What began as a simple sightseeing visit to Kansas City’s World War I Museum and Monument has turned into an essential and motivational component of the Army’s Knowledge Management Qualification Course. Today, students in each iteration of the course spend an afternoon immersed in World War I history and thinking about knowledge management practices that existed more than 100 years ago.
According to Martin Fries, chief, Leader Development, Education, and Training, and an instructor for the KM course, “One of our classes in 2014 went [to the WWI Museum] on a Saturday and the instructors went with them. At the end we started comparing and talking – we saw the knowledge management tie back then.”
It wasn’t until 2018, however, that they picked the idea up again and incorporated visiting the WWI Museum and Memorial as a formal lesson in the course. “We determined that ‘hey, this is something that people need to understand,’” he said. “We always preach that knowledge management has been done forever, but we never really ‘saw’ it. We thought it would be a good way to show the students and then tie back to the course material.”
Upon arriving at the museum, students gather in the reception area. Here they can see a vast field of artificial poppies below the main atrium. Each poppy represents 1,000 who died during what would come to be known as the “Great War.” With this solemn reminder of why they are there, the students receive a list of questions to consider during their visit and are released to explore the exhibits both inside and outside the monument grounds.
At the end of the allotted time, the class meets with their instructors in an on-site classroom to reflect on and discuss what they have seen and learned. Questions are wide-ranging and designed to spark conversation: Everything from an overarching “What are the main reasons WWI started?” to deeper questions exploring more KM-specific topics such as “Did knowledge management assist in the development of weapons, tactics, industry, medical, aviation, logistics, signal and any other areas you observed?” and “Compare command and control during WWI with today's mission command philosophy.”
“I think it was valuable,” said 1st Lt. Christian Williams, assistant S-3, 371st Support Battalion, Ohio National Guard. “We all learned about World War I, but going in and looking at it from the perspective of KM was refreshing in a sense for me. It helped me relook at everything that happened in a different way.”
Capt. Joanlyn Quinones, from the 335th Signal Command (Theater), emphasized the teaching point Fries and his colleagues recognized back in 2014.
“It just confirmed that knowledge management has existed forever because we are constantly trying to improve our systems and processes,” she said. “And you could see how one event, for example the medical field, at the beginning of the war and how they end it with a system of how to transport injured people to a home base -- how that evolved, that process. That just shows you that KM has always existed although we probably didn’t recognize it.”
While the trip to the museum is a welcome break from the classroom, Fries notes that the three-week KM Qualification Course is rigorous – students have evening homework most nights and assignments due on Mondays. Despite that, student feedback routinely praises the course as one of the best the Army has to offer. Reasons vary, but one common theme stands out: products. Specifically, products that students can immediately use to take action at home station.
“The class logically built on itself,” said Master Sgt. Leander Outlaw, master religious affairs NCO at Fort Drum, NY. “The PEs and learning objectives, they weren’t like a lot of Army courses where it’s just so you can get your hands dirty, but when you leave, they’re not really applicable. The reason we were doing some of the PEs and learning objectives was so you could physically take those documents, those tools, everything that you touched, and apply them at your unit.”
Sergeant 1st Class Melissa Gibbons, a battalion S-1 NCOIC, believes the course has prepared her well to make a difference when she returns to her unit in the Massachusetts National Guard. “We came here to solve an actual problem at our unit,” she said. “Now I’m going back with almost 100 percent of what I need to do that -- with the assessment matrix, the strategy, the action plan, taking all the things we worked on. That’s one problem that I already fixed, now I just have to implement it when I get back.”
To learn more about the KMQC or other offerings from the Army Knowledge Management Proponent, visit https://usacac.army.mil/organizations/mccoe/akm.