Learning is the work

continued from Why do I need KM?

Work is learning and learning is the work.


Because the nature of work is changing. For example, automation is replacing most routine work. That leaves customized work, which requires initiative, creativity and passion. Valued work, and the environments in which it takes place, is becoming more complex. Professionals today are doing work that cannot be easily standardized.

In complexity, we can determine the relationship between cause and effect only in retrospect. Think about that. It puts into question most of our management frameworks that require detailed analysis before we take action. It also shows that identifying and copying best practices is pretty well useless.

In complex work environments, the optimal way to do work is to constantly probe the environment and test emergent practices. This requires an engaged and empowered workforce. Emergent practices are dependent on the cooperation of all workers (and management) as well as the free flow of knowledge.

future jobs work valueWork in complex situations requires a greater percentage of implicit knowledge, which cannot be easily codified. Research shows that sharing complex knowledge requires strong interpersonal relationships. But discovering innovative ideas usually comes through loose social ties. Organizations need both, and communities of practice can help to connect tight work teams with loose social networks. Communities of practice can provide a safe space for professionals to challenge each other at the cutting edge of their expertise.

Effective organizational knowledge-sharing for this new world of work needs individuals who are adept at sense-making. One framework for this is personal knowledge management.

PKM is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world, and work more effectively.

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

Knowledge = connecting information to experience
(know what, know who, know how).

Mastery = getting things done
(not being managed).

PKM connects work and learning, guided by three principles:

  • Seek playfully to connect.
  • Make sense and be empowered through learning.
  • Share to inspire through your work.

PKM is individuals sense-making and sharing their knowledge.

curation to socialThe future of work is customized, complex, and intangible. In this environment, sense-making and knowledge-sharing become critical skills. This will be in our teams, communities, and networks; but mostly it will be individual workers engaged in all three at once.

The most effective learning in the new world of work will be when engaged individuals, working out loud, share their knowledge. Training and education will remain inputs, but minor ones. One concrete result of this sense-making and knowledge-sharing should be performance support. As people work out loud, they can identify and develop tools and techniques to support emergent practices. In the 70:20:10 Framework, Charles Jennings describes workplace learning as based on four key activities:

  1. Exposure to new and rich experiences.
  2. The opportunity to practice.
  3. Engaging in conversation and exchanges with each other.
  4. Making time to reflect on new observations, information, experiences, etc.

This is where learning is the work.


16 Responses to “Learning is the work”

  1. Joe McCarthy

    I like the way you’ve articulated these processes. This a far more elegant and relevant framing than I achieved using a computer metaphor regarding input, processing and output a few years ago.

    I particularly like the emphasis on the importance of “working out loud” and sharing knowledge. Having recently cycled back from academia into industry, I recognize the value in learning something well enough to teach it (what Stephen Covey refers to as “third person teaching”).

    As the pace of innovation increases, it becomes more challenging to carve out time to reflect on activities and share knowledge about them … and yet this is an essential practice if we are to make progress in a collectively intelligent way.

  2. Olivier Amprimo


    Innovation pace increases but knowledge accumulates, providing opportunities to decipher the meaninful info out of the noise. “Faster innovation” does not mean “infobesity”.

    Lack of time in learning is the result of a culture and an organization.
    Culture. It’s not uncommon on my side of the world to find people who believe that knowledge is a stock rather a flow and that graduating from college is good enough for the rest of their lives.
    Organization. Reingeenering has supposedly empowered operational people by eliminating hierarchies. One has overlooked that operational folks have been paid too long to follow a defined process rather than questioning it and learning to make it better.

  3. Daniel Sproull

    Thank you for sharing this information in such a detailed and thought provoking manner! I appreciate the forward thinking focus on how we view learning in the workplace. As a Training and Development Master’s student at Roosevelt University in Chicago, I couldn’t help but think about my own work environment in financial services. There is a struggle between the creative and regulated in our current environment and the regulated puts a strain on our creative abilities to share ideas.

  4. Deb Nystrom

    It is heartening to read these rich posts and see the direction learning and work is headed. The downside is the slowness to let go of industrial age practices combined with resistance to change (the unknown) and risk-taking needed to shift the culture to open knowledge sharing and creativity.

    Some examples:
    People are Biased against Creative Ideas, Research Studies Find:


    and Open Source Scholarship, for starters, reference: http://sco.lt/8Ilqfx

    Our past tends to trap us. Our future requires letting go of a lot of sacred cows in order to benefit the whole. Passion and creativity, when encouraged, can take us a long way toward helping this happen. ~ D


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