Knowledge Transfer and Humanity

As previously discussed, the advent of social media has brought fundamental change to the norms of knowledge transfer. Hereticalpoetical suggested on February 28th that “Creating, sharing, and transferring knowledge is inherently human, existing in our realities and relationships.” This, I think, rings of truth–and if knowledge transfer is so fundamental to our nature, how notable must such a broadening be? The river of knowledge has branched into an endless web of interconnected streams.

Nor is this some vague thing which can only be discussed in generalities and poetry, we can see in each innovation the exact ways in which it expands our capability to communicate meaningfully. To examine these, it is perhaps best to begin with the concept of WEB 2.0. Levy discusses what, exactly, it is. Some elements have more to do with implementation and design; that is, to understand that WEB 2.0 is a content-centered platform for service development. More importantly from a human-oriented concern with knowledge transfer, it requires the active participation of users in a constant effort to improve services, valuing even the smallest and most delayed actions as an important part of the whole (2009).

These principles which Levy outlines should be rather familiar in light of recent posts: once more we see emphasized the import of “ordinary” people as agents in knowledge transfer, the idea that there is value in what a single unsupported individual chooses to transmit to others. Before, we discussed the “how” in general terms regarding social media and similar advances making such communication possible. Now, in the context of the underlying principles of WEB 2.0 and social media, we see something of the why. It is a new recognition of the fact that the bleeding edge of innovators are not the whole of human society, nor even necessarily the most important or influential part. Just as that argument is used as the economic basis for supporting this perspective, so too does it recognize the social and knowledge-oriented perspective that one does not have to have substantial resources or powerful backers to be worthy of disseminating knowledge beyond one’s immediate social circles.

Now that we have arrived at the point, perhaps we should turn back briefly for a more detailed look at the ways in which different aspects of these technologies allow for such changes to be effected? The wiki model is one of the more well-known and widespread examples of WEB 2.0 thinking at work. Frankly, Grace describes them as elegantly as I could ever hope to, dubbing the wik…


Recall earlier posts on the importance of effective, efficient knowledge transfer within organizations to those organizations. Here we see some of the impetus behind the rapid development of this broad expanse of technological development, brushed lightly by some of the articles discussed in the most recent post: it is not only propelled forward by a sea of individuals who find self-worth and enjoyment from it, or by ideologically motivated people of education, but also by the realization in some sectors of the realms of business and politics that internally motivated systems of knowledge transfer are quite often to their benefit.

Yuan et al. offer additional support for this, examining various other tools (some older, some among this recent expansion) in the same vein within the context of their potential utility for a multinational business. Their findings, notably, parallel non-scholarly observations of the utility of social media, noting that, among other things, direct personal contact in the physical world is still seen as the most effective method for transferring tacit knowledge, which is supported in a number of other contexts (2013)–recall the example of AMTC, in which tacit knowledge was often transferred by physically relocating employees for cross-training (Wang & Lu 2010)–while explicit knowledge is often considered to be more consistently transferable through digital means (2013).

Another response received by Yuan et al. from their interviews with the same employees was a fairly consistent agreement that the quality of integration of these knowledge transfer technologies was more important than their quantity. Most importantly, they note that:

When compared with both communication tools and
long-standing KM tools, interviews showed that social
media can better address challenges to knowledge sharing. (2013)

The primary reasons cited for this are heightened interpersonal understanding, and the role of closer relationships in encouraging the sharing of useful knowledge and skills (2013).

So, we have not turned back at all! Rather, it seems that the specifics of how this type of social media or that in particular operates is ignorable in the context of broad-view knowledge transfer. What matters most is commonly held amongst all: they strengthen the bonds between users, transforming knowledge-sharing from a burden into an activity which is both socially desirable and of meaningful utility.

It is as hereticalpoetical implied: knowledge transfer is a human thing. The brilliance of social media is that in their invention we have struck upon a way to turn the impersonal, explicit-knowledge oriented knowledge transfer systems of the past into something which more closely resembles the way in which we are instinctively driven to share knowledge. The cold divide of digital technology has begun to be mended using more technology.

What, then, is to come? I am no oracle, but were I to make a projection–sewn from whole cloth in a few moments of consideration though it may be–it would be that we will continue down the converging road we seem to be upon, toward a more total integration of human knowledge-sharing behavior with digital knowledge-sharing systems. I suspect that tacit knowledge will be no easier to relate in such a future, but perhaps it may reach a point where such transfer is merely as difficult to transfer remotely as it is in person.



Grace, T. P. L. (2009). Wikis as a knowledge management tool. Journal of Knowledge Management, 13(4), 64-74.

Levy, M. (2009). Web 2.0 implications on knowledge management. Journal of Knowledge Management, 13(1), 120-134.

Wang, W. T., & Lu, Y. C. (2010). Knowledge transfer in response to organizational crises: An exploratory study. Expert Systems with Applications, 37(5), 3934-3942.

Yuan, Y. C., Zhao, X., Liao, Q., & Chi, C. (2013). The use of different information and communication technologies to support knowledge sharing in organizations: From e-mail to micro-blogging. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 64(8), 1659-1670.

Knowledge Transfer and Humanity

9 thoughts on “Knowledge Transfer and Humanity

  1. I really like this line:

    “one does not have to have substantial resources or powerful backers to be worthy of disseminating knowledge beyond one’s immediate social circles.”

    This, to me, is part of what blogging and publishing is about; you are sharing your knowledge with everyone, not just those whom you are socially close to. (And I mean “publishing” as more than just in journals and books – all forms of publishing, be it on websites, wikis, or other means.)

    One thing I’m realizing through my readings is that there isn’t much discussion on what happens when the knowledge shared is incorrect. I know there have been issues with wikis (and other online sites) where the explicit knowledge being presented was actually incorrect. If that information is in a business wiki, as Grace would probably encourage as a good means of knowledge sharing, then that incorrect information could have downstream effects which hurt the business. But no one using the wiki would know it was wrong, and the person updating the wiki may believe it to be correct because that is the way it has been done in the past.

    You are right, knowledge transfer is very human – but humans make mistakes. I can’t help but wonder how we account for “the human factor” when looking at knowledge transfer. Because even if I believe 100% that I am right – I could still be wrong.

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    1. That’s definitely one of the issues with lower restrictions on publishing. I think I mentioned it offhand in one of the more recent posts, but I think I might dedicate one to examining how informational inaccuracy and bias can be reduced, and the problems that arise when it’s left alone (or fostered, in insular e-communities which adhere to specific viewpoints).

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    2. I don’t think there’s been much research on wikis (e.g., corporate) potential to share and disseminate bad information in such environments, but there has been research on the problems when information and knowledge aren’t shared well, are ignored, etc., or when there’s a lack of trust. It’s a good problem to examine — because wikis are open and all relevant agents can fix bad information, do they afford better knowledge sharing?


      1. I think that that would require a consistent, broadly appealing source of internal motivation. Basically the majority of people involved in the wiki would need to be active participants in the editing and vetting of information, and you’d need an environment where differences of opinion aren’t stifled.

        What seems to be more common in wiki projects is that a handful of people with personal investment in the wiki are responsible for much of the fact-checking and editing. It’s pretty obvious how that can turn into a problem; if most users aren’t bothering to fact-check or question editing decisions, there’s ample opportunity for that small group of active editors (regardless of intent) to start biasing or censoring the information available in the wiki. That’s just as destructive as an environment where every edits on whims without bothering to source statements of fact or confirm their sources as legitimate.

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    3. Researching human error in collaborative environments would be interesting. I took a course in undergrad where the professor used Wikis for class material. My classmates dictated what they thought was important from the material and included these concepts in the Wiki. I often found myself backtracking to make sure the information was correct. In an organizational context, misinformation could cost you the job!

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  2. “the idea that there is value in what a single unsupported individual chooses to transmit to others”

    I just want to leave that there. It’s such a hopeful sentence. It’s the basis behind one tweet starting a movement after it goes viral. That idea gives hope to people who don’t think they can make a difference because they’re just one person of no real import. That’s what social media and blogging and all that jazz is all about to me. Putting yourself out there in the hope that at least one person is moved/affected by what you’ve done.

    Liked by 1 person

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