Network Learning

I mentioned in my last post that the term “personal knowledge management” (PKM) does not adequately describe the sense-making process that I attribute to it. It’s rather obvious that knowledge cannot be managed, as Dave Jonassen has said many times:

Every amateur epistemologist knows that knowledge cannot be managed. Education has always assumed that knowledge can be transferred and that we can carefully control the process through education. That is a grand illusion.

I am extremely interested in personal sense-making processes because the Web has had a profound effect on how we communicate. The big change is not the technology per se, but the underlying structure of web technologies: the network. Without the surround of the network in a ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate world, traditional activities of journalling, letter writing and note taking would be unchanged. However, they are quite different in a network.

In a network, connections matter as much, if not more than content.

Sharing knowledge produces network effects.

In a network, nodes gain respect and trust from their activities, not their hierarchical position.

In a network, cooperation is more important than collaboration or teamwork.

As we get interconnected, networking is learning.

This is network learning; it’s an essential part of working smarter.

I plan on gradually shifting the conversation from PKM to network learning because quite often I see that what is holding back organizational change is a failure to understand that networks are quite different from hierarchies. Being a contributing node in a network is not the same as doing your job to the satisfaction of your boss. Trust is multi-way in a network while hyperlinks and social media subvert organizational control mechanisms.

Here is a note I made at a conference this week: All this talk about the digital economy and nobody really understands networks – hierarchical mental model dominates – sad 🙁

As Stephen Downes wrote, “In a chaotic environment, knowledge is nothing more than pattern recognition.”

Network learning helps with pattern recognition and we need to develop shared mental models of networks to get out of our command & control organizational mindsets. Personally engaging in network learning is the first step.

6 Responses to “Network Learning”

  1. Franky

    Great post. thnx.
    I agree wholeheartedly that knowledge cannot really be managed, it can only be cultivated and captured to a certain extent.
    Your point regarding the network are definitely valid in a knowledge sharing context:
    Connections over content, cooperation over collaboration I think to be fundamental elements of what organizations need to cultivate. No participation means no network means no learning.
    So the more one participates the more one will be able to learn.
    Isn’t that what is meant by collective intelligence ?

  2. Kare Anderson

    What a mind-bending post. I re-read it five times. Franky’s characterizations were also helpful, especially “No participation means no network means no learning.
    So the more one participates the more one will be able to learn.

  3. Greg Waddell

    Great post! Isn’t it amazing how technology is altering our very definitions of Knowledge. Rather than being a thing one can possess, we are beginning to understand knowledge as an entity that is “out there” for all who have the networking capabilities to access it. So, the core capability for this new definition of knowledge will be the ability to create and sustain these networks for ourselves and our constituents.

  4. Jon Husband


    Greg, have you by any chance read the book “Everything Is Miscellaneous – the power of digital disorder”, by David Weinberger ?

    I’m pretty sure we will arrive (collectively) at a new “theory of knowledge” over the next 5 to 10 years. David W. has provided us all with a pretty good foundation in the book.

    Goodness knows, we need it.

  5. Jon Husband


    Isn’t it amazing how technology is altering our very definitions of Knowledge?

    We need people too using that technology .. exchanging, listening, expressing, arguing, agreeing, and moving along to what works and what is useful


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