Personal knowledge management



Harold is a former Canadian infantry officer and current learning consultant who resided in Sackville, New Brunswick.

He’s a fellow contrarian, saying that “When I look on my life I realize that I usually take the road less traveled. I’m always looking for new and different ways to do things. And once I’ve figured out something I want to move to the next challenge. Much of what I learn I try to share. My friends say that I give away too much, but I can’t help making connections and recommending other people’s skills when I see a need.

“I’ve found a passion in the area of sharing, learning, reflecting and collaborating using new Web tools such as social network systems, blogs and wikis. I constantly try out new tools and techniques and then I use my pragmatic business bend to recommend the right ones for my clients and colleagues. People and organisations often come to me – like government agencies, start-ups and non-profits – because they need a trusted advisor who can give them a roadmap and guide them on implementation.”

Harold and I jointly conducted the pioneering Unworkshops in late 2006, and we are working on several projects together now. 

His take on Personal Knowledge Management is to make it simple, but not too simple:

The flow from implicit (tacit) to explicit, or developing a personal knowledge management system.

    Sometimes it’s best to leave things implicit (tacit), such as what you think of certain co-workers, but other times you may want to make your thoughts more explicit, especially if you want to experiment with an idea or expand your knowledge of an area.   


    Learning has always been a personal thing, even when it happens in formal training. It’s also social, in that our learning is affected by our social context, whether it be in conversation or observation. What’s relatively new is that the Web lets us manage certain aspects of our learning in a much easier way. We can connect, reflect, dispute and research with the click of a mouse.

    My experience in helping trainers and educators teach about learning on the Web is to first start with yourself. Those who use the Web for their own learning have an easier transition in using it in training and education. Imagine asking people to become trainers in the pre-Web era. Could they be good trainers if they lacked presentation, speaking, writing, or organizational skills? Today, you need web-learning skills.

    In our day-to-day learning, one often repeated task is making the link from “this is an interesting idea” to “this is what I know”. The Web now provides us with an array of cheap and free tools to collect and collate information. Some people call this Personal Knowledge Management or PKM, which I’ve found to be a good working term. PKM is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help the flow of implicit to tacit knowledge. PKM is more about attitude than any given tools. It’s taking our innately curious nature and tapping into it so that we can continue to expand our horizons.


    An easy web tool to start using is an online bookmarking system. I no longer have to search through Favorites or Bookmarks on my browser because I use a social bookmarks. The most popular of these is This social bookmarking application lets me mark a web page with any number of topic headings (also known as tags), make that bookmark public or private, and then have all of my bookmarks in an online searchable database. There’s much less clutter now. I am constantly retrieving something from my archive of hundreds of bookmarks for one reason or another. An online database like this is handy when you’re away from your desk and want to share.

    With social bookmarks I almost never put anything into my browser-based Bookmarks, except for the login page of some password protected sites. If you did nothing else, just adopting a social bookmarking tool would save a lot of time in retrieving information. You can also use social bookmarks to share with members of a project team. After you’ve used them for a while, you might see the value in sharing and searching other people’s topics or tags, but the bottom line is that these tools work for the individual.

    Blogging & Aggregators

    Blogs are more than online diaries. They allow others to join in the conversation by linking from their own blog or adding comments to your posts. Over time, blogs create a network of connections, observations, disagreements and hopefully some learning for their writers. If you’re uncertain how to start one, first read some blogs of interest and then make a few comments to join in the conversation.

    My own blog is the main platform by which I try to make some unstructured implicit knowledge more explicit, through the process of writing out my thoughts and observations of what I have come across in my work. A lot of these observations come from the web sites that I visit regularly.

    Keeping track of these conversations is much easier with a feed reader, or aggregator. This can save you a lot of time, and is the only way that I can track hundreds of blogs. I use a free web-based aggregator called Bloglines, where you can see who has made a new post without actually visiting that site. There are various options available, either web-based or for the desktop. There are also some aggregator plug-ins available for MS Outlook.

    A more recent suite of tools lets you keep track of your comments on other blogs. Bloglines includes this feature on its latest Beta version and other applications such as Commentful and CoComment are free.

    PKM – putting it together

    One of the important aspects of PKM is triage, or sorting. It’s the ability to separate the important from the useless. Unfortunately, what you may view as useless today could be quite important tomorrow. Developing good triage techniques takes time and practice. Here is an overview of my PKM process.

    A PKM process takes a few free web tools and enables you to start tapping your information streams. You can file the good stuff somewhere you can easily find it. My system works for me because I’m curious and because I have developed a habit of writing down my thoughts in a public forum. This has started some interesting conversations about things that matter to me. Having a defined field of interest helps stop my blog from spreading too far and wide and keeps my PKM manageable.

    Previous attempts at knowledge management using information technology focused on organizations and corporate knowledge. In many cases, workers did not use these vast archives of information. The key to successful PKM is that it is must be allowed to be personal. Small pieces, loosely joined in an informal and unstructured way, is a workable model for personal learning online, especially since anyone can add new tools as they are developed.

    The Internet is the most powerful communication environment that humans have ever built. Learning online is about communicating and connecting. Sharing through blogs and social bookmarks is also good for the learning field, because it encourages peer discussions. Perhaps the easiest sales pitch though, is that it there are direct benefits to the individual. PKM is actually a time-saver and a learning accelerator in the long run.


Urs Frei, a learning consultant based in Zurich, took part in Harold’s and my Unworkshops. His conceptualization of PKM: