Is it Knowledge or Education? And does it matter?

For many associations this has become a real quandary. At first glance it should be easy to distinguish. Just ask what kind of service is your association trying to provide to your members? Look at the mission statement of the association. Then look at the association’s strategic business goals and these should help clarify, define, and provide direction. This is easy, right?

Yet with the continuing changes involving self-paced learning, eLearning, and social media, this issue has become more complex, not less. So let me first try to establish a framework for knowledge and education as defined by Wikipedia.

"Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something, which can include facts, information, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic."

"Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, or research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of others. Any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational."

My observation has been that there are two very different directions that an association can take when establishing a learning strategy, and faced with the decision between offering knowledge sharing opportunities and delivering education to their members.

Model one for an association; offer the most up-to-date information and research data to their members so that the members can be more knowledgeable and competitive in their profession or industry. This could be open source information that encourages the membership to stay current and use the association as a first source and/or reliable source. The emphasis here is on the benefit to the member. Simultaneously, the association should be providing free information to the public and related industry. Through free and/or inexpensive (to members) use of a webcast, podcast, course, workshop, conference, convention, online open forum, etc… the association should promote the values of the association and the professional services that the association's membership base represent. This model works best when the membership does not have any form of mandatory requirement to maintain their knowledge standards.

Model two for an association; deliver education to their members so that their members can be the knowledge leaders in their industry or profession. This approach generally provides additional benefits for the members, usually when the courses, webcasts, workshops, conferences, conventions, online forums, etc., meet the association’s professional standards or credential requirements. It may even meet another related professional organization'€™s credential maintenance requirements, or more likely a state licensing board'€™s mandatory continuing education (MCE) requirement. The downside to the association'€™s members, as much as the member may expect and want it, education is not free. Someone has to pay for the development and the delivery of the education. In one form or another, these expenses are passed on to the members and even more so to the non-member and stakeholders. Strict standards are set for knowledge to be qualified as education.

For an association the difference between knowledge and education comes down to several key questions:
1. What is the mission of the association?
2. What are the association’s strategic business goals?
3. If the association wants to provide education, how will the association cover their development and delivery expenses?