PKM and self-directed professional development

When I first decided that I wanted to learn more about the Learning and Development space, I began by identifying people who were sharing good stuff on a regular basis. I already had a few ideas, as I had followed Harold Jarche and Jane Hart, in particular, for quite a long time. I used many of their ideas while exploring ideas for managing teachers and teacher development. From memory, my next step was to start following a trail of others who followed them, or share their work and I went from there.

I’ve got a list on Twitter, if you’re interested. And it’s growing by the week. Maybe you’re on it!

Since then I’ve built up a network of people who’s work I can follow, in terms of what they share online. And as many of these people are experts in the field, I feel that I get a clear insight into the key themes and issues being discussed.

In a rapidly changing world, it is now considered fundamental that knowledge workers strive to stay up to date with wider discussions in and around their field of work and also engage in self-directed professional development. Online networking is a powerful medium for doing this.

In the past, the goals of keeping up to date and being exposed to new ideas would have been served by reading an industry magazine or two, now and again, and going to a conference once in a while. Both those things are still perfectly relevant and particularly the human interaction that drives conversation at a conference is usually the most important element. But in the network age, there’s often a desire to be connected and we are are so more than ever. And trying to be part of an online network and engaging with all the content that comes our way can be completed overwhelming; like the often used ‘drinking from the firehose’ metaphor.

Not to mention the fact that social media is specifically designed to be addictive. So whether engaging professionally, personally, or a mixture of both, it’s easy to let things get on top of you and lose focus, and spend too much time online without actually achieving any real learning. FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – can be a significant issue that added to the way the platforms are designed for addiction, is a powerful blend.

Some years ago when I was an English language teacher, I was keen to develop professionally and found the new world of web 2.0, blogging and Twitter to be a transformational experience. Dozens of teachers from around the world would engage in Twitter-based chats around a specific hashtag, wrote blogs and shared them, and commented on each others ideas. There was (mostly!) calm, open and helpful discussion. I was teaching in a small school, in a small town, in a foreign country, with a group of teachers who were less interested than me in professional development, so the new possibilities of a personal learning network (PLN) were fundamental to my development and career progression. And while developing as teachers, we were also developing literacy with these new forms of communication and engagement. In fact, I ended up researching this for my MA thesis.

But there was always the issue of self-managing this experience.

Something that has helped me for a long time is the concept of PKM (Personal Knowledge Mastery). A concept that Harold Jarche has developed specific ideas around (and on which he has developed an interesting course). There is a field known more commonly as Personal Knowledge Management, which shares the same acronym, and generally focuses on the strategies and techniques that a person uses to filter information, or knowledge, and then save it, and make sense of it.

It’s worth pointing out that although there are conceptual connections with organisational knowledge management, this is a very different and is a personal strategy.

Here’s a fancy definition, if you’re that way inclined:

“PKM [Personal Knowledge Management] is a form of sophisticated career and life management. We suggest that applied PKM may be one way of helping individuals survive, and prosper, through turbulent, complex and changing organisational and social environments”
D. J. Pauleen and G. E. Gorman

Essentially, the idea is to develop a system. In order to keep up with all the content I want to engage with, whether it’s articles, newsletters, blog posts, podcasts or videos, I need that system. Otherwise there’s a sensation that information is just blowing past me, without getting any opportunity to make sense of any of it properly.

STOP! Poetry time…

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information

T.S. Eliot


…this idea is not restricted to information management. The point is that we develop knowledge based on the information we engage with and by actively working to make sense of that new knowledge, we learn.

Well, we learn in terms of ‘knowing’, which is a start, but usually not enough. Only by putting that knowledge to work, using it to inform our practice and trying out new things will we incorporate new methods, abilities and behaviours into our professional toolkit. That’s the next step. And by doing that and reflecting on our new experiences, we might move towards gaining some kind of wisdom.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got any thoughts on this topic, I’d love to read them. Let me know below.

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