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Competency Development in Knowledge Management and eLearning: Supporting Informal Workplace Learning.



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Competency Development in Knowledge Management
and eLearning: Supporting Informal Workplace
Tobias Ley1, Stefanie N. Lindstaedt1, Dietrich Albert2
1 Know-Center, Inffeldgasse 21a,
A-8010 Graz, Austria
{tley, slind}
2 University of Graz, Cognitive Science Section,
A-8010 Graz, Austria
Abstract. We show how competence spaces that establish a strong link
between competencies and the tasks in which they are applied may be used for
supporting competency development in Knowledge Management and
eLearning. Two scenarios illustrate the integration of competence spaces into a
workplace learning environment, which supports self directed learning from a
knowledge repository and enhances feedback mechanisms in a coaching
1. Introduction
In recent times, methods derived from competency-based human resource
management (also termed “competency management” or “skills management”) have
been suggested to improve both knowledge management (KM) and eLearning
interventions. Within these methods, competencies of individual employees
(knowledge, skills, abilities) are being described and rated in order to improve
accessibility of these assets or to develop them further.
In KM, competencies have been used to create yellow pages or expert searches
within organizations ([1] and [2]) in order to leverage “tacit knowledge”. Others have
suggested that competencies be defined as a means to derive goals for strategic
knowledge development [3].
In eLearning, comparing profiles of needed competencies for different jobs to
profiles of available competencies of individual employees has been utilized in an
attempt to assign eLearning courses to employees who need them [4]. As a
consequence, there are several commercial eLearning Systems that employ a skills
management component.
Some authors see competencies as a way to closer relate KM and eLearning
activities in companies (e.g. [5]).
An extended Version of this paper appeared in:
Ley, T., Lindstaedt, S., Albert, D. (2005). Supporting Competency Development in Informal
Workplace Learning. In: Klaus-Dieter Althoff, Andreas Dengel, Ralph Bergmann, Markus Nick (Eds.)
Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence (Vol. 3782, pp. 189-202). Heidelberg: Springer.
2 Tobias Ley1, Stefanie N. Lindstaedt1, Dietrich Albert2
In this paper we argue that KM and eLearning initiatives that aim to develop the
competencies of the workforce and which employ competency management methods
may be improved in two ways: (1) By providing a closer connection between
competencies on the one hand and tasks or performance outcomes on the other, and
(2) by seeing competency development as an individually controlled learning process
rather than a centrally managed development initiative.
These two principles of our approach will be illustrated with results of a case study
in a research institute of 30 members, in the following referred to as Research Ltd.
Rather than employing competency development within a formal and centrally
controlled development approach, we will show how it is better suited for an informal
workplace learning framework. Two scenarios illustrate possible applications.
Seen in this light, any eLearning activity would have to emphasize self directed
learning from a knowledge repository rather than the utilization of static courseware
and feedback mechanisms in a coaching process.
2. Competency Development and Task Performance
In this paper, we define competencies as personal characteristics (knowledge, skills,
abilities) of employees which are relatively stable across different situations (see also
[6]). Competencies can be described in terms of distinguishable elements of
underlying capacities or potentials which allow job incumbents to act competently in
certain situations [7]. Employees dynamically combine these elements according to
the requirements of the situation in a self-organising process [8].
Traditionally, competency-based training was targeted at specific behaviors that
would constitute superior performance. Recently it has been argued that competencies
are more than a set of behaviors, but rather a set of attributes that allow for superior
performance and that development should be targeted at the underlying competencies
rather than at the behavioral level. In accordance with this view, competency
development then aims to extend the capacity of a person to act competently in a
multitude of situations by helping this person acquire additional competencies which
are applicable for performance in several tasks.
Our view of competency development is such that people acquire new
competencies in interaction with real job situations and tasks (see also [7]). New
competencies are being developed when a person enters a new situation in which
action is not predetermined, or is confronted with new task requirements. Reflecting
on the process or the outcomes or receiving feedback from a more experienced person
helps in this development. This view is in accordance with a large body of research
showing the importance of informal learning as opposed to formal training when it
comes to learning at the workplace [9].
Any model for describing competencies should therefore aim to offer a tight
integration between competencies and task performance. Using Korossy’s
competence-performance conception [10], we have developed a framework that
achieves this integration. By relating competency descriptions to descriptions of task
in which the competencies are being used (task competency matrix), we derive a
structure on the set of competencies and on the set of tasks (competence space).
Competency Development in Knowledge Management and eLearning: Supporting
Informal Workplace Learning 3
Table 1 gives an extract from a task competency matrix for Research Ltd. In this
case, the competencies (A-G in the table) were typical competencies used in projects
that deal with communicating to others. The tasks (the numbers in the figure) were
several documents which had been produced in the projects employees had been
working in, for example a project requirements document or a management summary.
Each document represents a specific task that encompasses all actions necessary for
producing the document.
Project Documents
Competencies 10 11 12 13 14 17 24 26 33 41 45
A Communication about client
requirements x x x x x x x x
B Discussing ideas and concepts on an
informal level x x x x x x
C Understanding goals of others x x x x x
D Discussing a common practice in a team x x x x x x x x
E Employing effective interview techniques x x
F Presenting and selling own ideas x x x x x x
G Defining goals and persuading others x x x x x x x
Table 1: Extract from a task-competency matrix for Research Ltd.
Figure 1 shows the competence space that can be derived from the matrix. The
boxes in the figure represent competence states, which are characterized by a specific
combination of competencies (A-G). States are connected by lines denoting a subset
relation. Below the competencies, numbers of documents are given that can be
created in the state (documents are only listed in the minimal state). For example, in
the state {A, D, G} the documents 12, 13 and 14 can be created. The paths upward
through the graph correspond to different development paths that employees could be
taking in developing project management expertise. The method for deriving a
competence space is described in [6].
3. Supporting Informal Workplace Learning
Competence spaces as described in the previous chapter can be the basis for a more
effective support of KM and eLearning interventions. As competency development is
inherently an individual learning activity, we suggest two ways for enhancing
informal workplace learning.
3.1. Scenario A: Feedback mechanisms for enhancing supervisor-employee
learning interaction
At Research Ltd., project managers are required to write a management summary at
the end of each project (as part of a defined project-close-out process). In this
management summary the project’s goals, the approach taken, the results achieved
and the value generated are stated within a few pages. However, many project
4 Tobias Ley1, Stefanie N. Lindstaedt1, Dietrich Albert2
managers have difficulties taking a step back from the small project problems and
technical details to give a clear, abstract description of what was achieved. But since
the management summary is an important document which is published on Research
Ltd.’s website and serves as a communication device to the management, its quality is
of high importance. Thus, steps have to be taken to ensure the quality of the
documents and to improve the capability of the project managers.
Figure 1: A Competence Space for Competencies A-G (see [6])
Imagine now that one project manager recently has completed a project. Using an
environment which guides him through the project-close-out process (see [11]), he
finishes writing his management summary. The document completion initiates a
workflow in which the supervisor has to review the document and can provide
feedback about its suitability (task rating). The management summary is part of a
competence space (see Figure 1) and the project manager has previously created other
Management Summaries. Based on this information the environment determines the
likely competence state the employee is in and identifies competencies the employee
is likely lacking.
In this case the environment finds out that the project manager in the past had low
ratings in the competencies “problem abstraction” and “structured writing” and which
are essential for writing a management summary. The environment displays these
findings to the supervisor. He then reviews the management summary and rates these
competencies again. The supervisor is thus supported in the task of diagnosing
strengths and weaknesses of the project manager and will be able to offer detailed
support as a learning coach. In this case the project manager has made considerable
improvements in “problem abstraction” but still has some deficiencies in “structured
writing”. Since the development of this competency is best done by providing detailed
feedback and discussing the paper together the supervisor meets with the project
manager and coaches him.
This scenario illustrates the connection between the competencies “problem
abstraction” and “structured writing” and the task of management summary writing.
Competency Development in Knowledge Management and eLearning: Supporting
Informal Workplace Learning 5
With a competence space that models the integration of competencies and tasks, it
becomes possible to integrate learning in the working process. From the quality of the
management summary, the system would suggest that the project manager should
focus on the development of these specific competencies. Since these competencies
are also crucial for other tasks (e.g. writing of user requirement definition) working to
improve them will help to improve overall performance.
The roles of the two actors (project manager as learner and supervisor as coach) in
this scenario underline the trend to perform competency development within the
business unit as opposed to relying on centrally controlled human resource activities.
3.2. Scenario B: Providing access to a document repository for self organized
Changes within Research Ltd. require each project manager to perform risk
management in his or her project. Since our project manager has never assessed the
risk of a project he is unsure about how this could be done, how often one should
monitor the risks, and how to document the risks and their development over time.
Again using the AD-HOC environment ([11]) – this time for the topic of risk
management – can help to find relevant information.
Using the competence space and the information about the project manager’s
competency state now enables the environment to offer him resources especially
applicable for him. Our project manager has previously managed projects in the field
of business process modeling and thus has substantial competency in the creation and
understanding of process maps. Based on this information the environment now offers
him a concise risk-process map, a checklist and some example visualizations of risk
portfolios. Long, verbose descriptions of the risk process are offered also, but much
lower down in the list. In addition he finds pointers to other project managers within
Research Ltd. who have some experiences with risk management.
This scenario shows that the knowledge about which competencies are available
can be applied to other tasks. It also improves the self organized learning by offering
documents and information applicable to the user in question. In this case, the
environment can take on the role of the “coach” in the sense that for the initial
building of the competency “risk management” available definition documents and
examples are provided. Initially, no human coach is needed but can later be accessed
through the environment as well.
4. Conclusion
We have shown how competence spaces that establish a connection between tasks
and competencies can support informal workplace learning. Two scenarios were
meant to illustrate possible areas of application. Both utilize a structure of
competencies that models the learning prerequisites within the set of competencies
and the relationships to the tasks in which they are applied. This provides support in
6 Tobias Ley1, Stefanie N. Lindstaedt1, Dietrich Albert2
competency assessment and coaching and enhances access to resources in a document
repository for learning purposes.
One advantage of using competence spaces when modeling competencies is that
they offer substantial potential for automating the process of competency profiling.
Because competence spaces integrate competencies with the usual tasks performed in
an organization, profiling can be done within the usual work processes. Additionally,
the prerequisites in the structures reduce the amount of information that has to be
provided manually. If the AD HOC environment utilizes a document management
system, a workflow may be introduced in which only little information has to be
provided to place a certain document into the underlying competence space, in order
to make it accessible for learning purposes.
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Technikum Kärnten, Spittal/Drau, 2002.
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... The work that is presented in this thesis has been documented in several publications along the way. These include publications on the case study (Wöls, Kirchpal & Ley, 2003;Lindstaedt, Farmer & Ley, 2004), on the theoretical model (Ley & Albert, 2003b;Ley & Albert, 2003c) and its validation (Ley & Albert, 2004), and on issues of practical applications in eLearning and Knowledge Management Ley & Ulbrich, 2002; and in informal workplace learning (Ley, Lindstaedt & Albert, 2005). ...
... Furthermore, the management capabilities in this field can be used to develop training programs. These programs should be evaluated In accordance with their potential application by using training functions and methodologies in order to achieve educational objectives and psychological objectives as well [23]. ...
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The knowledge structures theory developed by Doignon & Falmagne is a purely descriptive approach to the representation of knowledge and is free of any cognitive interpretation. The aim of this paper is to show one possible way in which this theory can be reconciled with traditional explanatory features of knowledge assessment by extending it to a competence-performance conception. Performance is conceived as the observable solution behavior of a person on a set of domain-specific problems, whereas competence (ability, skills) is understood as a theoretical construct explaining performance. The basic concept is a mathematical structure termed a diagnostic, that creates a relationship between a family of competence states and a family of performance states. A diagnostic is said to be a union-stable diagnostic, when the family of competence states as well as the family of performance states is union-stable and when there exists a union-preserving function that maps the set of competence states onto the set of performance states. Several properties of union-stable diagnostics are presented. An empirical investigation is reported which illustrates the practical application of union-stable diagnostics. Finally, some benefits and problems of the introduced modeling approach are discussed.
Achieving benefits through integrating eLearning and Strategic Knowledge Management
  • T Ley
  • A Ulbrich
Ley, T.; Ulbrich, A.: Achieving benefits through integrating eLearning and Strategic Knowledge Management. In (Auer, M., Eds.): Proceedings of the 5th International Workshop for Interactive Computer Aided Learning (ICL 2002), Fachhochschule Technikum Kärnten, Spittal/Drau, 2002.
Weiterbildung: Ein Mythos zerbricht (nicht so leicht!) In (Staudt
  • E Staudt
  • B Kriegesmann
Staudt, E.; Kriegesmann, B.: Weiterbildung: Ein Mythos zerbricht (nicht so leicht!). In (Staudt, E.; Kailer, N.; Kottmann, M.; Kriegesmann, B.; Meier, A. J.; Muschik, C.; Stephan, H.; Ziegler, A., Eds.): Kompetenzentwicklung und Innovation, Waxmann, Münster, 2002;.