PKM: a node in the learning network

Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy, or, in other words, digital networks enable multiple connections, so organizational communications are no longer just vertical. Somebody else, outside the hierarchy, is only one click away, and perhaps easier to deal with and a better source of information and knowledge. This is becoming obvious in the business world and frameworks such as Social CRM (customer relationship management) are one attempt to address it.

Too often we think of learning as school, training as something that is delivered, and complex problems as solvable with enough effort and resources. We are wrong on all three counts.

Social learning is about getting things done in networks. It is a constant flow of listening, observing, doing, and sharing. Effective working in networks requires cooperation, meaning there is no plan, structure or direct feedback. This can scare managers and organizational leaders because no one is in change of social learning and there is no end-state or final learning objective. But social learning in networks can help us deal with complexity by providing a platform to test out ideas and learn from and with each other.

Jane Hart has described five types of learning using social media, the lubricant of learning in digital networks. Then she looked at how they relate to formal/informal learning as well as the spectrum of dependent/independent/interdependent learning.

social pkm

I have circled those activities at the bottom of this grid to show what personal knowledge management (PKM) enables. I have described PKM as our part of the social learning contract and the more I look at implementing social learning, social CRM or social business models, the more convinced I am that PKM is a foundational skill-set.


Keeping knowledge in our heads is not of much use in getting things done, though that is what most of our training and development efforts have focused on for the past century. Individual training, stemming from the military systems approach to training, addressed skills and knowledge acquisition, as directed by those in change. The organization wanted to drive stuff into our heads.


In networks, though, one of our main jobs now is getting stuff out of our heads and sharing with others.

PKM is focused on accidental, serendipitous, personal-directed, informal, independent learning.

PKM enables group-directed, intra-organizational, interdependent learning.

PKM enriches formal, structured learning and helps learners be less dependent.

PKM is taking control of our learning, as well as making much of it transparent. It makes us a valuable node in our various networks. We share our learning riches without diminishing them. If more people start seeking, sensing & sharing then we’re on the social learning path. Notice how I did not mention that you need some special “social learning” technology platform to do this?

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