What is PKM?

PKM means Personal Knowledge Management. It consists of practical methods to make sense of the increasing flows of information around us. As explains Harold Jarche on his blog.

How do you build your personal learning environment?

In other words we are speaking about the personal capacity to be crossed by numerous information flows without being torn apart by them, and at the same time keeping in mind a singular personal guidance, a life project and the desire to absorb and produce knowledge.

Here we have a very interesting point because PKM is not just about how a person absorbs knowledge but also about his or her ability to produce and share it.  In PKM we don’t think only about ourselves but about our network and how we can feed it. What is the knowledge that only I could produce and share with my network?

Thus, personal knowledge management would be the basis for social knowledge management, facilitated and structurally catalyzed by technological tools that enable our networks today.

This view of knowledge management is quite innovative in the context of organizations, because much of what has been produced to guide knowledge management in this context is based on the organization’s centralized view: knowledge must be standardized, circulate and reach the right place.

The discussion of PKM changes the subject. It places the individual, his choices and his multiple networks at the heart of the game and starts to connect KM with such topics as career management, which had not featured in KM discussions so far.

Harold Jarche uses a model named “Seek, Sense and Share” to explain how he manages his personal knowledge but he admits “PKM is a personal process”.

Pierre Levy points out the importance of storytelling, since we are story producers as we interact and talk in our networks. He’s dedicated his time to a very interesting and profound discussion on the semantics of the web.

Stephen Downes and Internet Time Alliance group talk about Personal Learning Environments and bring to the discussion the many ways individuals organize their formal learning (performed in the school context driven, classroom or online courses) and informal learning (based on conversation skills and in the networks each one is involved).

With the individual at the center, the issue of diversity comes back. There are many ways of learning (Howard Gardner has defined 8 of them).Each person has a distinct way to absorb, to process and manage the learning process. How do we stimulate personal knowledge management taking this diversity into account?

I kept this question with me for few days. One of the possible answers that I heard in my network was the importance of defining interests and filtering information into categories. That’s interesting, but maybe quite a structured process for my personal learning style, so I went on with the question.

As we are exposed to numerous flows, perhaps our personal learning environment and PKM are emergent features of our lives, defined as our surrounding chaos takes form. Maybe these environments and the different ways to manage knowledge change as dynamically as the knowledge networks we develop around us.

It was then that I came across an article posted by Thierry de Baillon on his blog about complex organizations and the learning process. The author introduces the concept of micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities that give rise to emerging practices in organizations. This inspired me to think about the importance of PKM.

Maybe the individual and therefore his personal network could be the genesis of these micro-foundations. This view brings us a much more dynamic perspective on how practices in organizations could evolve. Concepts such as ‘best practices’ would be made obsolete if organizations could visualize and trust these micro-foundations. Why do we need one best practice if we can have a diversity of options as rich as the extended network that surrounds an organization?

Maybe this approach is fearful. It is barely impossible to control a complex system and it takes courage and trust to let practices emerge, but a lot of relevant knowledge, totally applied to work, could arise from the professional management’s capacity to be exposed and filter a diversity of flows. Why do we rather trust people to execute that to make choices?

This possibility can inspire us to rethink the meaning of promoting learning practices in the organizations. It is not a matter of mass customization only, but a fundamental change of the vision organizations have about the individual as a “resource” to be “used” in the most economical way as possible.

For the individual to be the genesis of emerging practices, he must have freedom to relate, to connect and to produce. Conversations must flow, as Humberto Maturana is teaching us, because they are at the heart of a dynamic culture. As it happens to a jellyfish taken from the sea to be observed, the individual dries when removed from his networks (for example through corporative firewalls). His PLE gets restricted and it loses much of the wealth he would have to offer.

The individual is also an emergent. The richness that he had when he was hired is not kept if his personal knowledge management environment is restricted or, in other words, if his network territory is encrypted by the organization. Perhaps it’s not necessary to control anything if each professional is really engaged in what he or she does.

Maybe we are the generation of difficult questions. We face a complex world but we don’t yet have the tools or the capacity to visualize solutions. There is a lot of conversation and exchanging ideas to be done.