Knowledge structure - what is it exactly?

Blog post   •   Aug 22, 2013 14:44 BST

Let's assume you have two black boxes. Each of them has an entrance on one side and an exit on the other. These boxes give you answers to your questions. You ask a question, and out comes the answer. Assume that both boxes provide correct answers for all possible questions. They don't make mistakes. Can we say that the boxes are of equal value?

Even though the boxes do exactly the same thing, they may well have important differences. They may have differences in their knowledge and information structure, also known as content structure. They can gather, structure and share knowledge and information in totally different ways.

So how do we see the differences?

If we take an example in which the question is relatively simple and common, the differences are about how those of us outside the box perceive the answer. Is the answer extracted and delivered in a single mass of text or is it neatly compiled in an easily understood "document"? Are links (tagging) to similar answers in the same subject area included with the answer? 

If we take another example in which the question is a little bit more complex and requires a more comprehensive answer, the differences relate to the opportunities that exist to search and link related information to the original question. Which functions are integrated into the box so that searchability of information can also be linked to external boxes? Here the structure is significant in relation to which information is related to the subject and how it is linked in the box. Major decisions fall between the boxes if the search function is poor and the structure is built up in a substandard way. As we said in the introduction, the boxes give correct answers: the difference here is the search and response time. Another important parameter is the level of detail in the information. We often ask a question and are looking for an exhaustive answer. If we don't get this answer, we need to be able to expand our question in the first instance. Knowledge structure affects how easily we can change something, and what we can change it to.

This leads to a third example, which deals with the outside. If we, as in example number two, have a need to supplement our question with additional information, is this manageable in a simple way or do we need to start with our question again right from the beginning? In cases where information can be kept fresh in the memory and quickly identified with the "new" question, there is a considerable increase in the use of the box. This results in the box always having new, up-to-date information fresh in the memory, which improves response times. There are, however, demands on the structure of knowledge and information in the boxes being both clear and flexible. If we also have a nice, attractive design for the box, we people are attracted to use it.

Other questions are: if there's a fault, how easy is it to find it and resolve it? How easy is it to look at the inside of the box and to understand what it's doing and why it works? Maybe all the parts are labelled, or maybe none are. And what if the box breaks? Some connections are easier to repair than others, and will break more or less often.

So back to the initial question - can we consider the boxes to be of equal value?

The answer is no. They might be the same on the inside, but have a different design on the outside. Or they might look the same on the outside, but have a totally different knowledge and information structure on the inside. Sure, they're alike in certain ways. They both contain knowledge and information.

Can the differences between the boxes be so important?

They are! In terms of providing knowledge and information for those of us who use the boxes - there are considerable differences between the boxes. Knowledge structure is an important element of this.

Knowledge structure also exists in human senses, but here there's no easy way to see what the design is like or to assess how good it is. This is the main reason why certain people find it easier to adopt new ideas, to apply existing ideas in new areas, to change their ideas, and so on: because their knowledge bank (ideas) has a different inner structure or design.

What are your experiences of knowledge structure? Do you have any questions about my article? Feel free to write a comment and say what you think. I'll be talking more about the importance of knowledge structure in a later article.

Jannica Wahlund, JanCan Konsult,

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