A very brief introduction to Personal Knowledge Management

Ottobock, this weeks company in the #cl2025 Moocathon (see https://colearn.de), asks people to think about their own learning strategies. In this context, PKM came up very quickly. As some people where wondering what PKM means, I decided to post this text of mine, which originally was an assignment in a MOOC, asking for examples of Collaborative Intelligence. 

At first sight, it does not seem that Personal Knowledge Management has a lot to do with Collaborative intelligence or Social learning. But actually, it has a lot to do with it!

Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is a way of personal learning and advancing in a highly connected world. Harold Jarche, one of the leaders of PKM, sums it up as SEEK, SENSE, SHARE.

Seek for good, valuable sources. This does not mean static sources as e.g. text books, but humans- leaders and experts in the field your interested in. They may publish blogs, newsletters, articles in magazines, or Tweets you can read and learn from. They are the sources of collaborative intelligence you can reach for and use.

Sense what you learned. Just reading something does not have the same level of impact than trying to make sense of it by putting it into your context, your problem, your expertise. Reflect on what you read and draw your own conclusions.

Share your thoughts with others. Publish what you reflected on or what conclusions you draw. This can be done by commenting on other peoples blog posts or articles (and not just “well done”!) or by publishing your own thoughts in posts or articles, referencing your sources or inspirations.

By doing so, you do your part in Social Learning, you give something back to the community you learned from and you contribute to the Collaborative Intelligence.

So how to start?

One point is to find the right sources. Normally you already stumble upon quiet some sources just by searching the Internet. It is valuable to find sources that deliver continuously interesting content. This may require some time and effort.

The other point is to find the right medium. Maybe you like blogs and therefore a RSS feed reader. Or you like Facebook. Or you like (like me) Twitter.

Twitter for me is the most valuable tool for PKM. By following people and reading their re-tweets, you find other valuable people in the field and can expand your network. By reading articles or blog posts they wrote (and tweeted), you learn new stuff. And by reading articles or blog posts of other people they liked and therefore tweeted, you get to content already reviewed. In addition, it is a medium that can be easily used in short time- while waiting for the bus or pick up your kids at school.

Another plus for twitter is the immediate feedback you’re getting, which leads to a unique collaborative learning dynamics with a sense of community (also through the network building aspect of PKM in general) and motivation to contribute by sharing and reviewing.

But you may still need a tool for sense-making. For me, that’s my blog. This blog is primarily for me to „digest“ what I learned, but still I publish publicly and also share my posts on Twitter and other social networks (and get a few views each time ;-)). I combine it with a mind-map to keep track of what I read and how it is connected and influences. Other tools may include wikis, Evernote, or special platforms with forums or project-pages. Some sources: https://legacy.ici-berlin.org/library/research-toolkit/personal-knowledge-management-tools/

Harold Jarche has several workshop he offers where one can learn how to build up an own PKM strategy. Another valuable person to follow is Jane Hart. She is the Queen of social learning at the workpace (and highly interacting with Harold Jarche) and also yearly publishes a huge survey about Tools for Learning. On Twitter you can find them here and here, and me you can find as mcschlatter.

Other sources about PKM:



Picture: http://jarche.com/2015/05/social-learning-is-personal/

Visualize your knowledge!

Currently I am working on a project that includes visualisation of information and knowledge, respectively. Visualisations can help to clarify information, to compress large amounts of information, to transfer knowledge, to trigger insights in the viewer, and to support the creation of new knowledge by stimulating imaginary. So visualisations influence most of the traditional building blocks of knowledge management.


More than text, visualization can also provoke emotional reactions, both positively (improving our understanding) and negatively (manipulating and distortion), thereby motivating the viewer to contribute and/or create.

Continue reading „Visualize your knowledge!“

This service has shut down

So it’s this time of the year when Jane Hart compiles her Top 200 Tools for Learning. It’s her 10th list of tools that help people in professional and personal learning, workplace learning, and education, and it’s based on votings by learning professionals worldwide. Some of the tools are (very) widely known and well established, like YouTube (this years’s No 1) and Twitter, Moodle, a bunch of Webinar services, presentation tools from PowerPoint to Prezi to Slideshare, and so on- check it out yourself.

But then there are all those other tools. New tools. The list used to be a Top 100 list, now it’s a Top 200 list. Which already says a lot. New on the list this year are e.g. Flipbuilder, which „provides Flash and HTML 5 flip book design software to build 3D flip-page effect e-books from PDF, images and Office files“. Or Curatr, „a social learning platform from HT2 which enables rapid delivery of gamified courses“. And many more.

Although I like to see new tools appearing, I immediately have to ask myself- how long will this service be alive? And what do you do if it’s discontinued??

Webtools4U2Use is a Wiki by K-12 school library media specialists, and on their Finding the Right Tool site, which is very rich too, they include an interesting blog post by Greg Garner dealing with those questions:

But there’s an ugly side to all these free web-based tools that have spawned dozens of conference presentations with cleverly-worded titles: sometimes they fail. I’m talking about the big fail: shutting down the service.

He advices 3 things:

  • There is no such thing as a free lunch. The web has conditioned us to believe that everything should be free. Except that nothing is free. If you like a service, pay for it. If there isn’t currently an option to pay, email the creator/developer and beg to send them money. (Seriously.)
  • Think About Ideas, Not Tools. Always ask yourself what you’re hoping your students will learn before you select your tool. (Don’t use the tool for the tool’s sake)
  • Think Categorically. Think about the various roles that each of your tools fill. Know what kinds of technology (not which tool) would best augment student learning

Read more at: What To Do When Your Favorite Tech Tool Calls it Quits

I completely agree, especially with No 1. That’s why I pay for most of the tools I use- normally there is a basic plan which is low-cost. I just subscribed to a resource planning tool for $2.50 per month. I guess that’s affordable, not?

Beside that, I always consider two other things:

  • Is this new tool really more functional than what I used so far? Or does it just look shinier than my old, established one?
  • Do I trust the developer enough to (already) implement the tool into my workflow? Or is it better just to play around with it with unimportant data and wait?

Most of the time I decide to wait. I do use it, I play with it, and if I like it, I buy the Pro version and hope many other people will do the same. But to include a tool into my personal Top Tool list, it definitevely has to prove to be long-lived. And up to that point, I only feed it with data or information I do not grieve for when it disappears.

One of the tools I just discovered and I am testing now is list.ly. You can check it out here:

Picture from macrumors.com

Help needed: Where do you share your hack?

I’m sure you’re a hacker. Yes, you. I am sure you already hacked something at least once in your life. You don’t believe me?

Remember when you were on a picknick without your pocket knife and used a long toothed key to cut your tomato? Remember when you …..

Sometimes, such hacks are not only moment-savers, but they lead to something new, something improved, something cost-saving. Something that may help other people too.  Or something that is just funny. So why not sharing?

Indeed, you find quiet a bunch of platforms on the internet where people share their hacks. Like Ikea Hacks, Mom (and Dad) Hacks, Lego HacksLawn Mower Hacks, or MacGyverismsBut what about hacks from and for work?

During my PhD I was known as the person who hacks Western Blotting protocols, cutting the running time to half. I taught some other people how to achieve this face-to-face, but as human interactions normally are limited, it did not spread widely. As many other good-to-brilliant ideas by many other creative people did too.

I remembered this when I recently read an article: Cooking, Nursing and Making: Harnessing Tacit Knowledge for Discovery and Innovation. It talks about a platform for nurses sharing their hacks.

Now, as then, nurses are loaded with this kind of tacit knowledge and insight – hard-won observations from the trenches about what is needed and useful. Every day, working outside the limelight of the “professional” innovation discussion, they are quietly fabricating solutions to many challenges on the front lines of patient care.

The question is how to channel and amplify all of that latent creativity to best effect. That’s just what MIT researchers Jose Gomez Marquez and Anna Young, at the Little Devices Lab are attempting to do with MakerNurse – a project that brings together nurses with the right support and tools to unlock their tacit insights and give expression to their creative solutions.

So I got curious: Do other professionals share their hacks too? I am not talking about Best Practices or Standard Procedures or list of resources, I am talking about how to do it, how to improve it, how to hack it. Tacit knowledge.

I started with the field I am familiar with: Bio lab work. That’s what I found:

  • 25 real lab hacks on a biotechnology company website (and they’re good)
  • Some conversation on reddit about hacks but difficult to read
  • A platform claiming to share wisdom on lab issues (some good articles but most of it are basic explanations, not hacks)
  • The Biohacking Laboratory (2013-2014) of the Medical Museum in Copenhagen (check out their self-made centrifuge :-))
  • And a handful of blog posts with some tips.

That’s all? Really? Please tell me that’s not true. Please help me- do you know platforms on the internet enabling people to share their work-related hacks, their experiences, their tacit knowledge? Do YOU share knowledge, and where?

Picture taken from Medical Museum

Dead or alive? Act agile!

When I tell people I am dealing with Knowledge Management, I normally get one of these three reactions:

Wide eyes: What the hell are you talking about?
Appalled eyes: How the hell can you work voluntarily on this?
Pitiful eyes: Why the hell do you join a sinking ship?

While Nr 1 and 2 are easy to deal with (they either never got in contact with KM- or in a way one shouldn’t get in contact with it), Nr 3 is a more difficult one. Because it is justified to ask if KM isn’t dead already.

There was the time when everybody had to do KM. Which in most cases meant document management (please tag your documents according to this taxonomy here and store it in the folder according to these rules here and be sure the document has the structure given here) or implementation of After Action Reviews or World Cafes (please block two of your precious working hours to sit with us discussing what may be useful one day after you left the company or are retired). Accordingly, and that’s where reaction 2 occurs, people got very bored by those consultants learning their organization how to improve. And management did not see the effects expected. So KM faded….

Tom Davenport, one of the „Big Ones“ of KM, lists in his LinkedIn article more reasons for the ship to sink:

  • It was too hard to change behavior
  • Everything devolved to technology
  • The technology that organizations wanted to employ was Microsoft’s SharePoint
  • There was often too much knowledge to sort through
  • Google also helped kill KM
  • KM never incorporated knowledge derived from data and analytics

He concludes: Any chance that this idea (of KM) will come back? I don’t think so.

Kaboom…. Even the gurus don’t believe in it anymore…  But although all those points are relevant, isn’t something else even more blamable?

By looking at KM strategies, we often see big projects, carefully planned, with defined outcomes. Designed within project management tools including process owners, aims, activities. And, I am sure, monthly reports.

But knowledge is human, and it’s management is dependent on human interaction, human needs, human motivation. It is not a process or a production chain.

And- it is AGILE. What you need to know today is not the same you need to know tomorrow. What sounds perfect for one group may not work for the other unit. What started to be useful at one point may not be useful anymore later.

So why not look at software development again? How does this sound:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Want to read more?  Agile Software Development

And want to know how it’s done?

It’s done in a self-organising, trustfulness team. Uuh, sounds familiar, not?
It’s done with face-to-face communication. Heard about this before, not?
And: it is done iterative. Small steps are taken. The product is evaluated frequently, the requirements are re-defined frequently, the customer ( aka the users) are included frequently, and the whole team supports a flexible mindset and planning.

And that’s how management of knowledge should be executed too. Start with something small; talk to people about their needs and about their experiences with what you implemented so far; redesign according to what you heard; let people evaluate again; expand to the next level; talk to people; redesign; evaluate; expand; talk; redesign; evaluate; expand…

So follow Davenport: If another notion that’s related to yours comes along and gains popularity, don’t shun it, embrace it. Implement an agile approach to your knowledge management!

Picture taken from https://pritamsen.wordpress.com/tag/agile-software-development/

Knowing what it is that we know- using storytelling to get to our knowledge

In the management of knowledge, neither the individual nor the community is fully aware of the depth or range of its knowledge. Asking an individual what he knows in isolation from context of knowledge use just does not work. Useful knowledge is triggered by events and circumstances. So one has to re-create the events and circumstances in order to identify knowledge.

Observation of knowledge use in day-to-day business works when business cycles are short. But in long-term settings, other approaches need to be implemented.

Interviews fail as while describing the past, history will be changed to ensure the story of the past meets the requirements of the present (e.g. sale numbers).

But indirect approaches like storytelling provide the needed information. Storytelling as a pervasive technique that triggers the memory of knowledge and triggers a desire to acquire knowledge.

As an example, workshops can be undertaken where teams talk about the former cases of lost and won businesses in a relaxed atmosphere. Teams should be prevented from telling stories in a linear time sequence as their inevitably led to distortion as a pseudo-rational model was imposed on the past. Free flow stories reveal a considerable number of decisions that would not have been revealed through conventional interview, and some material is only triggered to be remembered by a powerful story from another team member.

Observers then note every decision made and consolidate them into simple flow diagrams which are then consolidated by the team members. For each decision point, the participants were asked which knowledge they used there, both explicit and tacit.

The result is an idealised model of the decision process and associated information forms and a consolidated register of knowledge assets used.

Distributing knowledge to a wider community

For effective knowledge transfer, an interaction between trainer and trainees is necessary as knowledge is contextual. By collecting anecdotes, underlying values and rules can be identified. Anecdotes can then be decomposed and reconstructed to stories that include the desired values and rules.

In distant learning, anecdotes told in the non-virtual course can be collected, decomposed and re-written with the main values, rules and characters to guide through the online learning, to create identity and the drive to bond, to entertain and – to motivate!

Based on Storytelling and other organic tools for Chief Knowledge Officers and Chief Learning Officers; David Snowden, Founder of the Cynefin Center

Which KM tool to choose

Knowledge Management can be anything that in one way or another facilitates communication, cooperation, and sharing of knowledge within and between organizations.

This opens up the field of possible knowledge management tools, methods, and techniques for anything from simple box lunches to complex and expensive enterprise knowledge management suites. There is no one KM tool, technology, or method. In KM „Anything goes!“ For this reason KM is a very creative and quickly changing field.

Chief Knowledge Officers (CKO) must know about a great variety of different kinds of solutions, IT-based, organizational, and interpersonal. Not only that, but CKOs also have to make decisions about which tool, technology or measure is the best in every different situation to implement.
From the CAS Course in Knowledge Management by IKF Luzern

It is a major principle of my work to not apply a tool just because it is a KM tool (and has a cool name), but to find the most appropriate one for every situation. A KM tool or method needs to bring exactly the outcome wished for, with the least possible effort and the smoothest possible implementation in the day-to-day business. The vast number of possibilities may seduce to choose something fancy that sounds impressing. But it is the simple tools, the ones already used in an organization, the ones people are familiar with, which are the tools to choose.

Enhancing the knowledge environment

Every organisation already has an environment in which processes exist to help people create, find, make sense of, and share knowledge. Knowledge management strives to identify and enhance that environment, and to transform it into a culture.

Modified from „Crafting a Knowledge Strategy“ by Shawn Callahan, Anecdote Pty Ltd

When starting a knowledge management project, it is of high importance to first truly analyze the current processes, (human) knowledge nodes, and cultural foundations for knowledge sharing in the organization. Based on that analysis, a few (from one to three) small projects should be chosen that reflect the haves and wished-to-haves, that can be realised in a reasonable amount of time, and that will have a visible impact for the involved employees. The implementation of these small projects will lead to the first transformations. In subsequent steps, the defined characteristics can then be applied to larger and larger projects and processes- from personal processes to business unit processes to the whole organisational structure and culture. In this transformation, some parts are implemented within weeks, but the whole framework may take years and years.

The Concept of „Ba“

The Concept of „Ba“: Building a Foundation for Knowledge Creation was written by Ikujiro Nonaka, one of the founders of the SECI- model, a major basis of knowledge management.

In order to create new knowledge within an organisation, an advocate culture needs to be implemented first. One aspect is „Ba“- a space in which relationships can be initiated and cultivated to build trust and mutual understanding and, at the end, to create knowledge. Without not only having the opportunity to but also being encouraged to spend time in such a space without the pressure of showing direct results, knowledge sharing and creation will never take place within an organization. Knowledge is bound to humans, and humans need trust to communicate and exchange.