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Interactive Decision Objects

First published March 29, 2004

Patrick Lambe, Maish Nichani and Ryan Yacyshyn


Interactive Decision Objects (IDOs) are the result of an experimental project that the three of us did almost two years ago. Back then we realised the limitations of the learning object perspective in a corporate setting and brainstormed ideas for coming up with something more apt for business decision makers.

Maish had just read W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne's article on "strategy maps" in the Harvard Business Review, and was particularly struck by the interaction between the use of data and information, and the conversation of experienced managers in the proposed methodology. Patrick had just written his paper on "The Autism of Knowledge Management" (note: PDF file) decrying the simplistic focus on lego-brick approaches to learning objects, and pointing out that we (humans) use a range of naturalistic knowledge artifacts in the real world for transporting knowledge around, some of them (such as models, frameworks and stories) remarkably good at moving or eliciting tacit knowledge between their users. Why weren't KM and e-learning more versatile in their approach to knowledge objects, rather than having their very narrow focus on content packaging and transport?

The two issues came together in this project. We realised (as anyone who has studied strategy will realise) that there is a wide range of very rich frameworks and models in common use that are amenable to this approach, not just the Kim and Mauborgne strategy map. Examples might be Porter's Five Forces and Value Chain, Ansoff's Matrix, or the McKinsey Seven S framework. We got as far as working with Ryan to build a series of five experimental models using common and less common frameworks, but have not been able to progress further on this project due to our full-time commitments (the Yahoo groups we started at that time has been deleted too!). However, we do think that the project and the demos we created have potential and if put into the public domain under a Creative Commons licence, might stimulate some of the badly needed innovation we currently miss.

What are Interactive Decision Objects (IDOs)?

The IDOs are an interactive framework for decision-making. For example, consider the case of a group (or an individual) wanting to analyse competitors to review existing strategy. View this step-by-step guide to see how the Competitor Analysis IDO can be used in this case.

IDO Characteristics

Here are some important characteristics of an IDO:

So this brings up a working definition of an IDO: an interactive decision object enables decision making by encouraging knowledge-based conversations in context.

Smells of knowledge management doesn't it?

IDO and Knowledge Management (KM)

The characteristics of the IDO make it ideal to represent the dual faces of knowledge management: explicit and tacit.

Consider the same event of a manager using the IDO to discuss competitive strategy with his group.

In encouraging conversations in context, an IDO enables the sharing of experiences, opinions and intuitions on competitive strategy, all of which are tacit in nature, but very necessary for effective decision making. It also presents a framework into which an array of explicit knowledge sources can be poured, checked and deployed.

By taking notes and snapshots of certain milestones in the discussion, the manager makes a record, the second explicit part, for later reuse and debrief. Because it is highly contextualised by the IDO, this explicit part is likely to have far more impact than a simple coding of conclusions and decisions in report format, and divorced from the IDO.

Now take this leap of imagination (because we didn't get this far): what if the record automatically meta-tags itself and finds its way into the corporate repository? Another manager searching for work done on competitive strategy can easily find the tool in the repository and either reference the outcomes (explicit) or reuse it for his own purpose (tacit+explicit), thereby adding more tacit and explicit knowledge into the knowledge pool.

So, in KM parlance, the IDO not only creates knowledge stocks , but also catalyses knowledge flows.

IDO and Learning Objects

Too much talk around "learning objects" revolves around the systems and the architecture of learning object repositories: not even particularly on the content itself. The little talk there is around learning object content is heavily dependent on a mechanistic instructional design approach that is suspiciously close to software design methodology, has very little relevance to innovative content design outside the world of e-learning, and actually belittles the learning object's raison d'ĂȘtre: reusability. Much of the learning object content, as it turns out, cannot be reused.

The current dilemma with reusability revolves around content and its granularity: increase granularity (chunk it more) and you get more reuse (theoretically) but the problem with increased granularity is that you have to reduce the context (which then makes the content specific, not reusable).

To tackle this dilemma of creating content that has both context and reusability, we need to turn the entire premise of content and context head over heels. Instead of working with existing or pre-defined content we need to work more with the ability to create or generate content in context. This is what the IDO enables: to create content in context using a decision-making framework. As we pointed out earlier, there are lots of these frameworks out there in the real world.

So here are some distinctions:

Learning Objects IDO
Content driven Framework driven
Contains predefined content Content is generated in use
Difficult to reuse (in practice) Easily reusable
Focused on dispersing instruction Focus on knowledge sharing and understanding
Designed to accommodate delivery platforms Designed to accommodate people's knowledge and decision processes
Most appropriate to content driven environments (like schools) Most appropriate to knowledge-driven environments (like corporates)
Difficult to adapt to changing needs Highly adaptive
End-game is to meet an assumed knowledge gap End-game is to facilitate practical, social deployment of knowledge
Primarily explicit knowledge Both explicit and tacit knowledge

IDO Demo Kit

So here's the demo kit, which includes 5 frameworks.

Download IDO Installer (.zip file, 3MB)

Let us know if you have any problems using this application. You can use the comments feature of this article to post your problems. More importantly, please let us know of your experiences in using it and your ideas of adapting it to other frameworks and scenarios.


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