The motivation for the project came from a synergy between two quite distinct perspectives:
Neurope Lab had been established on an advanced technology international business park to examine industrial needs for knowledge management and access, leading towards a better understanding of learning organisations;
at Lancaster University, a model to capitalise on information and communications technologies (ICT); had been defined to meet a perceived governmental need to increase knowledge transfer between universities and industry.
From this background, the purpose of undertaking the work was to experiment with variants of the model to support the professional development of those working in enterprises in various parts of Europe with varying cultural and socio-economic origins.
There was also a dissatisfaction with approaches to training using ICT purely as a delivery mechanism and the implicit assumption that the pan-European scale would make such approaches a cost-effective means to meet widely accepted training needs.
JITOL developed a conceptual framework to support a learning organisation. The project produced a methodology, called 'reification', to classify and store contextual knowledge that evolved during interaction among professional peers. Thus, a constantly evolving knowledge base for the professional group was developed. The project provided a method to help professionals explicitly define the knowledge in their professional experience, formalise it, share it with their community. Furthermore it helped them acquire and develop new knowledge and be given credit for their new knowledge.
It also developed an implementation package, including both software and methodology to run the JITOL system in a variety of domains. The concept involves a 'four windows' computer interface to Lotus Notes as a metaphor for professional interactive and knowledge requirements. JITOL reports and documentation provided evidence of users' acceptance, pedagogical effectiveness, costs, technological, socio-legal and other barriers, together with guidelines for good practice. They have made important contributions to the actual implementation of the concept of a learning organisation.
The project focuses on the development and evaluation of IT-based learning environments to support the professional development of individuals. There is commitment to, and strength drawn from, capitalising on the contextual expertise and skill of these professionals. We use the term "communities of practice" to describe a grouping of people who work in similar jobs and have common job-related interests. A central goal therefore is to explore ways in which ICT can stimulate and support the exchange and collaborative sharing of expertise between professionals who may be in different organisations and between professionals within the same organisation, the latter leading towards the building of learning organisations.
Whilst in some of the JITOL experiments there will be traditional learner/tutor roles, and in any community there will be those who are looked upon as "gurus" the JITOL environment is one in which roles may be blurred and interchangeable. The thrust of the experiments is to explore ways in which peer interaction leads to creative knowledge exchange.
The JITOL experiments begin with robust, stable communications technologies (electronic mail, computer conferences). However, work is being undertaken to develop new mechanisms and tools including hypermedia; knowledge bases and affordable multi-media communication. All the communication takes place asynchronously, that is without the need for the participants to be engaged at the same time as in a telephone conversation.
In order to achieve the functionality required, the project is building on existing software tools and developing new ones to be integrated in an overall architecture which can be represented by the diagram below.
A major innovative element in the project relates to the rapidly changing and informal nature of shared knowledge. Whilst there will be some traditional, formalised knowledge in the system, the emphasis is on the contextual knowledge which evolves during the peer interactions. Hence, although the initial interaction between peers may be stimulated by a formal knowledge base, the experiments will examine ways in which the expertise made explicit during the interactions can be captured and transformed into knowledge which is progressively incorporated into an evolving knowledge base. In the project, this process is referred to as "reification".
The project expects to produced outputs of two kinds:
The production of both of these will contribute to basic theories related to human development and knowledge engineering.
A major methodological contribution will be that concerned with the evaluation of methods of ICT use to support human development (including what are traditionally termed education and training). It is hoped that these methodologies and the tools which allow the methods to be implemented will augment contributions from other DELTA projects resulting in a broad base for assessing the value of ICT applications.
A second contribution is expected to be in a better understanding of the process of knowledge reification. The experience of context-based efforts to synthesize the traces of human-human interaction arising in computer conferences, followed by the validation of the resulting knowledge objects, will demonstrate the feasibility and effectiveness of the approach. Associated with this are expected to be context-focused, mechanisms for creating new knowledge structures moving beyond current views of predefined hypermedia links to ones which are dynamic and can be personalised.
A further contribution is that which will define more clearly and operationally the infrastructure requirements of an ICT-supported open-learning service provider. It may be helpful to consider two functions for a service provider:
infrastructure and knowledge engineering skills.
For example, an institution of higher education may provide both of these, whereas a corporate training unit may provide the former being assisted, at least initially, in the latter by an independent research and development agency. Within the project various forms of this provision are a part of the experimental implementations.
The strong domain contextual basis of the JITOL approach leads naturally to an expectation of vertical market implementations. In theory any such market or focus of expertise could become engaged in using Jitol-like infrastructures. Within the project, the experiments are being carried out in one aspect of banking, in support for field engineers in a large multinational corporation, for knowledge exchange amongst specialist medics, and learning technology training specialists in SMEs.
The project will have been successful if it is possible to define effective functionality for a service provider and to be able to identify features of knowledge exchange and training needs which can be satisfied by a particular implementation of the JITOL model.