Knowledge management and learning and development (L&D) are tightly linked in many ways primarily because developing skills and behaviors and sharing knowledge are at the core of why each function exists. L&D strategies have evolved to include many ways to deliver and enable informal learning using traditional knowledge management tactics.

This focus on informal learning and knowledge sharing is driving the creation of newer roles within L&D, such as curator, community manager/facilitator, social learning strategist and collaboration specialist.

Knowledge management has been defined by Carla O’Dell as getting the right knowledge to the right person at the right time in her book, “If We Only Knew What We Know: The Transfer of Internal Knowledge and Best Practice” (1999). Isn’t this the goal of learning – improving the flow of knowledge for the purposes of increasing know-how and developing skills?

For decades, knowledge management practitioners have strived to capture best practices and repeatable behaviors to ensure others can learn, adopt and even evolve these behaviors and practices to improve company and employee performance.

L&D professionals are realizing that formal learning, classroom or e-learning, is just one way to impart knowledge and develop skills but that enabling information flow and informal learning will greatly impact performance and engagement in a more just-in-time, efficient manner.

There are four main tactics learning professionals are leveraging from traditional knowledge management strategies:

  1. Communities: Congregating people in person or virtually to share best practices, solve problems and continue the conversation after classroom programs.
  2. User-Generated Content: Setting up governance models around people sharing their best content and defining processes for promoting user-generated content into formal learning programs.
  3. Content Curation: Expanding learning assets to include external content and farming relevant content in support of a particular skill, knowledge area or learning path.
  4. Project Debriefs: Proactively capturing lessons learned of what to continue, what to stop and what to change to continuously improve results.



Communities of Practice (CoP) have been a pillar of knowledge management strategies for decades. CoPs are groups usually formed around a common theme, such as a problem to solve, area of expertise, client, geography, gender, race, or role, led by a committed leader within the group. The ingredients of a successful community include:

  • A solid purpose/reason for meeting that participants find beneficial to them;
  • A standing, dependable meeting on the calendar, such as monthly or quarterly;
  • A facilitator or moderator to create meeting agendas and promote discussion;
  • A scribe to capture ideas and solutions discussed; and
  • A platform to store content and enable sharing outside of meetings.

Facilitators can rotate to distribute the responsibility of leading a community, and, in fact, providing those new perspectives is very healthy for a community. It is tempting to have a learning professional facilitate communities but they are usually more successful if led from within the group.

The facilitator needs to encourage active sharing of ideas, problems, solutions, successes and lessons. They need to do this activity outside of meetings as well. Team sites are a fantastic tool to collect and codify some of these areas but communities must be people-focused and therefore involve a social and human element, not just technology.

Communities can also exist as an extension of classroom events to keep the attendees together for continuous sharing and learning from one another. These cohorts can extend discussion on a topic raised in the classroom event, provide opportunities to apply newly learned skills in context and enable peer coaching.

Communities can live on forever or be temporary depending on the benefit to the group.

User-Generated Content

Sharing tips, tricks and best practices in social forums has been a long-standing knowledge management technique. L&D is taking advantage of current technology to enable this kind of sharing to include not only tips learned on the job but also external content employees wish to share with others, such as a great TED Talk, a thought-provoking blog or article or the latest business book.

L&D has found a way to leverage these sharing activities to incorporate richer and more recent content into formal programs.

Through social technology and communities, shared content can be flagged or “promoted” into formal programs. For example, there are many TED Talks on effective communication but there may be one that a CoP agrees is the best. This talk can be flagged and formally integrated into an effective communications program. Connecting community facilitators and L&D professionals becomes important to continuously ensure programs are relevant to the audience and to efficiently source and manage content.

Sharing content without some sort of governance model can quickly make any learning portal an overgrown garden of weeds leaving the “flowers,” or the best content, difficult to find.

Providing clear criteria and governance over what gets “promoted” into a formal, sponsored program will guarantee the best and most relevant content is featured. Good criteria can include the level of relevance to role, skill, business or industry, a leading practice, furthers thinking on the right topic, aligns with organizational goals, promotes additional conversation, comes from a credible resource, among others.

Content Curation

Providing links to the wealth of external content that exists and continues to grow at a remarkable rate can be overwhelming to employees. With the number of emails, meetings, documents and links that come at an employee on a daily basis, sharing more as a “nice to know…” easily gets lost.

Oftentimes, organizations have access to external content libraries because they are cost-efficient resources to provide employees access to a wide variety of topics and learning events. However, employees don’t have the time to sift through different portals or even hundreds of search results when they type “Communication” into the search bar, for example.

Employees need help narrowing down the best resources for them to develop their skills and managers need direction choosing the right resources to recommend to their teams.

Curating content, which is what reference librarians essentially have done for years, provides a clearer starting point and shaves minutes or even hours off of employees’ searching time. The role of learning curator has become a valuable role on the L&D team. Making a case for this position can be achieved by showing time saved across the employee population.

Curation will only become more important as the rate of content creation continues to explode. Finding, vetting and promoting content is also a sound marketing strategy for L&D. Highlighting curated content tied to a theme is a great way to continue to drive traffic to your learning portal and external learning resources.

Project Debriefs

Project debriefs or summaries have been a fundamental way for knowledge management professionals to capture and share learnings across disparate groups and regions.

The act of reflecting and describing what happened and why is the crux of knowledge management. Establishing a process to capture this kind of knowledge on an ongoing basis is probably the single most important exercise a company can do to codify history and protect itself from knowledge loss.

Debriefing and summarizing a project or initiative can be done by the project leader but, oftentimes, it is better to have an external facilitator from human resources or knowledge management lead the discussion to ensure all project team members can participate. This way the activity is guaranteed to happen as many times people move on to other projects or processes and do not make the time to capture lessons from what has just finished.

If a project takes more than a year from start to finish, it is very easy to forget the details of what happened, let alone why it happened. So, conducting this kind of exercise after major milestones can help ensure the knowledge and learning is not lost due to memory lapses or attrition.

The structure of a project debrief can be simple:

  • Situation: Describes the background and business problem.
  • Solution: Describes what we did and how we did it.
  • Results: Describes what happened and what metrics we impacted.
  • Lessons: Describes what we would do again and/or what we should never do again.

Usually, debriefs are documents or presentations but videos of project teams sharing their lessons and stories can be more impactful.


Knowledge management and L&D use a number of common tactics to achieve very similar objectives – ensuring employees have the right knowledge and skills for improved performance. Techniques like communities, user-generated content, content curation and project debriefs can further the learning goals of an organization.

These knowledge management techniques, along with others, like expertise location, mentoring and knowledge capture, are being slightly re-purposed in L&D strategies, especially as portals and social collaboration technology becomes more prevalent.