Higher Education

, Volume 62, Issue 4, pp 451–465 | Cite as

Packaging and unpackaging knowledge in mass higher education—a knowledge management perspective

  • Gustavo GuzmanEmail author
  • Luiz F. Trivelato


The progressive deployment of market-oriented regulatory frameworks in mass Higher Education Institutions (MHEI hereafter) triggered, in a wide variety of forms and degrees, the application of Knowledge Management principles in MHEI. This means the application of the knowledge ‘codification strategy’, where the focus is on the economies of the re-use of centrally developed knowledge through codifying, storing and distributing knowledge. This process however, presents significant challenges. Both knowledge and non-knowledge related aspects might constrain the application of knowledge codification strategies in MHEI. The aim of this paper is to better understand the application of knowledge codification strategies in MHEI, from a knowledge management perspective. This is done by examining the use of course outlines as the critical means to ‘transfer’ codified knowledge. The research site was a MHEI that explicitly followed a ‘codification strategy’, where the profits come from the economies of scale and low cost operation. Research findings point out mixed outcomes. The set of cost-saving managerial-oriented initiatives together with the deployment of knowledge codification strategies simultaneously supported the knowledge transfer of codified-oriented courses associated to low levels of tacit knowledge and constrained knowledge transfer of codified-oriented courses associated with slightly higher levels of tacit knowledge. This finding can be credited to a set of both knowledge and non-knowledge related issues. The implications for the management of knowledge in MHEI were explored.


Mass Higher Education Knowledge management Knowledge codification Limitations 


  1. Alexander, P., & Murphy, P. K. (1999). Nurturing the seeds of transfer: A domain specific perspective. International Journal of Education Research, 31, 561–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvesson, M. (2004). Knowledge work and knowledge-intensive firms. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Ancori, B., Bureth, A., & Cohendet, P. (2000). The economics of knowledge: The debate about codification and tacit knowledge. Industrial and Corporate Change, 9(2), 255–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bryman, A., & Bell, E. (2003). Business research methods. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Buchbinder, H. (1993). The market oriented university and the changing role of knowledge. Higher Education, 26, 31–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Collins, H. (1990). Artificial experts: Social knowledge and intelligent machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cowan, R. (2001). Expert systems: Aspects of and limitations to the codifiability of knowledge. Research Policy, 30, 1355–1372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cowan, R., & Foray, D. (1997). The economics of codification and the diffusion of knowledge. Industrial and Corporate Change, 9(2), 211–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davenport, T., & Prusak, L. (1998). Working knowledge: How organizations manage what they know. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  10. de Jong, T., & Ferguson-Hessler, M. (1996). Types and qualities of knowledge. Educational Psychologist, 31(2), 105–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De Weert, E. (1999). Contours of the emergent knowledge society: Theoretical debate and implications for higher education research. Higher Education, 38, 49–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Donald, J. D. (1986). Knowledge and the University curriculum. Higher Education, 15, 267–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fontana, A., & Frey, J. (1998). Interviewing: The art of science. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials (pp. 47–78). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Guzman, G., & Wilson, J. (2005). The “soft” dimension of organizational knowledge transfer’. Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(2), 59–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hall, M. (2006). Knowledge management and the limits of knowledge codification. Journal of Knowledge Management, 10(3), 117–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hansen, M., Nohria, N., & Tierney, T. (1999). What’s your strategy for managing knowledge? Harvard Business Review, 77(2) March–April, 106–116.Google Scholar
  17. Hayrinen-Alestalo, M., & Peltola, U. (2006). The problem of a market-oriented university. Higher Education, 52, 251–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hazlett, S.-A., McAdam, R., & Gallagher, S. (2005). Theory beliefs in knowledge management. Journal of Management Inquiry, 14, 31–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hellstrom, T., & Raman, S. (2001). The commodification of knowledge about knowledge: Knowledge management and the reification of epistemology. Social Epistemology, 15(3), 139–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hislop, D. (2005). Knowledge management in organizations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Huzzard, T. (2004). Communities of domination? Reconceptualising organizational learning and power. The Journal of Workplace Learning, 16(6), 350–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Johnson, B., Lorentz, E., & Lundvall, B.-A. (2002). Why all this fuss about codified and tacit knowledge? Industrial and Corporate Change, 11(2), 245–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kreber, C., & Castleden, H. (2009). Reflection on teaching and epistemological structure: reflective and critically reflective processes in pure/soft’ and‚pure/hard’ fields. Higher Education, 57, 509–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Lynch, R., Leo, S., & Downing, K. (2006). Context depended learning: Its value and impact for workplace education. Education + Training, 48(1), 15–24.Google Scholar
  26. McKeachie, W. J. (1987). Cognitive skills and their transfer. International Journal of Education Research, 11(6), 707–712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher Education, 49, 373–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Morey, A. (2004). Globalization and the emergence of for-profit higher education. Higher Education, 48, 131–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nicolini, D., Gherardi, S., & Yanow, D. (2003). Introduction. In D. Nicolini, S. Gherardi, & D. Yanow (Eds.), Knowing in organizations—A practice-based approach. Armonk, New York: M.E. Shape.Google Scholar
  30. Nonaka, I., & Peltokorpi, V. (2006). Objectivity and subjectivity in knowledge management: A review of 20 top articles. Knowledge and Process Management, 13(2), 73–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nonaka, H., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge creating company. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Nyiri, J. C. (1988). Tradition and practical knowledge. In J. C. Nyiri & B. Smith (Eds.), Practical knowledge: Outlines of a theory of traditions and skills (pp. 17–52). London: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  33. Olivera, F. (2000). Memory systems in organizations: An empirical investigation of mechanisms for knowledge collection, storage and access. Journal of Management Studies, 37(6), 811–832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Orlikowski, W. (2002). Knowing in practice: Enacting a collective capability in distributed organizing. Organization Science, 13(3), 249–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Palmer, B., & Marra, R. M. (2004). College student epistemological perspectives across knowledge domains: A proposed grounded theory. Higher Education, 47, 311–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pea, R. (1987). Socializing the knowledge transfer problem. International Journal of Education Research, 11(6), 639–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Polanyi, M. (1983). The tacit dimension. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith.Google Scholar
  38. Prencipe, A., & Tell, F. (2001). Inter-project learning: Processes and outcomes of knowledge codification in project-based firms. Research Policy, 30, 1373–1394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Revans, R. W. (1966). The theory of practice in management. London: Macdonald.Google Scholar
  40. Roberts, J. (2000). From know-how to show-how? Questioning the role of information and communication technologies in knowledge transfer. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 12, 429–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Roberts, J. (2006). Limits to communities of practice. Journal of Management Studies, 43(3), 623–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schatzki, T. R. (2001). Introduction. In T. R. Schatzki, K. K. Cetina, & E. von Savigny (Eds.), The practice turn in contemporary theory. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  43. Sfard, A. (2008). On two metaphors for Learning and the dangers of choosing just one. In P. Murphy & R. McCormick (Eds.), Knowledge and practice: Representations and identities. Los Angeles: Sage.Google Scholar
  44. Sole, D., & Edmondson, A. (2002). Situated knowledge and learning in dispersed teams. British Journal of Management, 13, 17–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tenant, M. (2001). Is learning transferable? In D. Boud & J. Garrick (Eds.), Understanding learning at work. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  46. Thompson, M., & Walsham, G. (2004). Placing knowledge management in context. Journal of Management Studies, 41(5), 725–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Trowler, P. (2001). Captured by the discourse? The socially constitutive power of new higher education discourse in the UK. Organization, 8(2), 183–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tsoukas, H. (2005). Do we really understand tacit knowledge? In M. Easterby-Smith & M. Lyles (Eds.), The blackwell handbook of organizational learning and knowledge management (pp. 410–427). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  49. White, N. R. (2007). The customer is always right?: Student discourse about higher education in Australia. Higher Education, 54, 593–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Williams, R. (2008). The epistemology of knowledge and the knowledge process cycle: beyond the ‘objectivist’ versus ‘interpretivist’. The Journal of Knowledge Management, 12(4), 72–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Willmott, H. (1995). Managing the Academics: Commodification and Control in the development of University Education in the U.K. Human Relations, 48(9), 93–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wood, M. (2002). Mind the gap? A processual reconsideration of organizational knowledge. Organization, 9(1), 151–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Yin, R. (1981). The case study crisis—Some answers. Administrative Science Quarterly, 26, 423–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zack, M. (1999). Managing codified knowledge. Sloan Management Review, 40(4), 45–58.Google Scholar
  55. Zanting, A., Verloop, N., & Vermunt, J. (2003). Using interviews and concept maps to access mentor teachers’ practical knowledge. Higher Education, 46, 195–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zollo, M. (1998). Knowledge Codification, Process Routinization and the Development of Organizational Capabilities: Post-acquisition Integration in the U.S. Banking Industry. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  57. Zollo, M., & Winter, S. (2002). Deliberate learning and the evolution of dynamic capabilities. Organization Science, 13(3), 339–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Griffith UniversityGold CoastAustralia
  2. 2.Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA)São José dos CamposBrazil

Personalised recommendations