PKM in 2010

Personal Knowledge Management

Updated 5 Feb 2010: changed “Filter” to “Understand

[This post is a continuation of Sense-making with PKM (March, 2009)]

Personal = according to one’s abilities, interests and motivation (not directed by external forces)

Knowledge = the capacity for effective action (know how)

Management = how to get things done

What is PKM?

PKM is an individual, disciplined process by which we make sense of information, observations and ideas. In the past it may have been keeping a journal, writing letters or having conversations. These are still valid, but with digital media we can add context by categorizing, commenting or even remixing it. We can also store digital media for easy retrieval.

The Web has given us more ways to connect with others in our learning but many people only see the information overload aspect of our digital society. Engaging others can actually make it easier to learn and not become overwhelmed. Effective learning is the difference between surfing the waves or being drowned by them.

PKM can be looked at as three types of activities [note: I’ve reduced this from seven activities in my previous articles on PKM as I believe that a simpler process is easier to teach and to begin with].





Observations & Notes



Sources of Info & Knowledge

Annotate, Tag,

List, File,

Classify, Clarify,

Expand, Question

People – People

Ideas – Ideas

People – Ideas

Why PKM?

Human knowledge currently doubles about every year and personal knowledge management is one way of addressing the issue of TMI (too much information).

PKM is of little value unless the results are shared by connecting to others and contributing to meaningful conversations. Informal, social learning is the primary way that knowledge is created in the workplace. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts as we build on the knowledge of others. As knowledge workers or citizens, PKM is our part of the social learning contract. Without effective PKM at the individual level, social learning has less value.

A Model

There is more than one PKM process but here is a basic structure that works for me and makes sense to many others I show it to. This post is meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. Take what you need, as there are no best practices for complex and personal learning processes.

Aggregate Understand Connect

PKM in the context of work:

Individuals have their unique methods of sense-making and by sharing cooperatively or working collaboratively they contribute to the social learning mosaic that creates organizational knowledge.

Aggregate – looking for good sources of information (people) – noting or tagging pieces of information while working collaboratively.

Filter Understand – saving information for later – considering how it may be useful in various contexts – making sense of it – finding the right information, at the right time, in the right format,  from the information repositories of our subject matter networks.

Connect – ongoing conversations while learning and working including connecting ideas and people.

Enhanced Serendipity – PKM increases the chances of serendipitous learning. and as Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favours the prepared mind”. According to Ross Dawson: “You cannot control serendipity. However you can certainly enhance it, act to increase the likelihood of happy and unexpected discoveries and connections. That’s is what many of us do day by day, contributing to others like us by sharing what we find interesting.”

Getting to work

One of the difficult aspects of PKM is triage, or sorting. It’s the ability to separate the important from the useless. Unfortunately, what we view as useless today could be quite important tomorrow. Developing good triage techniques takes time and practice. It depends on the depth and breath of our sources (aggregation), as well as the effectiveness of our filters.

When we find something of interest or value, we need to do something with it. Either file it, save it, add to it, send it on or discard it. Discarding or missing something is becoming less of a problem online because we have powerful search tools and if we participate in cooperative networks, more than one person will notice items of significance. This process also gives us time to make sense of things, to understand.

All of this aggregation and filtering isn’t of much use if we can’t find things later. Putting our knowledge online, in databases that enable tagging, filtering and searching makes it much easier to retrieve it when we need it. For example, I use this blog as a knowledge repository. It is searchable and I’ve added tags and categories. With over 1,500 posts and +4,000 comments, I have a an excellent tool for managing what I’ve learned. Add to this almost 2,000 online social bookmarks and weekly summaries of what I learn on Twitter and I’ve created an outboard brain.

The most important aspect of PKM is making our knowledge not only explicit but public. This is part of connecting. Going public means looking both inward and outward. However, let me add one caveat. Sometimes, just publishing online for our own learning and perhaps later retrieval, is enough. It doesn’t matter if nobody links to it. If we get too focused on what others think, we won’t become good critical thinkers.

9 Responses to “PKM in 2010”

  1. Atle Iversen

    Very interesting article, and I fully agree that PKM (and KM, for that matter) should be simplified as much as possible to make it easier to understand.

    I like your 3-step process (I use Collect, Convert, Connect and Create myself, but the essence is similar) – the 7 steps might have been more “accurate”, but this is simpler (and better).

    However, the one thing I disagree with is this:
    “PKM is of little value unless the results are shared by connecting to others and contributing to meaningful conversations.”

    If you replace PKM with KM I agree with this statement. I believe PKM should help *individuals* cope with “too much information” and get more things done. You use PKM to become more effective *yourself*, and you use KM to help *others* become more effective by sharing (and a better PKM process will help you improve your KM process as well).

    Well, I might also misunderstand you, as I agree with most of what you write here 🙂

    My 2 cents on PKM/KM:

    • Harold Jarche

      PKM is of “little” value if not shared. Yes, it is of “some” value if we keep everything to ourselves, but PKM is the building block for social learning in a digital connected world. That’s my perspective anyway. Thanks for the comment, Atle.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)