From Knowledge Acquisition to Knowledge Management: A developmental Framework for staff and students

Disciplinary knowledge and understanding are at the heart of HE. The sense of belonging that a shared enthusiasm for the subject brings to a learning community underpins student success (Davis, 2019), builds graduate identity (Jensen, 2019) and, in our experience, can transcend difference amongst a diverse learning community.

The current pace of knowledge creation is almost overwhelming and will increase as the Fourth Industrial Age progresses (United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation (UNESCO), 2015; WEF, 2018). To ensure students might keep their disciplinary knowledge current beyond graduation (Coonan and Pratt-Adams, 2019) we must develop their critical, independent thinking alongside capabilities to ethically source, select, and safeguard information. These are skills the World Economic Forum (WEF) recognises as crucial to the future workforce (WEF, 2018), and UNESCO deems integral to education for the common good (UNESCO, 2015). They are also inclusive to students with diverse backgrounds and characteristics.

As such the University of Hull’s competence-based higher education stresses the importance of knowledge management, rather than acquisition (Lawrence, 2020), which we define as the ability to source, understand and communicate knowledge. It consists of theoretical and practical skills for effective academic practice and success in the workplace – a rudimentary Linked-in job search demonstrates knowledge management is creeping from essential skills into actual job titles. 

To support staff and students to manage this pace of change and transition to managing rather than acquiring knowledge we developed a Knowledge Management Framework (KMF) in consultation with students, recent graduates, Hull University Students’ Union, and colleagues involved in teaching and supporting learning. Recent graduates indicated they often lacked clear expectations or purpose in relation to knowledge management leaving them confused and feeling disadvantaged. Staff were keen for steer on supporting their students and their own academic practice.

In response, we presented the Knowledge Management Framework as an open access online resource within the Library’s suite of Skills Guides, it:

  • Guides academics in embedding knowledge management in curricula to ensure clarity and move away from assumptions about students’ previous experiences, opportunities or characteristics;
  • Is sufficiently flexible to support different disciplinary needs;
  • Explicitly explains what students might expect in their course of study.

The Elements of Knowledge Management page suggests how knowledge management can be written in curricula and includes links to further guidance. We suggest:

  • Identify and critically assess appropriate sources; 
  • Understand, question and clearly communicate knowledge to a diverse audience; 
  • Practice effective, ethical information management; 
  • Communicate with a diverse audience in person and through written, digital & media technologies professionally and confidently. 

The Knowledge Management Framework page offers ten considerations for designing courses, and ten for study or research. Presenting these side-by-side makes explicit their interrelationship, fosters understanding of the purpose of knowledge management and the Framework, and encourages reflection.

Data show that the Framework is being used daily, and user feedback suggests its utility for both staff and students in building their capability in Knowledge Management is transformational. Computer Science has embedded the Framework into level 4. Dr Neil Gordon, Senior Lecture said “As we have moved to a competency-based assessment, a key aspect of our degree and the module is to develop the students’ ability “to conduct guided investigation across” various topics. The Framework helps to provide a way to consider that, with the focus on how to identify and use different information sources. This is critical for students as they embark on their study from level 4 (typically year 1) with us.”

We hope the Framework is useful to others across the sector working with their learning communities in making the move from building capabilities in knowledge acquisition to management.

Maggie Sarjantson, FHEA, is Collections Development Manager at the University of Hull Library. Her interests include how libraries can provide equitable access to resources, and how they are used in learning and teaching.  Maggie led the development of the Knowledge Management Framework and the relevant supporting materials.

Dr Jenny Lawrence, AFSEDA, PFHEA, NTF is Director of the Oxford Brookes Centre for Academic Enhancement and Development, she worked with Maggie in developing the Framework, lending expertise in competence-based HE, inclusive pedagogic practice and academic development. @jennywahwah


Coonan, E. and Pratt-Adams, S. (2019) Building Higher Education Curricula Fit for The Future: How Higher Education institutions are responding to the Industrial Strategy Links to an external site. York: Advance HE.

Davis, S. N., & Wagner, S. E. (2019). Research Motivations and Undergraduate Researchers’ Disciplinary Identity. SAGE Open.

Jensen, T.L. (2019) ‘Back to Billdung’: A Holistic Competence-Based Approach to student Engagement in Innovation Learning Process in HE. In Lund, B. and Arndt, S. (Eds) (2019) The Creative University: Contemporary Responses to the Changing Role of the University. Leiden: Brill Sense

Lawrence, J. (2020b) Assessing competencies could equip graduates for an uncertain post-Covid future. WonkHE blog

World Economic Forum (2018) The Future of Jobs report 2018

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