Saturday, February 11, 2017

Two Key Elements of Personal Knowledge Management - Reflection and Experimentation

Clark Quinn blogged about "Experimentation and Reflection" earlier this week in the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine.  It's a recurring theme in my own reflections about Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning.

I like reading and interacting with people who work on similar issues yet from a slightly different perspective.  While most of the knowledge management and organizational learning professionals I know focus on the group or the organization as the relevant unit of analysis, Clark Quinn, Jane Hart and others who work in the arena of workplace learning within the broader umbrella of "learning and development" (L&D) have a much strong emphasis on the individual as the relevant unit of analysis.  I want to work at the intersection of KM/OL/ and L&D.

I'd like to argue that what's missing is an approach that bridges all three levels: Individual knowledge and learning, team knowledge and learning processes, and organizational knowledge and learning.

The foundation for robust knowledge management at the organizational level is a culture of learning. That culture is an aggregation of the behaviors and attitudes of all the individuals who work in that organization.  Therefore, it would make sense to suggest that knowledge management at the individual level (i.e, personal knowledge management) is an important foundation for knowledge management at the organizational level.

I have yet to see a knowledge management effort that pays attention to personal knowledge management and systematically links individual learning to team/group learning and organizational learning. [There is some research on the "microfoundations" of organizational learning which supports this idea.]

Putting some emphasis on the individual is not about rewarding individual incentives and addressing the "what's in it for me" attitude that we can encounter when pushing for more knowledge sharing.  Personal knowledge management, however, can have a significant impact on 1) personal motivation/job satisfaction; 2) engagement with peers/informal mentoring.

Quinn's post mentions the difficulty in measuring the informal learning progress that occurs through experimentation and reflection.

"I’m not sure that there are many tools that are expressly for tracking individual informal learning progress (though I’m using a new task/project management tool to create my todos and then mark them when done). Still, thinking consciously about learning goals and tracking progress could be a valuable adjunct to intentional learning." (Experimentation and Reflection, blog post of 2/9/2017)
I don't generally recommend bean counting when it comes to learning but here is an option to consider.

1. Document your informal learning activities (including your experimentation and reflection activities) in some fashion.  This is useful whether you want to measure progress or not.

2. Review your informal learning notes (however you have captured them) on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, whatever works for you).  Some of it will be observations.  some of it will be key insights, perhaps even some action items that you assigned yourself.   As you review notes from several months of informal learning activities, new insights will emerge, new actions to follow through with.  That's how the experimentation keeps evolving.  It's a form of agile learning.

3. Count key insights generated over time:  By the time you're done reviewing your notes, you know you've made progress.  If you need to report that progress to someone or you need a quantitative measure of progress, simply count the key insights you've generated over a month, keep track every month.  I don't think the goal is to keep increasing the number of insights.  Some are worth more than others. :)

If you track the number of miles you run (regardless of speed) for physical fitness purposes, you can track the number of key insights you generate out of your informal learning activities.   By itself, the process of tracking them down will generate new insights.

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