What is Personal Knowledge Management?

Author Harold Jarche, one of its chief exponents, describes PKM (or Personal Knowledge Mastery, in its advanced form) as:

“PKM is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world, work more effectively, and contribute to society. PKM means taking control of your professional development, and staying connected in the network era, whether you are an employee, self-employed, or between jobs.”

Wikipedia puts it like this:

“Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a collection of processes that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his or her daily activities (Grundspenkis 2007) and the way in which these processes support work activities (Wright 2005).”

In Other Words…

Personal knowledge management is a way of coping with the world. It’s how an individual acquires, assimilates, assesses, and adapts information and knowledge – and how he/she uses that knowledge to develop as a person, and to advance along his/her chosen career path.

PKM derives from Knowledge Management, a theoretical base often criticised for being all things, to all people, and nothing specific. Others view its diversity as a great strength.

Knowledge, or Information?

There’s a distinction to be made. On the one hand, society can be seen as a collective, within which information and knowledge are employed at different levels, by individuals and organisations. In a given situation, having information may not be enough to effect the changes necessary to make improvements at a personal or corporate scale. Some level of understanding is required, to allow data to be manipulated and managed, so as to achieve productive results.

And knowledge can’t be created in a vacuum. Some degree of connection between individuals is essential, to maintain the flow.

In the digital age, PKM requires the construction of frameworks to manage digital information – to recognise usable patterns within it, and apply the knowledge gained from it, in the attainment of personal and corporate goals.

A Strategic Approach

On a personal level, individuals must first ask how they have come by the knowledge they possess, and what their assessment of it is. They can then look further, to their network of social and business contacts, and determine what role those associations can play, and how knowledge may be traded, adapted, and acted upon.

They must then determine how to strike a balance between what’s best for the individual, and the objectives of the organisations to which they belong.

Practical Measures

The balance between personal and corporate benefits may not be easy to achieve. One way to make it easier is by adopting a “citizenship” approach, to the relationship between individuals and their organisations (employers, social networks, etc.).

In this context, PKM aims to make the individual a knowledge resource – both to themselves, and to the wider society, by:

  • bringing the aims of acquiring new knowledge closer together, for both individuals and organisations
  • identifying the optimum conditions under which learning is achieved
  • making the learning process for individuals an integral part of the overall educational process of the organisation
  • easing the creation of channels and processes for individuals to acquire, document, search, adapt, and share knowledge with their networks
  • giving individuals the freedom to “step back” from the formal settings of the organisation, so they can consider the knowledge they possess from a fresh perspective

A PKM Toolkit

By its very nature, personal knowledge management is an eclectic mix (some might say a mishmash) of several elements. The following resources should be of help:

The Wiki Factor

On a wiki website, users can log in and edit pages, to create a collaborative resource. The software stores user-contributed content on servers in a file system or database. Ideally, the wiki should be a pool of collective knowledge, from which contributors can gain new information, and give something to the community via their own experience.

Mind Maps

These are diagrams, which set out the links between ideas, facts, and other data. A good mind-mapping software package should have support for text entry, images, website links, and multimedia elements – all of which may be related in some way, to a given subject or concept.


A typical blog – with content tagged by keywords and subject categories – is another weapon in the personal knowledge management armoury. Blogs can be set up for individuals or groups, and content added or updated as new knowledge is processed. The Comments section can be a useful forum for feedback and debate.

Online Tutorials

Ideal, for disseminating information on specific subjects and processes. Resources may take the form of illustrated webpages, walking the site visitor through a process or problem, a “how-to” video or podcast.

Social Networking

A social networking site offers scope for interaction, collaboration, and discussion. It can be a useful tool for personal and corporate development, as resources like whitepapers, FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), and links to related sites and media can be an integral part of the platform.

The Way Forward?

PKM is an emerging discipline, so specific literature and resources relating to it are pretty thin on the ground. So, a body of best practices and approved techniques has yet to be built up. For the moment, personal knowledge management must be centred on the individual.

But the field has great potential, and development is ongoing.