Internet_map_1024According to Wikipedia a Knowledge Worker is someone whose main job is to employ creative, divergent, convergent thinking to solve problems with the help of searching new information. In the 21st century these Knowledge Workers may use Internet tools, such as social media, to form a collaborative network of expertise. These networks might be open or not. There are plenty of companies using knowledge management in order to optimize their performance.

The following paragraph is from an article by Matthew Allen from Australian Learning & Teaching Council (2009):

Knowledge work involves a series of component processes (research, review, origination, presentation circulation, promotion, commentary, contextualisation, summation, re-use and reference, and so on), which collectively enrich the original object, creating both additional knowledge and links between knowledge objects. Knowledge work depends on and creates a network between knowledge objects. The Internet dramatically improved some of the possibilities for knowledge networking, primarily by making available opportunities to circulate knowledge and communicate about it with less reference to the constraints of time and space, physical production and presence.

The Web, in its earliest formation, further increased the potential for networking – largely because of the embedding of links within one knowledge object to another. Web 2.0, however, produces yet more quantitative and qualitative change by further expanding the array of techniques and opportunities to ‘work’ within knowledge in a manner which makes explicit the interactions of many people all interested in and contributing to knowledge, whether it be something as simple as reviews of consumer electronic goods, or as profound as the science of genetic engineering. Critical to this change is the collocation within a single shared environment, which persists over time, both the informational and communicative aspects of knowledge work. Web 2.0 makes ‘conversations’ about knowledge and knowledge itself come together; it also realises the interlinking of knowledge, and knowledge about knowledge. Furthermore, it distributes this process through time and space and potentially draws into many more collaborators into the process.

Are physicians Knowledge Workers?

Although a physicians is not traditionally thought of as a Knowledge Worker, I think we should explore how the Internet changes the way we connect, learn, and make decisions. According to George Siemens and Steven Downes, the Internet has helped form a new learning theory which they call “Connectivism.” The theory explains that learning occurs in a network through the process of making connections, and therefore knowledge is distributed in the network. I like this theory, because it goes beyond the tools themselves and focuses on the process of learning in the digital age. I don’t think this theory is the panecea, but to solely rely on past learning theories for our education is setting us up for future failures.

The amount of knowledge and knowledge acquisition skills a physician brings to his/her network can be quite valuable for patients and the institution he/she works for. I find the approach of having and maintaining a Knowledge Network to be extremely important as part of the physician’s career especially in a world that is constantly changing.

Below is an interesting presentation by Manuel Lima in which he explains that we are at a point in history where a tree no longer can be the representation of knowledge in the context of today’s complex world. Instead, he states the network, in the form of a rhizome, is a better representation. The traditional top-down hierarchical structure is now being challenged by people in a hyperconnected network. He concludes by advocating that we should aim to know a little bit of everything or at least to have a network thinking.

Furthermore, Fraser and Greenhalgh 1 state that the training of doctors, in the setting of complexity, should not aim towards just competence, but to capability instead. The doctor should have the capability to adapt for change, generate new knowledge, and continuously improve performance, according to Fraser and Greenhalgh. The Knowledge Network, in my opinion, provides the necessary diverse connections which links the physician to vast amount of knowledge for lifelong learning.


The Internet is giving us the Knowledge Network, the network is the learning, and the network is like a rhizome rather than a tree. We as physicians should explore this organized complexity to learn how to function more efficiently in tomorrow’s world.

Further reading:

  1. Nuemann, E, et al. Knowledge Networks in the age of the Semantic Web. Briefings in Bioinformatics. 2007 May; 8(3):141-9 PMID: 17502336
  2. Mennin, S., Teaching, Learning, Complexity and Health Professions Education. Keynote Lecture; JIAMSE. 2010; Vol 20 (2S): 162-165

Image 1

Fraser S, Greenhalgh T. Coping with complexity: educating for capability. BMJ. 2001;323(7316):799-803. [PubMed]
Javier Benitez, MD

Javier Benitez, MD

ALiEM Featured Contributor
Javier Benitez, MD


Medical doctor, tweets not medical advice or endorsements. Interested in #MedEd & technology. Always learning. I'm no expert. No financial conflict of interest.
Javier Benitez, MD