Plass and Salisbury, “A Living-Systems Design Model for Web-based Knowledge Management Systems”

Plass and Salisbury make the case for, describe the process of, and provide an example of the implementation of a “living-systems” approach to instructional design and knowledge management (KM) systems. This approach aims to be much more flexible and responsive (and therefore effective and efficient) a model than a number of its computer-based instruction (CBI) predecessors. It is “living” in that it is meant to be autopoietic, “conceptualized to provide explicit mechanisms to design features for KM systems that can accommodate growth and change” within—here, in the example used—a governmental and/or corporate entity (p. 50). The living-systems approach therefore distinguishes itself from its predecessors in that “[w]hile most other systems may reach a point where they are considered to be a finished product, these systems are, by design, never completed…. The design process…is cyclic in nature, reflecting the philosophy of accepting change as a factor in the definition of the KM system” (p. 50). Assessment of the system is, in short, “a multi-level approach to formative evaluation” (e.g. “surveys, field visits, and e-mail feedback from users”) (p. 53).

Personally, I found the conclusion sections addressing problems, concerns and needs for further research to contain some of the more thought-provoking notions. Institutions are tricky organisms, often less rational than the systems that make them run.


  • Is describing such a KM system as “living” a bit of a stretch? What does it mean to say that a “system constructs its own knowledge” (p. 39)? Since the publication of this article, have there been any transformations or refinements of the term “living-systems”? I suppose, now that I think about it, I often think of such terms in relation to computer systems in terms of artificial intelligence.
  • What exactly does it mean for a user’s needs to be “overserved”?