learning and the future of work

“Work is learning, learning work” — that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Our increasing inter-connectedness is illuminating the complexity of our work environments. More connections create more possibilities, as well as more potential problems. On the negative side, we are seeing that simple work keeps getting automated, like automatic bank machines. Complicated work, for which standardized processes or software can be developed, usually gets outsourced to the lowest cost of labour. On the positive side, complex work can provide unique business opportunities. Because complex work is difficult to copy and creative work constantly changes, these are where long-term value for human work lies.

Both complex and creative work require greater implicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge, unlike explicit knowledge, is difficult to codify and standardize. It is also difficult to transfer. Implicit knowledge is best developed through conversations and social relationships. It requires trust before people willingly share their know-how. Social networks can enable better and faster knowledge feedback for people who trust each other and share their knowledge. But hierarchies and work control structures constrain conversations. Few people want to share their ignorance with the boss who controls their pay cheque.

If we agree that complex and creative work are where long-term business value lies, then learning amongst ourselves is the real work in any organization today. In this emerging network era, social learning is how work gets done. Becoming a successful social organization will require more than just the implementation of enterprise social technologies. Developing, supporting, and encouraging people to use a range of new social workplace skills will be just as important. Individual skills, in addition to new organizational support structures, are both required.

Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) skills can help to make sense of, and learn from, the constant stream of information that workers encounter from social channels both inside and outside the organization. Keeping track of digital information flows and separating the signal from the noise is difficult. There is little time to make sense of it all. We may feel like we are just not able to stay current and make informed decisions. PKM gives a framework to develop a network of people and sources of information that one can draw from on a daily basis. PKM is a process of filtering, creating, and discerning, and it also helps manage individual professional development through continuous learning.

The mainstream application of knowledge and learning management over the past few decades has had it all wrong. We over-managed information because it was easy and we remain enamoured with information technology. The ubiquity of information outside the organization is showing the weakness of centralized enterprise systems. As enterprises begin to understand the Web, the principle of ‘small pieces loosely joined’ is permeating thick industrial walls. More and more workers have their own sources of information and knowledge, often on a mobile device. But they often lack the means or internal support to connect their knowledge with others to get actually get work done.

PKM frameworks can help knowledge workers capture and make sense of their knowledge. Organizations should support the individual sharing of information and expertise between knowledge workers, on their terms, using PKM methods and tools. Network KM protocols can facilitate this sharing. Knowledge bases and traditional knowledge management (KM) systems should focus on essential information, and what is necessary for inexperienced workers. Experienced workers should not be constrained by work structures like teams but rather be given the flexibility to contribute how and where they think they can best help the organization.


We know that formal instruction accounts for less than 10% of workplace learning. The same rule of thumb applies to knowledge management. Capture and codify the 10% that is essential, especially for new employees. Now use the same principle to get work done. Structure the essential 10% and leave the rest unstructured, but networked, so that workers can group as needed to get work done. Teams are too slow and hierarchical to be useful for the network era. Social businesses should leave teams for the sports field, and managing knowledge for each worker.

People who are adept at learning how to learn will be better prepared for jobs of the future because they know how to engage with a community and tap into net- works for support. This is what PKM is all about. It starts by seeking people and knowledge sources and the Seek > Sense > Share cycle finishes by sharing with communities and social networks. There is a need for PKM skills in all types of organizations and for people at all levels, from freelancers, researchers, managers, executives, and many more. The benefits are not just for individuals, preparing for their next job, but the organization gains from employees who take control of their learning and freely share their knowledge. PKM makes for more resilient individuals and the companies they work in.

Much of PKM is about finding balance. In seeking knowledge sources, we have to balance aggregation, or getting as much information as possible, with filtering, or ensuring that we have more signal than noise. Our networks need to be diverse and varied in order to be exposed to new ideas, but we cannot keep track of everything, so we have to be judicious with our time. We need to constantly lump things together, while filtering out the good stuff so we can find it again. It is like breathing information in and out, while making sense of only a small portion at a time, sometimes built by many grains before trying to express our knowledge in order to make sense of it.

These processes are not taught in schools or training programs. There is no right answer in PKM. There are only processes that work. The test of PKM is whether it works for you. A person’s PKM practices will change over time, and the most important aspect is being aware of how we seek sources of information, make sense of our own knowledge, and then share it at work, in communities or through networks.

pkm test

It is all about continuous learning. PKM practices can help make sense of the current environment, whether it be your profession, your job, or your areas of interest. A resilient learning network, that can develop from practicing PKM, creates a more resilient framework from which to make decisions about the future. The more you give to your networks, the more you will receive from them. PKM provides a way to do this in a more structured, but personal, manner. The result is enhanced serendipity, always an advantage in a changing world.

3 Responses to “learning and the future of work”

  1. Steven

    “If we agree that complex and creative work are where long-term business value lies, then learning amongst ourselves is the real work in any organization today. ” — I definitely agree :-). And one important thing we need in this regard, are tools. Online learning and education tools.


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