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Thinking Beyond Note Taking With Personal Knowledge Management

Thinking Beyond Note Taking With Personal Knowledge Management

By Paul Haluszczak

When computers, intranets, and the internet became mainstays within companies and organizations, they were able to simultaneously increase their collection of knowledge and their potential for productive output. The keyword being potential.

Although access to information was increasingly abundant, ensuring everyone throughout a company or organization had access to the same information was a challenge.

With companies like AT&T and Bank of America employing hundreds of thousands of workers, a system for seamlessly managing this knowledge was a must.

Hence the introduction of Knowledge Management in 1991. The field developed so quickly and attained such high value that In today’s workforce, you will find “knowledge workers” in the same rooms as CEOs, donning titles like Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO).

Of course, knowledge management goes far beyond fancy job titles. To have a deep understanding of the systems and processes you operate within—whether professionally or in everyday life—gives you a leg up.

Professionally, you become a go-to resource in the eyes of your colleagues. As an everyday citizen, you build a sophisticated understanding of the systemic inequities that unjustly move the starting line forward or backward for each of your neighbors.

This begs the question: How does one become a knowledge manager?

The answer is so simple that it might make you fall asleep just thinking about it. Knowledge management starts and ends with note-taking.

We don’t really teach note-taking though. Beyond the simple instruction for learners to write down what they hear from a teacher or highlight text they believe is important, note-taking is mostly related to as a passive task.

It doesn’t (and likely shouldn’t) have to be this way.

Shortly after the field of Knowledge Management was born, people began playing with the idea of “Personal Knowledge Management” (PKM). If advances in technology were making it possible to store more information than seven billion human minds could collectively hold, considering the limited capacity for information storage at the individual level was downright frightening.

PKM is an end-to-end solution that starts with capturing new information and ends with a far more important step—creation. This is where traditional notions of note-taking fall flat. In the context of academics, notes are taken, studied, and hopefully the information is retained long enough to do well on a test. Then, all information is abandoned.

Within a well-organized PKM system, you can let knowledge gather dust for years and in the moment it bears relevance, it can be retrieved and utilized.

Most introductions to PKM will make it feel incredibly inaccessible for adults and young people alike, but if you focus on four simple principles, you can open up a world of possibility.


Every PKM journey has a curation phase, which is the most adjacent to traditional note-taking. Whenever something of interest passes by, the instruction is to simply curate it.

Saw an interesting article you don’t have time to read? Save it in a “read-it-later” application like Pocket or Instapaper. Had an exciting idea pop in your head while driving, showering, or walking in the park? Write it down on a piece of paper, take a voice memo, or use a native notes app like Apple Notes. Heard a nugget in a podcast you were listening to? Utilize a podcast note-capturing tool like Airr or Snipd.


It’s not enough to just curate information. You must organize that information in a way that makes sense to your personal endeavors. This is a systems thinking activity.

When computers came into the picture, the analogue hierarchal filing system came with it. Folders and subfolders remained the norm for the organization of digital information. Today, however, there is momentum around network-based thinking, which aims to simulate the networks in our actual brains.

Rather than restricting information to specific categories, network-based organization aims to create more serendipity—illuminating unexpected connections like when bubblewrap went from wallpaper to a protective packing solution.

Reflect and Summarize

The benefits of reflecting on and revisiting information we’ve curated and organized is possibly one of the oldest and well-supported learning methods in existence. Dedicating daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual reflection times keeps things fresh and ensures we remain aligned with our goals.

There are many ways to go about information processing. You can be as sophisticated as Niklas Luhmann and create an advanced Zettelkasten, take a more mainstream approach with progressive summarization, or ease into things and simply dedicate five to ten minutes each day to reflecting on something you intuitively know to be of value at this moment in time.

Either way, the more we process the information we’ve curated, the more likely we are to form unexpected and exciting connections.


We’ve saved the best for last. Information is just information until it is used to create something new in the world. Best of all, we are all creators.

Within an active PKM system, you should never sit down to create anything without 80% of it already finished thanks to the previous three steps. Ever gotten stuck staring at a blank piece of paper? Simply go into your PKM system and you’ll find troves of information that spawn a thousand ideas to write about. If that information isn’t there, you simply aren’t ready to create yet and can move onto something else.

Whatever you are looking to create, whether it’s in written, audio, digital, or analogue format, your PKM system is your preeminent source of inspiration.

Once you get a handle on PKM in your personal and professional life, the connections to how PKM could positively impact your learners will start forming in bunches. For a deeper dive into PKM and the relationship it has to teaching and learning, be sure to check out our webinar, How to Build a Brain: An Introduction to Personal Knowledge Management.

Why It’s Easy To Ignore Something Proven to Create 30 Times More Engagement

Why It’s Easy To Ignore Something Proven to Create 30 Times More Engagement

by Paul Haluszczak

Have you ever noticed how often education conversations are about what’s wrong rather than what’s strong with our learning communities?

Local and national headlines fill our social media and email feeds with apocalyptic warnings like:

  • “Learning loss will be a lasting legacy of COVID safetyism”
  • “Record levels of teacher burnout and resignations”
  • “Stress and short tempers: Schools struggle with behavior as students return”

What if we changed the conversation and took stock of what drives academic achievement and student well-being?

Research shows that learners are 30 times more engaged when they feel known and they have a teacher who makes them excited about the future.

Simply put, knowing our learners is a force multiplier—a factor or a combination of factors that gives us the ability to accomplish greater feats than without it.

When we see something that powerful, “30 times more engaged,” it begs the question: Why wouldn’t knowing our learners and getting them excited about the future be our number one priority in our learning communities?

The answer is rather simple. The upfront investment required to create an environment where knowing our learners is prioritized over things like test scores, content delivery, and behavioral compliance is large.

Knowing our learners is not a prioritized or even stated outcome of the conventional education system’s design. In fact, knowing our learners is antithetical to the system’s design given it’s one-size-fits-all credo.

The moment we begin learning a little more about each learner in our communities is the moment we learn that the conventional system’s design is actively working to limit the success of every child.

Let’s look at a simple example.

Bobbi is 10 years old and just shared that she attended a sailboat race with her mother over the weekend. She was fascinated by the design of the sailboats, the teamwork required to maximize the boat’s speed, and the strategic conversations happening all around her by other onlookers.

Her excitement is undeniable. How will this excitement be translated into her learning experiences this week?

In a conventional learning environment, the excitement will quickly deteriorate in the face of rigid curriculum and pacing requirements. It’s great to hear Bobbi had such a good time, but it’s time for all of us to read Holes by Louis Sachar and then to learn about the asteroid belt.

It’s important to note that neither Holes nor the asteroid belt are bad things to engage with. They simply aren’t relevant to a learner who just shared her fascination about sailboat racing and therefore stumps whatever value might be contained within each of those learning experiences.

Now, let’s look at what might happen in a strengths-based learning environment that celebrates the individual interests of every learner.

In this environment, an educator can invite Bobbi to consider how becoming a strong mathematician helps sailboat racers go as fast as possible, encourage Bobbi to begin reading about sailboat racing or sailboat building, and welcome Bobbi to write a letter to a local sailboat racing team expressing her fascination and seeing if she can attend one of their training sessions.

Math, reading, writing. Sounds like foundational learning doesn’t it? It’s just wrapped in a context that is meaningful to the individual learner. And because this learner feels known and has been inspired to dive into her newfound interest, her engagement goes through the roof.

To have this type of learning be commonplace throughout an entire school or district requires a cultural shift, which can feel like an enormous undertaking if you aren’t in a position of power to get the wheels in motion.

But don’t underestimate the power of possibility. An individual teacher, by taking ownership in getting to know each of their learners and getting them excited about the future, will quickly be known as that classroom where “problem kids” aren’t problems, “quiet kids” bust out of their shells, and “bored kids” are teeming with excitement.

All it takes is one other teacher to wonder how they can make a similar impact. With two examples showcasing the value of knowing our learners, it becomes almost impossible to ignore and the dominoes will begin to fall.

Getting to know your learners is a daily commitment that can happen in formal and informal ways. To catalyze your efforts, Thrively has a free, evidence-based strengths assessment that reveals the top five strengths of every learner.

With this information at your fingertips, you will immediately have an unlimited supply of conversation starters for each and every learner. You will be able to make their strengths visible, which will inevitably make them proud of their unique identities and get them excited about how they can utilize those strengths at school and outside it.

The only question is: Are you ready to ask what’s strong with your students?

How Will We Design The Next Wave Of Education Experiments?

How Will We Design The Next Wave Of Education Experiments?

by Paul Haluszczak

Education is an ongoing, never-ending experiment. Observations are made, questions are considered, research is conducted, new hypotheses come to the fore, small scale (or sometimes large scale) tests are conducted, data is collected and analyzed, results are reported, and new observations are made.

Round and round we go, year after year, generation after generation.

Although never-ending, the education experiment often comes up short in addressing the challenges found in the observations we make.

We ask: How do we create authentic learning opportunities? Yet, we retain rigid, standardized structures.

We ask: How do we support and honor multiple intelligences? Yet, we ask all learners to engage with the same learning materials through the same learning medium (most often neglecting any hands-on learning whatsoever).

We ask: How do we reach our most marginalized and underrepresented populations? Yet, we have systems in place that ask learners to leave their lived experiences at the school door and separate the “real world” from the “schooling world.”

The paradoxes could cold fill up an entire book. In fact, such a book was written by Gary Chapin and Carissa Carisa Carrow called 126 Falsehoods We Believe About Education.

Since education is an ongoing experiment and we tend to ask great questions but see minimal systemic change, what if we looked at an often neglected experimental strategy that puts the margins at the center?

Such thinking began in the 1960s and 1970s in Scandinavia under the moniker, cooperative design. When it made its way to the United States the name shifted to participatory design—as managers were hesitant to include their subordinates in change work that was all-inconclusive.

Of course, such a name change greatly slowed down the intention behind cooperative design, where, in the most inclusive sense, “all stakeholders of an issue, not just the users, [are included] throughout the entire process from research to implementation.”

Cooperative design can be seen in a more common design process called design thinking, a framework that one must be careful to approach as a flexible foundation rather than a rigid design formula so as not to dilute the original cooperative design intention of full inclusivity.

Given cooperative design’s inclusive nature, we can look at historical examples where “designing from the margins” or “designing with the margins centered” served everyone well.

Before you read that text

The idea of sending text messages was first formulated in 1984 by Matti Makkonen who “wanted to create a system that would help hearing-impared people communicate on mobile networks.” In 1992, the first text message was sent. In 2022, 18.7 billion texts are sent worldwide every day.

Could you help me peel the potatoes?

OXO is an everyday kitchen brand with a fascinating origin story. Founder, Sam Farber, noticed how difficult it was for his wife to use a metal potato peeler with her arthritic hands, so he designed a peeler with a comfortable, rubber grip. Arthritis or not, when staring down a mound of to-be-peeled potatoes, this rubber grip has been the preferred choice by everyone for over 30 years.

Hold the door!

The first modern day automatic doors were invented in 1931 by Horace H. Raymond and Sheldon S. Roby. The first use case was at a restaurant in Connecticut that was looking to increase the efficiency of staff moving through doorways holding stacks of plates and serving platters. Needless to say, the staff loved it.

Automatic doors quickly became the standard at grocery stores, banks, hospitals and hotels—a thankful reprieve for anyone without a free hand to pull open a heavy door.

As we think about cooperative design and designing for the margins, we can use these stories to inspire the next wave of education experiments that aim for equitable learning for all.

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