Two cool tools for knowledge and learning

Neat applications for sharing knowledge and learning are like buses, it turns out.


Icon is a new app from Spigit, who are the leaders in innovation management software. It’s a really simple concept (which is good) – the online question and answer format, but for an internal audience.

So, what Yammer is to Twitter, Icon is to Quora.

It’s a fab idea and to be quite honest I have no idea why nobody has done it before.

Icon is free to get going with, and could be an incredibly easy way to build up a useful internal knowledge base. For those using Yammer already, there seems to be a way to integrate them, which is a good idea.


Lore is an online course platform. Unlike than big systems like Moodle, it focuses on making it really easy to make single courses, and to just get them out there.

It provides a place for discussions to take place between learners and teachers, accept and grade assignments, share resources, and to have a calendar for real life get togethers and webinars.

What’s remarkable is that it is free!

I’m going to be having a play with Lore to see how well it works, and perhaps put together a test online course about digital engagement, if folk would be up for it.

Thanks to Rich Millington for bringing Lore to my attention. Rich and his colleagues are running a free course about online community management using the Lore platform, which will be well worth signing up for!

Learning, knowledge and the ‘net

I had the pleasure earlier today to speak at a meeting of the Scottish Knowledge Management Network (link requires sign-in) in Aberdeen, hosted by the very generous SubSea7.

My slides are embedded below. If you can’t see them, there’s a PDF here.

My main points were:

  • The internet has knowledge sharing and learning in its DNA. Any approach to knowledge management that doesn’t involve the ‘net deserves to fail
  • People share and learn in their own ways. Give them the freedom to find the tools and techniques that work for them, and ensure the organisation can aggregate
  • Turning activity like recording and sharing knowledge into a standard corporate process is unlikely to make it popular. Fit it into everyday workflow, not extra work

Making learning work for you

Great post from IBM’s Luis Suarez on personal knowledge management:

Well, indeed, it’s impossible to manage knowledge, even your own knowledge. However, knowledge workers can have a good chance to self manage some of that knowledge so that they can re-find and reuse it effectively and efficiently at a later time. There are a whole bunch of processes and traditional technologies that have been helping people try to figure out how they can have their own PKM strategy. And, lately, over the last few years, with the emergence of social software tools, that job of managing one’s own knowledge seems to have become much easier. Although perhaps still with plenty of room for improvement.

Wikipedia explains Personal Knowledge Management to be:

a collection of processes that an individual carries out to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his/her daily activities and how these processes support work activities.

Luis’ post points to some resources from the excellent Harold Jarche about PKM, including some slides and an audio presentation that are well worth taking the time to look through.

Cheesey stock photo image of someone learning something

Picking up on James Gardner’s point, that I blogged about a while ago, knowledge management – and therefore our own learning – isn’t perhaps the job of our employers but is something we must take care of ourselves. What employers do have to do, though, is to provide access to the tools that work for people to actually get this done.

I’m constantly battling to find the right toolkit that works for me. This blog is where I record a lot of the stuff I think about and where I try to tease out some of the stuff I have learnt from elsewhere and to put it into the context that I, and the readers of the blog, operate in.

I save links that are of interest to me in Delicious and that provides a great method of keeping track of resources around the web. I also share items in Google Reader which are of passing interest but not necessarily worth the bother of bookmarking, and I keep a record of interesting videos on another blog.

This sounds like a lot of activity, but actually it fits in well with the way I work, through familiarity and the tech solution of good integration with my web browser.


A tool that is becoming increasingly important to me though is Evernote, which I blogged about here. With Evernote, I can just throw stuff into it without really even thinking about it. So, if I spot an interesting quote, I can just copy and paste it into a note, add the URL where I spotted it, if it was on the web, and maybe tag the note with some keywords so it appears in searches later on.

Or if there is a whole article that interests me, like Luis’ blog post above, I can with a click of a button drag the whole thing into Evernote for later reading and reflection, adding notes and annotations as necessary.

Increasingly, everything I produce starts out in Evernote. Blog posts are drafted there, project ideas are dumped in there, even emails start life as snippets I jot down before putting them together into a more coherent form.

Even better, Evernote exists as an application on my laptop and desktop computers, and on my phone, other devices like the iPad, and of course the website too, so I can access my stuff from any connected machine. Everything is synchronised and it means I can get at it anywhere, anytime.

What about everyone else?

Anyway, enough about Evernote. The point is that I am lucky enough to work in an environment where I can be responsible for the tools I use to do my job, including my own learning activity.

Cheesey stock photo that is supposed to mean research or somethingA lot of people who work in government do not have that luxury. Many probably don’t have any easy to use tools to help them record knowledge and learning – and those that do probably don’t have the flexibility to customise them to their needs.

So what can they do? If internet access policies are reasonably enlightened at their place of work, people can try using web based tools, such as Delicious and, yes, Evernote (though I should perhaps point out that the web version of Evernote is not as fully-featured as the native applications). Indeed there are advantages to this approach as by using public sites the opportunity is there for people to connect across organisational boundaries and to share information, resources and learning increasing the likelihood of serendipitous discovery.

It may well be that your organisation does offer tools that could help you in your personal knowledge management, though – you just don’t know about them! One example is Learning Pool’s dynamic learning environment (DLE), which is used by well over a hundred public sector organisations in the UK. As well as being the place to access e-learning content, our DLE features a whole host of social learning technologies – forums, wikis, blogs, chat etc – which could be utilised as part of someone’s personal knowledge management approach.

Knowledge Hub

It’s difficult to write any post that includes the word ‘knowledge’ without mentioning the KHub. As I described in this post, the KHub promises to be the flexible, open publishing platform that can make the recording and sharing of knowledge and learning as easy as it needs to be.

The open API approach that the KHub will take should also make it easier for organisations to pull knowledge and learning back into the workplace. Workers could use the KHub as their main knowledge management platform, sharing what they find with the rest of the sector, and then also have that stuff automatically republished on their organisation’s intranet, say, meaning that even people who don’t use the KHub can still make use of the content within it.

Summing up

This has been a bit of a rambly wander around personal knowledge management and some of the issues it raises. What’s clear though is that:

  • It’s down to individuals to progress their own learning and to ensure it is recorded in a useful way
  • Systems and tools available at a consumer level are more often than not more sophisticated and easy to use than those made available by organisations
  • Organisations can ensure staff make the most of the benefits of PKM by ensuring they have access to the tools that work for them, and that benefit can be fed back into the rest of the organisation
  • The Knowledge Hub presents an interesting potential outsourcing of PKM for the public sector – if organisations and individuals are awake to the benefits

I’d be interested in others’ views. How do you manage your own learning and knowledge – is this supported by your organisation?

Celebrating connections

Thanks to Michael Norton for sharing this in the Communities of Practice – a really interesting read about social networking and knowledge management. I suspect that the KM term probably brings people out in hives these days, but in times of significant change – especially when staff turnover is high, as it is during a time of financial pressure – it’s vital that as much knowledge is kept within organisations as possible.

My view is that the big push around knowledge management a few years ago failed because it was considered a distinct activity – for it to work, it needs to slot seamlessly into people’s workflows so they don’t notice that they are doing it. Social tools help with this, especially when people are using similar platforms in their home lives.

If you can’t see the document below, you can download the PDF.

Writing on Wall

Thanks as well to the Henley Knowledge Management Forum for publishing this openly.

The human intranet

Andy Gibson, one of the chaps behind School of Everything, Mind Apples and his own consultancy business Sociability, made a couple of cracking presentations last Monday at the NCVO Information Management event.

Sadly I didn’t get to see either as I was busy playing a game of my own, but Andy has generously shared his slides from the day using Slideshare:

The Human Intranet

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: km sociability)

Next Gen KM

Knowledge management is something that really interests me, and it’s something that I think governmental organisations at all levels in the UK need to start seriously addressing. Of course, being a social media fanboy too means that I like to see where web technology can help with this stuff: to make it easier, more effective or just more fun.

So, I thought it might be useful to run through a few of the more popular KM tools and techniques and see where web 2.0 can improve things. I have linked to Nancy White‘s great resource on KM tools for each one for background material.

1. Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice are groups of people with common interests or goals, who come together to share best practice, information and experience – fundamentally, knowledge. They can exist on and offline, but when brought online you need to be careful that your provide the right interfaces for people to be able to connect with one another in an organic fashion – in other words to replicate real life interactions as accurately as possible online.

Why would you want to do this? Well, while I would agree that face to face meetings are always the best ways of building trust and getting things off the ground, they do have their weaknesses. For a start, there is a limit on the number of people that can attend at any one time, and geographical issues means there is always someone that will miss out. By providing an online alternative, these people can still engage with the community. Another consideration is the fact that not a lot goes on between meetings generally, and the online community provides the glue that sticks people together in between these get togethers.

For example, mailing lists cannot be used to create a community of practice – the conversation is too one-dimensional and there is no way of discvoering people with common experiences or problems. Web forums are better, but they are still organised in a top-down fashion, with people completing limited profiles and having limited means of sharing information: the threaded conversation.

Social networks, however, provide the right level of interaction, with personal profiles with wider scope and a range of different discussion and collaboration means. The great example of this, of course, is the IDeA’s Communities of Practice platform which provides a social network backed up with blogs, wikis, forums and document libraries to enable knowledge to be shared in whatever way the user feels is appropriate.

2. Knowledge Cafes

Knowledge Cafes are informal discussions, usually in small groups on a common theme, with plenty of coffee on tap. It’s an opportunity to explore ideas as part of the group, a mixture of brainstorming and discussion. Some structure tends to make knowledge cafes more effective, and one way is to have a facilitator not to lead, but rather shape the discussion to draw the best out of all the participants. At the end it’s usually nice to have a rap-up, where each group feds back their thoughts on the topic, and for them to be captured, perhaps onto paper or a word processed document.

One of the best things abut knowledge cafes is the fact that the small group allow everyone o have their say, but with everything being drawn together at the end, and this intimacy is difficult to replicate online. An additional difficulty is in whether you choose to make the online Knowledge Cafe synchronous or not – does each group need to be online at the same time, or can they log in and add to the discussion when they want, maybe during the course of a week?

One way of running a (for want of a better term) synchronous online knowledge cafe would be to make use of instant messaging technology. For example, Meebo is a browser based instant messaging platform which allows anyone to log in using their preferred IM protocol, whether it be MSN, AIM, Jabber, Yahoo! or Google. Further to that, Meebo allows you to create rooms where several people can participate in a discussion. It could work really well, with a Meebo room for each sub-group within the cafe. Another option is to use Campfire from 37 Signals. However, to have more than one room, and more than four people involved in a conversation, they you will need to pay for an upgrade to the standard service.

If you prefer to run an online knowledge cafe that people can dip in and out of, and don’t all have to be online at the same time, then the obvious solution is a forum, where the threaded conversations can accurately represent a conversation online. However, forums (which you can probably start to tell I am not awfully keen on…) can’t really mirror the organic nature of human conversation. The linear representation of the discussion means that tangents can’t easily be developed – and often that is where the real value lies. Wikis aren’t much use either, because while they are really easy to use and to get content online to share, they aren’t so hot at replicating structured conversations. Perhaps the best way of doing this therefore is to use a mind mapping service like, which allows mind maps to be edited by members of a group, who are invited via email. This way, thoughts can be added, with responses added as nodes coming off the originating ones. Tangents can be followed up, while still keeping the whole conversation trackable and in one place.

3. Peer Assists

A peer assist is a pretty simple idea: someone has a problem, and they ask their friends to help out. In reality, it’s a bit different from a simple chat, as someone leads the discussion and helps to keep things on track, to ensure the conversation achieves, as much as is possible, the objectives of the session which are clearly defined at the outset. The objectives of a peer assist are going to be more specific than the more general discussion of a knowledge cafe, for example, and it is important to regularly check that the ideas being offered are suitable for the problem being discussed.

One of the key elements of running a successful peer assist is that you have people involved with the knowledge and experience to make useful contributions. Finding such people can be a difficult task, and social networks provide a great way of discovering people based on their interests, whether through the subject they write about on their blogs, or what they list on their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles as stuff they are good at. The chances are that you will already be ‘friends’ with these people and so they are entering the exercise as an already trusted source.

In terms of actually running the peer assist using the web, I think this is where the wiki really comes into its own. You can put the original problem at the top of a wiki page and invited contributions from those taking part to appear underneath. Those that the orginator thinks are potential solutions can be developed further, those that are unsuitable can be archived to elsewhere on the wiki. In terms of a good wiki system to use, my favourite is WikiSpaces, which allows for the easy integration of a range of content types and is really simple to get started with.

Another option might be to write the problem up as a blog post, with suggestions coming in through the comments, though this might end up being a little linear.

4. After Action Review

An after action review is a simple enough idea: a team takes a look at a recently completed piece of work, and collaboratively works on what went well, and what not so well. Key questions are: what could be done better next time; and what can we do better elsewhere as a result of good stuff done in this project. They don’t have to be held at the end of a project though, and can be used at various stages so that continuous improvement is possible.

In the real world, an after action review would be run with everyone around a table, so that all the necessary views and experiences can be aired. This can be replicated like the knowledge cafe with instant messaging, forums or online mind mapping. If you are really stuck then even email will do it.

However, a more interesting method might be to combine collaborative authoring with discussion, using a system like WriteWith. This allows you to jointly edit some text, in a Google Docs or Zoho stylee, but also has a threaded discussion running alongside it. So the facilitator of the review could post a document detailing some of the aims of the project, with actual performance results and outcomes. These could then be discussed alongside the text, which can then be updated and turned into the after action review report. What’s great about WriteWith is that it will then let you export to PDF, Word or OpenOffice format – or even send the text straight to a blog!

5. Knowledge Market Place

A knowledge market place, or fair, is an opportunity to learn what it is that folk know, and what they would like to know. The ideal end result would be a big grid with a list of people with their skills and their needs on, with some contact details so that folk can easily get in touch with those they can help. Face to face methods of running a knowledge market place can include getting people to team up and ‘interview’ each other, writing down the wants and offers on post-its, which can then be stuck on the wall for viewing later as well as being typed up.

An online version of this would suit any kind of site which allows details profiles, so people with certain skills can be tracked down easily. Another way would be to have a wiki page, laid out as a grid which people can add to as they see fit. It might be possible for a blog to be created, with a post per person. These could be completed by the person concerned themselves or (more fun) someone they have just been speaking to. Tags could be added to outline the wants and needs, so that groups of people with similar interests could be identified with one click.

Any more? 

There’s five from me, then. Anyone got any more ways that web 2.0 can be used to develop KM in new and interesting ways?