledge. The context, in this scenario, would come from the discussion that would have accompanied the content that went on the whiteboard. There is some meaning attached to what’s there on the board without which the information is incomplete.

I feel a similar thing with presentations. If someone, in replying to a request sends you a presentation, you would find, more often than not, that you aren’t able to understand much. Notes with the slides help to some point, but the context of the information can’t quite be put in the slides.

Why Knowledge Sharing

The other day, I couldn’t find my laptop charger. As someone who believes that a laptop breaking down isn’t altogether as lousy as folks make it out to be, was a little worried about some stuff I had to complete. Well, the question was, how does one find a charger.

Step 1 … Start thinking about where you last saw it. As it happened, the last time I remembered seeing it was two days before, at a meeting. Hmm … So maybe I left it there? Called them up, no charger. Suddenly, there was a brainwave. Me and a colleague were wrapping up around the same time, and we were carrying similar looking bags. Maybe I put my charger in her bag? Improbable, but just to make sure, called and woke up a colleague who actually happened to be on leave that day. Ouch. Tried to find at a few other places I had been to, but no charger.

Step 2 … Try to find out how to get another charger. Having found that out, also found that the charger would take five days.

Step 3 … Tell colleagues that I have misplaced the laptop charger. By now its been two hours.

And that’s when a colleague tells me the charger is with security.

As it turns out, had left my charger at the office, and didn’t remember it. But the point is, by asking, I would have not have those two hours looking for the charger. And this is where knowledge sharing is so important. Need something? Reach out to people, not necessarily only the ones you think can help you, but to a larger audience. Never know where you might find the solution.

Blended Learning

Blended learning is one of those things which mean different things to different people. Ask four people what they think about blended learning, and you will probably get five replies. Thats actually just about average, because i could come up with three different replies to the question, depending on time of day, day of week, wind speed, humidity, and a number of other factors, too many to mention.

So what exactly is blended learning? I don’t quite know. Thats not to say that i am not trying to find out, but i cant quite define it in one sentence, and i believe that if you cant define something in one sentence, you probably don’t know what it is. I can try to describe what blended learning is, from my perspective, which, while being different from yours, could complement the way you define it. Whatever way you define it, the idea is very simple, even though the definition may not be. The idea is that the learning objectives could be achieved through a mix of face-to-face training and online training. This is why blended learning is about a mix of classroom training and e-learning.

Thing is, we need to look at the very concept of blended learning to understand what it is all about, and why it is important. An interesting one i had blogged about was one which talked about how training started being a fully classroom based activity. Over a period of time, given constraints, e-learning came into the picture, and the assumption was that whatever ILT could do, e-learning could do better. This, however, ignored the importance of people-to-people interactions in the learning process, and led to the development of the concept of blended learning where classroom and online learning are blended.

This is where i believe we need to relook at the concept of blended learning. To begin with, a blended learning approach needs to look at learning as a process and not an activity. This means that there must be a series of activities which facilitate the learning process, and one of these activities is training. This process could have a set of other activities which are structured around people interacting with content, or people interacting with people to facilitate learning from a number a sources in a number of ways. To take an example, learning could be facilitated by KM processes and systems in a way where people could be connected with relevant content from the KM portal as supplementing training. In addition, learning could also be facilitated by building the social connections of learners where they could interact, share, and in the process, learn from each other.

What am i trying to say? Essentially, that blended learning as an approach is about leveraging training, e-learning, KM, social networks, so they together can facilitate the learning process. In a way, this could be named social learning, though social is one aspect of this way of defining it.

Knowledge Supply Chain …

I recently read a post by @nickknoco about the Knowledge Supply Chain. Nick draws a useful analogy with the concept of the Supply Chain, to describe how we could look at the flow of knowledge in the organization. Quite agree with Nick that when talking about supply chains, we dont start from the supply side, rather, we begin with the demand side, and this translates into first defining what it is that people need, and then creating a product (here, it would be a knowledge product, but the idea is similar) to satisfy that need. What i find more important is the analogy, because it recognizes the fact that knowledge flows through a value chain (or in an organization) quite analogous to material flowing through a supply chain.

Central to the idea of the knowledge supply chain is the understanding that knowledge flows, and that in any flow, like that of material or information in the supply chain, there are participants who enable the flow, and need to be at the focal point of any study of the flow. In the knowledge supply chain, it is the people, participating in the supply chain who are analogous to the organizations in a material supply chain. This is something KM practitioners already understand (KM is about people is the most written about, least practised theme), so this gives us a sense of how looking at a supply chain perspective of KM would lead us to things we are already familiar with.

So where does the organization come into the picture. The way I see it, the organization provides the backdrop for this supply chain or flow. I wouldnt go so far as to say that the organization is the reason for this flow, because knowledge flows span organizations, and there is no reason to assume that there was no knowledge-sharing in the pre-modern organization-era. Having said that, the organization does provide the context for the flow, and that is one of the aspects that I meant by backdrop (which is a clever thing to write, given that I havent the foggiest idea about what else I meant). In addition to providing the context, the organization also sets the tone for a knowledge-marketplace. Any supply chain is a series of marketplaces which define the optimum value exchange (pricing of products or services being only one component of value), and have a more-or-less well defined set of participants. In other words, the supply chain and marketplace views of KM are quite analogous, and I have since long been supporting this way of looking at KM.

Changing Paradigm of Learning

There is an interesting conversation with Marc Rosenberg … about the way the idea of learning is changing. Actually, i would say that this is not so much about how learning is changing, but rather, how we are able to understand how learning is changing in the organizational context. This probably has more to do with learning managers having better tools to be able to address learning needs at a number of different levels.

Lets look at it two ways. Today, a lot of organizations have either moved their learning framework towards a blended learning approach, or are in the process of doing that. This is based on the understanding that people could learn either in a classroom, with learning being driven by a trainer, or they could learn alone, and these approaches could be integrated into one to be able to create an experience of learning which is independant of the learning method. This also has to do with training budgets and getting people away from their work for long enough time to attend training programs. This, though, is only one side of the learning scenario.

Another aspect of the learning scenario which is being seen more and more as the new way of learning is informal learning. This, though, like i said, is more to do with us understanding this, rather than this being a new process. Let me take an example. Back in college, there were classrooms where we studied subjects where information was given to us by the learned Professors, and we tried to cope with it as best as we could (not spectacularly, i would have to say, but nevertheless, most of us managed). This was supplemented by endless hours of slogging on one’s own (yeah, right! i can hear quite a few folks say, but maybe we could ignore those hooting). A third way of learning (used as a desperate measure, the night before the end-semesters) was when the course for the exam the next day would be divided into a group of friends, each of us would study some part of the course, and teach it to the rest (which essentially meant endless cigarettes and mugging, but thats beside the point). Hmm … sounds like social learning, if you ask me.

What is important here is that as learning professionals we need to understand that people learn from formal, structured methods, while at the same time, learning from the informal methods which have been around for quite a while. This, i feel, is where the ideas of Training and KM come into close contact with each other. KM, with the understanding that knowledge sharing is essentially a social process, being used in conjunction with the Training idea of structure being provided to guide the learning process. I feel the two need to go in conjunction. Some of the social media platforms can add value to the trianing paradigm through creating the peer-learning idea for people attending trainings. More engagement can be created with learners both before and after the training, enabling to build a connect with co-learners, in the shared context of the learning process they are part of, which is important for any kind of knowledge sharing.

What i found particularly interesting was:

… Precious classroom time is allocated more to teamwork, problem solving, creativity and rapid response to critical issues. Trainers will have to embrace much more of a facilitation and coaching role, and instructional designers will have to get used to less predictable course content and more real-time modifications to make courses more relevant and valuable.

Why this is interesting is because i feel this brings out the essence of how informal and formal learning can be brought together to create a more effective learning experience. People learn on their own, or in groups, and then come together for a discussion-centric training, with the trainer being more the moderator for the discussion, initiating, guiding, moderating, orchestrating the discussion, and chipping in from time to time to participate in the discussion, too. What is even more interesting is that instructional designers need to get used to creating courseware which keeps changing every time a training a delivered. This again is not new. When i used to train, i used to skip slides from the ppt to adapt it to the discussion that would be going on in the class. This is something which probably becomes more and more important in the scenario we are talking about here. Social media can play an important role here, and this is not just about within the classroom, but outside it, too.

Knowledge and Symmetry

Came across an interesting post about the diminishing knowledge asymmetry that we are seeing today. The post brings out quite interestingly how the web is levelling the playing field with respect to knowledge.

This is something i talk about when making a presentation about Knowledge Management. The question that people ask is why they should share knowledge. We have grown with the paradigm of “knowledge is power” and if we have spent effort to gather knowledge, i.e., power, why should we share it, and diminish power that we may have. Quite a common question. And this is where i like to look at it as a flattening world. A few years back, say two decades, the world was uneven with respect to access to knowledge. There were some people who had access to knowledge, and hence knew what needed to be done, why and how, and there were others who didnt have access to knowledge, and hence, didnt know, and were supposed to do. This has changed with something far simpler than social computing. What say google, anyone? Today, if you need to find information about any topic, you just google it, and the information is available to you. In this sense, the disparity in access to information is reducing to a large extent.

Question is, what are the implications of this? One is, access to knowledge is not necessarily a source of power, because what one person knows, can be found out from the web, unless it is something which is so specific that nobody apart from that one person knows it (theory of relativity, maybe?), and i feel there arent many such topics. What this means is that the “knowledge is power” paradigm is changing to one which we come across more often, “knowledge shared is knowledge squared”.

What are the implications for organizations? One implication is that knowledge about what should be done, how and why is not necessarily in the hands of a few, rather, it is available at all levels in the organization. This concept comes from times before the web made this change, only, it was called experience. With the flattening that we are seeing, this availability of knowledge is something which is being understood. Some organizations have understood this, and some organizations are in the process of understanding the concept, and also how this can be applied to bring about greater value to the entire organization by tapping into these sources of knowledge. And this, somewhere, i feel, is where the underlying principle of e 2.0 comes into the picture.