Learning at Work

Note: This is part of a Working/Learning blog carnival hosted at Dave’s Whiteboard

This post repeats some themes that regular readers have seen over the past few years, but I’m finding that there is still a great need for individuals to take control of their knowledge-creation and sharing and many are overwhelmed by the Web.

I have come to consider that the basic unit of learning is the individual and this person is indivisible. To be successful, all learning activities, products and strategies must be centered around the person. We can then go on to develop environments for many people, but the individual is the building block – not the learning object, the course, the programme, or the institution. All of these are temporary organisations that the individual may use, or be part of.

I would also say that knowledge itself cannot be managed, and neither can knowledge workers; not effectively anyway. However, workers can manage data and information in order to develop their knowledge, and today we have several cheap and ubiquitous Web tools available to help us. It’s what I call Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), with an emphasis on “personal”.

In our day-to-day learning, one often repeated task is making the link from “this is an interesting idea” to “this is what I know”. The Web now provides us with an array of cheap and free tools to collect and collate information. PKM is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help the flow of implicit to explicit knowledge. However, PKM is more about attitude than any particular tool set. It’s taking (or rediscovering) our innately curious nature and tapping into it so that we can continue to expand our horizons.

One analogy of the Web is that it is a stream that we dip our buckets into from time to time. Another analogy is that of a surfer who follows the various streams and channels. It’s quite obvious that we cannot keep track of everything in nicely confined boxes with labels anymore. Even cataloging and indexing (taxonomies & hierarchies) are changing to a more flexible model of tagging or folksonomies on the Web, though the latter have their detractors.

If your work entails a need for current information, analysis, opinions or tapping into the knowledge of others, you probably need some form of PKM. If you have regular access to the Web, here is a suggested sequence:

  1. Start by moving your Bookmarks/Favourites on your browser to the Web. Social bookmarking services like Delicious or Furl let you create an online, searchable and shareable database of what you find interesting. Use tags (AKA categories or labels) to identify your saved pages and be liberal in their application. Here’s my Delicious list.
  2. Now start reading other sources of information in your field or in fields of interest. You can search for Blogs on Technorati or Bloglines. Once you are reading several sources you will need a way to organise these so that you’re not constantly going back to see if there is anything new. Use an aggregator. I would suggest Bloglines or Google Reader. Here is my Bloglines public account.
  3. Add your comments to blog posts of interest and if you make a lot of comments you might consider a comment aggregator, such as CoComment or Commentful. Bloglines Beta offers comment tracking as well.

What you are doing in these three steps is aggregating your information output and input, as well as adding information of importance to you (tags and comments). This process of sense-making is a great start to personal knowledge management. Some people have even more to say, and they usually become bloggers and podcasters, but that’s not for everyone.

Now that they’re all posted:

Here are the other Carnival posts hosted by Dave:

14 Responses to “Learning at Work”

  1. Michele Martin

    This is a great way to get started on PKM, Harold. I think a good interim step for people who want to go to step 4 but not into full-on blogging is to use microblogging, like Tumblr. Lets you interact with what you find without having to make the full blogging commitment. I still have this strong feeling that to get to an application stage of what I know, I need to have some kind of reflection built into this process beyond commenting on other people’s blogs. I need a way to synthesize what I’m reading and apply it to my personal situation within my own context.

    Great post!

  2. Harold

    I know some people who have never blogged but are Twitter (another micro blogging platform) addicts now. SNS, like Facebook, also fill that publishing void for others. Chacun à son goût 🙂

  3. Gilbert

    “One analogy of the Web is that it is a stream that we dip our buckets into from time to time. Another analogy is that of a surfer who follows the various streams and channels. ”

    Hre is my analogies.. the web browser is an extension of our senses. It lets us see far war away things, lets us hear voices from far away, and for some people it lets them move things at a distance. The web browser is an extension of our senses,
    PMK is an extension of our memory and the web is becoming an extension of our brains.

    “The basic unit of learning is the individual and this person is indivisible. ” The individual is the packet. Thats the network way.


  4. Dave Ferguson

    Gee, I’m not sure I think of myself as a packet…

    I’m pondering the comment about not being able to manage knowledge workers. There might well be something to that; you can’t oversee how they go about their jobs in the same way as you can, say, bank tellers — the latter jobs are more bound by procedure, and we’d just as soon not get too creative in how you deposit the person’s money in his account.

    When moving to less clearly defined work, I’m often reminded of an exchange in Saving Private Ryan. Two American officers are talking about the campaign in France. I can’t remember the cities, but the gist is: “Gotta take Isigny to get to St-Lo.” “Yeah, and gotta take St-Lo to get to Bayeux.” “Yep, and gotta take Bayeux to get to Caen.”

    These guys knew the overall mission. The details about what to do, and how to do it, would depend on at-the-time specifics.

  5. Gilbert

    Hmmm.. not being able to manage knowledge workers.

    In the early stages of the industrial revolution we could not manage industrial workers either. As a critical mass of industrial work became predominant Talorism was possible.

    I suspect that same thing will happen with knowledge work. As the volume of knowledge work increases we may very well see specialized knowledge workers working in sweat shops. Knowledge work may become as repetitive as manufacturing work. Some programmers will understand what I mean. I have worked in manufacturing on machines and the work was less repetitive than computer programming.

    Welcome to the age of the Blue Collar Knowledge Worker.. Good title for a book.

  6. Gilbert

    About packets…

    The packets move around in the network. I move around in the Network by going from page to page, from person to person. Eventually an agent representing me will be moving around the network and the packet model will represent the path of least resistance.

    Be proud to be a packet. Harold’s atomicity statement has made me proud and glad that I am indivisible. As a Gemini I am always afraid to split up and become like Humpty Dumpty… all the kings bloggers couldn’t put him together again.

  7. Cathy Moore

    People who like to mix bookmarks with notes and other free-form text might like a personal wiki. I’ve been using Tiddlywiki for this.

    I’m also increasingly using a high-powered concept mapping tool for course design, business planning, and general information management: http://www.compendiuminstitute.org. It handles many types of information, including bookmarks–you just drag the favicon or URL into the Compendium map and the site is added to the map. The result is a visual map of websites, Word docs, PDFs, notes, and other information.

  8. Shereen

    This is just so fascinating! I finally know that I am not alone out there. My friends and colleagues always comment on how I just “come across stuff online” whenever I send them any information I’d like to share and sometimes that’s how it feels.

    I just stumble from one site to another to a blog link to a comment to an author’s site etc … and on the way accumulate a whole lotta information!

    My very basic way has been to just bookmark things that I now have an ever expanding bookmark column which gets difficult to search. I manage the training & competency (I would much rather call it “learning”) side of things for our business unit within a large corporation and believe that if I myself am not constantly learning something new every single day then the whole purpose is defeated. I am constantly trying out new things and immersing myself in loads of reading and research. Sadly, all my efforts are seen as “something nice” one day maybe, for now we have to do things the old-fashioned way and just send people on courses. I’m so happy I’ve stumbled across your blog and I look forward to learning and sharing with you all.

    There really is no excuse for ignorance anymore, it is just so simple to learn about anything online now and to do it from the other side of the world is phenomenal.

    Greetings from Dubai!

  9. Harold

    Shereen, I find that there is a real business need for this kind of learning especially amongst executives and senior managers. The business pitch you can make is, “Are you feeling overwhelmed with information?” – “then let me show how you can manage this flow and be more productive”. Another area is the use of blogs and/or wikis to replace certain types of e-mail traffic. It may not be a typical course but it sure is performance support.

  10. Dave Ferguson

    I second what Harold says… and even if you feel you can’t help the organization as a whole make much progress, you can not only learn but “meta-learn” — figure out how you yourself learn better, and model that.

    You may find yourself able to smuggle different kinds of learning (or aids to learning) under the label of “training.” For instance, instead of “setting up a wiki,” you create a “project support site” through which project members can exchange information, share progress, invite comments. So maybe the team gets some kind of formal training to start (as in a software package or in a soft skill area like working as a team), and the support site is how they build and sustain their abilities.


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