Monday, 2 November 2020

When "easier to share" means "harder to learn"

Easier to share can mean harder to learn


Image from wikimedia commons

A common mistake companies often make when it comes to setting up knowledge sharing systems is to make it as easy as possible for people to share.

I know that doesn't sound like a mistake, but let me explain.

Imagine a company that wants to make it easy for projects to share knowledge or lessons with other projects. They set up an online structure for doing this, with a simple form and a simple procedure. "We don't want people to have to write too much" they say "because we want to make it as easy as possible for people to share knowledge".

So what happens? People fill in the form, they put in the bare minimum, they don't give any context, they don't tell the story, they don't explain the lesson. And as a result, almost none of these lessons are re-used. The feedback that they get is "these lessons are too generic and too brief to be any use."

By making the knowledge too easy to share - by demanding too little from the knowledge supplier - they make the whole process ineffective. Knowledge transfer is not easy, and the sharing part is the easiest part. There are  more barriers to understanding and re-use than there are to sharing, so if you make the burden too light on the knowledge supplier, then the burden on the knowledge user often becomes overwhelming.

It's like passing a ball. If a ball is harder to catch than it is to throw, then the thrower has to do more work, and think more carefully, when it comes to making an effective pass. If you don't place some demands on the thrower, it won't work for the catcher. If you make it too simple to throw, it can be too hard to catch.

The same is true for knowledge. Sharing is teaching - it takes thought and effort.

So when you set up a system for knowledge sharing, then ensure that it allows enough detail, story, context and analysis to be shared, that the user can actually understand the nature of the knowledge, and what it might mean to them.

If you make it too simple to share, you can make it too hard to learn.

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