A personal learning journey

I became interested in knowledge management (KM) as I was introduced to it in the mid 1990’s while practising instructional systems design (ISD) and human performance technology (HPT) in the military. In the late 1990’s knowledge management was part of our solution suite at the Centre for Learning Technologies (CLT via The Wayback Machine).

The Centre for Learning Technologies is an applied research, consulting and resource centre for the use of new media in learning, knowledge management, and workplace performance support.

I continued to work with enterprise knowledge repositories and KM related projects until I started freelancing in 2003 and was faced with the challenge of creating my own knowledge management system with a minimal budget. Luckily the web had evolved and there were consumer alternatives to enterprise systems. I became a consumer and simultaneously a sharer of online knowledge.

Lilia Efimova (2004) was one of my earlier inspirations, To a great extend PKM [personal knowledge management] is about shifting responsibility for learning and knowledge sharing from a company to individuals and this is the greatest challenge for both sides.” This still sums up the core concept of PKM. As a free agent it was rather easy for me to take responsibility for my learning and knowledge sharing, but it was much more difficult for people working within organizational hierarchies. I saw a need for PKM inside all businesses so I began investigating and practising PKM while reflecting on my own attempts to manage my knowledge.

I had turned my website into my knowledge base (2005) combining blogs, RSS and social bookmarks to help manage my knowledge flows. By explaining my process in public, I hoped to clarify my methods and get feedback from others. I then played with metaphors to explain my emerging processes (2006); “Basically, you can take a few free web tools and start controlling your information streams (Input). Then you can file the good stuff somewhere you can always find it (Filing & Sharing).

By 2007, PKM had become my best tool and I had once more revised my processes. My own area of interest was PKM with web tools, though of course a PKM system can be unplugged. I was also seeing the similarities with personal learning environments: PLE.

The need for some type of PKM process for people in many walks of life was becoming clear in 2008. However, it was only part of the solution in creating better workplaces and encouraging critical thinking:

Developing practical methods, like PKM and Skills 2.0 (PDF) can help, but at the same time we need to work on creating and supporting new models of work that are more democratic and human. This means that we need to think about and talk about work differently. For myself, I have found that not being a salaried employee has freed my mind in many ways. I know that this is not the answer for everyone, but it’s time to make slogans like, “our business is our people”, a reality.

I forecast (2009) that PKM would be an essential part of workplace learning by 2019, but it now seems that will happen much earlier in many sectors with the cheap abundance of social learning tools.

Workplace learning in 2019:

  • Much of the workforce will be distributed in time & space as well as in engagement (part-time, full-time, contract mix).
  • More learning will be do-it-yourself and gathered from online digital resources available for free and fee. More workers will be used to getting what they need as they change jobs/contracts more frequently but remain connected to their online networks (online/offline won’t matter anymore).
  • Work and learning will continue to blend while stand-up training will be challenged by the ever-present back channel. Successful training programs will involve the learners much more – before, during and after.
  • Conferences, workshops and on-site training will become more niche and fragmented (smaller,  focused & connected online) as travel costs increase and workers become more demanding of their time.
  • The notion of PKM will have permeated much of the workplace
  • These changes will not be evenly distributed.

I also observed that government managers especially needed to develop ways of prioritizing and coping with information flows while leaving space for real time conversations. In 2009 I wrote 34 posts related to PKM on this blog, as it was becoming evident that there was a need and an interest. I came to the conclusion that PKM was our part of the social learning contract as we increasingly engage in online professional and learning networks.

This year, I engaged with the KM community and gained many insights talking about PKM on Twitter: “I am more convinced now of the importance of PKM (or PKSharing) in getting work done in knowledge-intensive workplaces. It is a foundational skill, of which only the principles can be formally taught, and like any craft it must be practised to gain mastery.” My latest metaphor/model  is described in PKM in a Nutshell and of course there are several other models.

I will continue to explore better ways to manage information, encourage reflection and share what we are learning. Technology plays a role in this but changing attitudes is the key.  Learning is a process, not a discrete event and it needs to become part of the work flow, not directed by a separate department, with a separate budget that is itself separate from the work that has to be done. Encouraging and supporting PKM* is one part of this.

*PKM is the term that I have used here, but other terms may become more meaningful to the world at large. I will continue to use PKM but am open to others, especially if they are more useful in getting the work done:

  • personal knowledge sharing
  • personal learning environment
  • personal learning network

7 Responses to “A personal learning journey”

  1. dave cormier

    I see the need for this everyday here. I’m worried, as always, about the word personal… particularly as it applies to the workplace. We do too much ‘personal’ stuff in positions that regularly have high staff turn over.

    How do you see PKM working for the long term institutional memory. Will companies have to start poking through people’s googledocs or delicious accounts when employees move on to make sure they are preserving critical information/knowledge for their companies?

    • Harold Jarche

      I think it will have to be negotiated as we go. I deal with IP on a daily basis and it’s interesting how some faculty own all their IP while employees own none of it. A pragmatic approach would be to let employees use open systems of their choosing, which the organization could then harvest so that there is co-ownership. This way the organization keeps the information for the long-term. As you know, publishers use this model quite often.

      Other options could be blogs owned by the employees, while collaborative material such as wikis, are owned by the organization. In some ways, being transparent with the information is much easier than shutting down a departing employee’s e-mail account while the new person just starts from scratch, something I am currently experiencing. This is why I set up the organization’s first blog – to save some information in a publicly accessible forum.

  2. dave cormier

    I think i’m going to need a fancy graphic to understand this one. Not that i don’t understand your response… its just that the dividing lines your describing scream venn diagram 🙂

    Thanks for the interesting post and response harold. Very useful to my work here at UPEI.

    • Harold Jarche

      I think a chat may help as well. The issue/challenge is making work & learning transparent, which then bumps against our notions/laws around IP and employee/employer relations. I think this will be a fuzzy area for a long time to come, much as it was when we developed our industrial systems. HR departments didn’t come along until long after the assembly line was perfected by Henry Ford.

  3. Jon Husband

    I think it will have to be negotiated as we go.

    I think this is correct, especially if we think ten + years out.

    Employees will register with what they use and into an organization’s system, and some sort of tagging or watermarking & bookmarking will divvy up what goes were.

    An early signal was the Forrester policy undertaking re: employee blogs earlier this year. I’m not aware of how things have gone since they implemented the new policy.

    But the issue won’t go away .. it will only grow.


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