A Centralized Knowledge Repository Model

A Centralized Knowledge Repository Model
Summary: Single Sourcing Design Strategy Series 3: A Centralized Knowledge Repository Model and the structure of the Reusable Information Object (RIO) and the Reusable Activity Object(RAO).

In previous articles, I argued that the single sourcing information design strategy is necessary for various organizations and to which business needs the strategy can contribute value. In this article, I will briefly introduce a centralized knowledge repository I built with my colleagues and the structure of the Reusable Information Object (RIO) and the Reusable Activity Object (RAO).

The Aims Of Single Sourcing Design Strategy Are To

  • Build a single knowledge repository to distribute learning and performance support content through multi-channels, which includes LMS, EPSS, and KMS
  • Provide learners with adaptive learning experiences based on the gap between prior and current levels of knowledge, job roles, career paths, etc.
  • Provide employees with customized performance support based on their job roles, locations, products, etc.

To accomplish these goals, a RIO and RAO should be carefully designed because they will be reused in various distribution channels, by different users, and for different purposes, without additional content editing. The final destinations of RIOs and RAOs include company websites, SharePoint sites of an organization, enterprise applications that employees use, and learning materials, such as eLearning courses, job aids, presentations, etc.

Figure 1: Multi-channel information distribution

Multi-channel information distribution

Expected Functionality Of Performance Support Systems

Why do we care which RIO goes to which system? Because each performance support system has a unique nature that is expected by its user.

KMS is used as a knowledge reference tool as well as a knowledge exchange tool. For example, we read blog posts, which is a referencing of knowledge provided by someone, and also give our comments about the post. Due to inadequate accuracy control systems on blog posts, we accept that inaccuracies occur. Likewise, this applies to our comments.

EPSS, on the other hand, is a knowledge reference tool that supplies only approved information from an organization. Even though a user can give comments on the information, it will not be displayed to other users until the information is approved. The accuracy of the information is guaranteed by the organization. For example, the model company I use for this article has various rules regarding insurance sales and service, e.g., discounts. The information in the EPSS regarding discounts is strictly controlled by underwriters.

Learning is similar to EPSS in nature. The main difference between EPSS and learning is the user’s knowledge intake process. Users of KMS and EPSS expect fairly short times to find information by navigating menus or searching directly. These systems also have low expectation that the users will only briefly remember the information they have found. Google Search is a case in point. For example, we search and reference information such as how to create a calendar view for tasks in Outlook. Once we have accomplished the work, we close the Google window without worrying about forgetting the information.

On the other hand, the target audience of learning takes time to intake information with help from instructionally sound materials in order to remember and use gained knowledge and skills at later times. The different expectations between performance support systems require learning and information designers to carefully design RIO and RAO.

Types Of RIOs And RAOs

A RIO is a content object, stored in a centralized knowledge repository that is aggregated in particular context to be easily digested by an audience. A RAO is an activity related content object in the same knowledge repository that is aggregated based on its relationship with a RIO to facilitate learning and/or knowledge exchanges. So the centralized knowledge repository should be designed very carefully and thoughtfully. To design an effective knowledge repository, we should understand the structure of both object types as well as their relationships.

To design an effective centralized knowledge repository consisting of RIO and RAO, I studied:

  • How information is structured and mapped from the information mapping perspective
  • The structure of Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs), instructional media that consist of reusable learning and knowledge exchange Activity Object (RAO) in relation to an RIO from the learning perspective
  • The context in which information is viewed from the information architecture perspective

There is extensive jargon included in this article, but business partners won’t care about that. I grouped all the object types into two categories, called “reusable Business Information Object (rBIO) and reusable Instructional Content Objects (rICO), to explain them to stakeholders.

A RIO Structure

A RIO mainly has four components in it (as shown in figure 2): one Information block, metadata about a RAO that will be used to facilitate learning and knowledge exchanges for the information captured in the RIO, metadata about other RIOs to be grouped and displayed in order in a particular context, and metadata about its distribution channels.

Figure 2: Reusable Information Object

Reusable Information Object

Robert E. Horn categorized 41 information blocks based on his research, which involved trying to establish a relatively small set of chunks of information that are similar, in that they cluster sentences (and diagrams) that have strong relationships with each other and that frequently occur in various kinds of subject matter (Horn, 1989a). The list below shows the frequently used information block categories.

  • Introductions
  • Overviews
  • Summaries
  • Definitions
  • Notations
  • Figures
  • Examples
  • Non-examples
  • Formulas
  • Use Scenarios
  • Rules
  • Comments
  • Analogies
  • Functions
  • Step Procedures
  • Cause-Effect Tables
  • Scripts

A RAO Structure

A RAO has the same structure as a RIO with one difference: an information block data component that indicates to which RIO it will be included. For example, the definition of a smartphone, which is a RIO, can be reused in multiple eLearning courses, KMS, and/or EPSS with or without a RAO. To be displayed with a RIO, a RAO must have its related RIO information. The indicator in the destination data determines to which distribution channels the RAO will be fetched as shown in figure 3.

Figure 3: Reusable Activity Object

Reusable Activity Object

For example, the RIO in figure 2 indicates that the object will be displayed in KMS, EPSS, and on an eLearning screen. However, the RAO in figure 3 indicates that it will be displayed only on an eLearning screen. As a result of the aggregation of a RIO and RAO, a Reusable Learning Object (RLO) is displayed on an eLearning screen as below.

Figure 4: Reusable Learning Object (RLO) sample for eLearning

Reusable_Learning_Object_ RLO_sample_for_eLearning


However, only the RIO is displayed in on an EPSS screen as shown in figure 5 because the RAO in figure 3 indicates that the activity will not be displayed in on an EPSS and KMS screen.

Figure 5: RIO sample for EPSS

RIO sample for EPSS

In many cases, KMS has a communication feature between colleagues, including chatting, comments, rating, etc. The RIO is displayed on a KMS screen, so then the user can give a comment or feedback, rank the information usefulness, and/or chat with someone about the information that KMS features displayed below the RIO.

Figure 6: RIO sample for KMS

RIO sample for KMS

So far we have accomplished the first goal of the strategy. However, there must be more metadata that should be included in a RIO and RAO for the second and third goals: providing adaptive learning experiences and customized performance support. The combination of the audience related metadata and the distribution rules will make those possible and I will go over those parts in the next article.

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Horn, R. E. (1989a). Mapping Hypertext: The Analysis, Organization, and Display of Knowledge for the Next Generation of On-Line Text and Graphics. Lexington, MA: The Lexington Institute.