Supporting Personal Learning Environments--A Definition of a PLE


As part of answering Reader Questions this week, I'm going back to something that Glenn Ross asked me awhile ago:

If I'm responsible for L&D in my organization, how can I help my employees identify their PLEs (personal learning environments) and what resources do I need to provide for them?

Apparently Glenn likes to ask the tough questions. But I'm feeling brave, so I'm going to try for an answer here.  It actually will take two posts to do this, so let's start with my definition of  a PLE.



The Elements of a Personal Learning Environment
There is a lot of discussion about what exactly constitutes a personal learning environment. To write about how to support PLEs, I want to first make sure we're on the same page as far as what I mean by a PLE.

It's Personal
Personal means two things to me.

A personal learning environment is personal in the sense that WHAT is learned has to be based on what interests the learner. We're hoping, of course, that learning about work-related things is going to be part of what interests people, but we also have to accept that people are more than their cubes, so a personal learning environment has to start with embracing the personal aspect. People simply won't learn if they aren't interested in the topic. 

A PLE also has to be personal in terms of the tools. That is, the learner should have some ability to select the tools that work best for his/her learning style and needs. The learner should also have maximum flexibility in how he/she uses those tools. If the tools of a PLE are imposed on the learner, then in my book, you've lost one of the key benefits of personal learning. People will simply balk at using them.

It's About Self-Directed Learning
I'm sorry to report that most people don't really know how to learn. School and training programs have taught them that "learning" is simply the passive transfer of knowledge from an "expert" into their waiting brains. Unfortunately, this is not a particularly successful strategy for learning.

For a PLE to be successful, a person needs to know how to learn. This means that he/she needs to have some key skills, such as an ability to do research, process information, etc. I started to do some brainstorming on these skills based on a presentation by Stephen Downes. If an organization is going to seriously work to implement PLEs with their staff, I think that they need to consider ways to boost some of these key skills as part of that process.

It's About the Environment
Again, this means two things to me. First, there has to be an organizational culture of learning, not a culture of training. Without a learning culture, you might as well forget about implementing something as radical as a PLE. People have to feel supported and nurtured as they try out new tools and ways of doing things and this doesn't happen in organizations that don't think carefully about creating a culture of learning.

The second aspect of the environment is, of course, having access to the tools of PLEs. Typically we're talking here about online tools, such as blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, etc., although a PLE isn't strictly about online learning. It also includes face-to-face interaction, reading real-world books and magazines, going to conferences, engaging in activities, writing in journals, etc.

An important point here--I'm of the "small pieces, loosely joined" school of thought on tools, so when I'm talking about an environment that provides the tools, I'm talking about people having access to a wide range of options that they can pull together as they see fit.

One final note on my approach--I'm with Tom Haskins that PLEs should be regarded as power tools. I see PLEs as a strategy of empowerment that allows staff to become more self-directed in their learning. I personally believe that most organizations benefit from knowledge workers who roam far and wide in the learning landscape and that PLEs should be used as a way to support both personal and professional development, not as a sort of organizationally-driven way to control learners. That's what LMS systems are for.

So that's how I define a PLE. Next time, I'll write about how I think we can support staff in developing and using their own PLEs.

Make Your Organization Web 2.0 Too

As soon as I finished posting about moving your organization's website from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, I see in my feed reader (via The Agitator) that Todd Cohen at Philanthropy Journal has published a report on how nonprofits are using new media to engage constituents. Todd makes an excellent point about needing to change your operational paradigms, not just the look, feel and functionality of your web presence:

"Nonprofits that simply plug new media into old ways of doing business may be bound for the scrap heap.

To survive and thrive, nonprofits must adapt to the engaged new-media world in which individuals with easy access to computers, mobile devices and wireless connectivity are transforming the way charitable dollars are raised and social causes are promoted.

The challenge for nonprofits is to wed tried-and-true principles of operating, fundraising and service-delivery with the emerging new-media culture that engages the collective power of individual voices, values and assets for the common good."

Some ways in which we're still operating under old ways of doing business, according to the report:

  • Using one-size-fits-all approaches and not providing information and services to people based on their individual preferences.
  • Holding on to traditional organizational boundaries and not re-organizing and re-tooling around new ways of working with stakeholders.
  • Treating communications with stakeholders as a one-way medium, rather than engaging stakeholders in conversations and developing the organizational brand.
  • Not listening to younger workers who may be more in touch with the ways in which the world is changing.

The report is definitely worth a read and should be considered in conjunction with any web site changes you make. There's no point in making your site 2.0 if your organizational policies and approaches are still mired in the 1.0 ways of doing business.

Is Your Website 1.0 or 2.0?

Last week I posted on RSS-enabling your website so that visitors can subscribe to your regularly updated content. As I mentioned in that post, and as Laura Whitehead brought up in comments, RSS only makes sense, though, when your website actually provides timely news and information. If your site is simply an online brochure, then RSS isn't going to do much for you.

This got me to thinking about the fact that many organizations are still trapped in a Web 1.0, one-way approach to developing their websites. They haven't moved into the Web 2.0 approach, which emphasizes two-way communication, collaboration and feedback and websites as a service. This isn't surprising or a criticism--many organizations are still struggling with how to fit into this new world. But it is a suggestion that we need to look at the situation more carefully if nonprofits hope to transition with the way the rest of the world is moving.

Are You Website 1.0 or 2.0?

Tim O'Reilly is credited with the first articulation of Web 2.0 and its principles. You can read his discussion of that here. But that feels a little too complicated for the point I'm trying to make, so I went looking for some other ways to explain the differences.

The best one I found came from darrenbarefoot's blog:

Joe (one of our clients) has written a little comparative analysis of Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0:

  • Web 1.0 was about reading, Web 2.0 is about writing
  • Web 1.0 was about companies, Web 2.0 is about communities
  • Web 1.0 was about client-server, Web 2.0 is about peer to peer
  • Web 1.0 was about HTML, Web 2.0 is about XML
  • Web 1.0 was about home pages, Web 2.0 is about blogs

He has about 15 such points. Here are a couple more, off the top of my head:

  • Web 1.0 was about lectures, Web 2.0 is about conversation
  • Web 1.0 was about advertising, Web 2.0 is about word of mouth
  • Web 1.0 was about services sold over the web, Web 2.0 is about web services

A couple of others that I would add to the list:

  • Web 1.0 was about getting everything on the home page, while Web 2.0 is about design and usability that is clean, simple and easy to navigate.
  • Web 1.0 was about pushing information to the masses, Web 2.0 is about pulling your own customized info.

Why Should I Care About Having a Web 2.0 site?
Our expectations of an organization are increasingly being set by their web presence. Google has become the way that most people do initial research and the first place most people will look for you is on the web. As people use more and more Web 2.0 sites, they come to expect certain things--a certain look, particular functionality, the ability to engage in 2-way conversation and to customize their interactions. If an organization's web site is merely an online brochure, then it's less likely to get people's attention. And if it looks like a home page from the late 90's, you'll look like your organization is woefully out-of-date.

So How Do We Go 2.0?
The question is, how do you take your site to the next level? Or if you're putting up your first site, how do you make it 2.0? Here are a couple of resources that will give you some ideas:

Don't worry about doing everything all at once. You can sketch out where you want to go with your site and then add features and functionality in a phased process. The point is to start changing your mindset from a 1.0 "brochureware" approach to a 2.0 "site as service" approach. Keep thinking about how your site can help your visitors DO something (Kathy Sierra calls it "helping users kick ass")  and you'll be on the right track. And don't forget--your organization needs to be Web 2.0-enabled, too.

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Architectures of Control: How Design Influences the Ways We Use and Do Things

Just stumbled across a REALLY interesting blog called The Architectures of Control. It's maintained by Dan Lockton who says:

Increasingly, many products are being designed with features that intentionally restrict the way the user can behave, or enforce certain modes of behaviour. The same intentions are also evident in the design of many systems and environments.

Dan goes on to define architectures of control this way:

Architectures of control are features, structures or methods of operation designed into physical products, software, buildings, city layouts—or indeed any planned system with which a user interacts—which are intended to enforce, reinforce, or restrict certain modes of user behaviour.

While the use of architectures of control in computing is well-known, and a current issue of much debate (in terms of digital rights management, ‘trusted’ computing and network infrastructures themselves), it is apparent that technology—and a mindset that favours controlling users—is also offering increased opportunities for such architectures to be designed into a wide range of consumer products; yet, this trend has not been commonly recognised.

This, of course, isn't really new--control has often been inherent in the design of products and systems in the past. We have only to look at the Windows Operating system and the Catholic Church to see this principle at work.

What is new, I suspect (although I may be wrong) is the widespread use of intentional design to control and restrict user behavior.  That is, it seems as we become more aware of how the design of things influences how we interact with them, designers are choosing to use features to control user behavior more intentionally.

This raises a few questions and thoughts for me:

  • I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of "architectures of control." I instinctively recoil from the idea of "controlling" anything, yet I also recognize that it's inevitable--whatever we create invariably shapes how we interact with it, the customs that develop around the object or system, etc. It's unavoidable. And one person's "restriction" is another person's "liberation."

Take a look, for example at Dan's post on (Anti)public Seating, which includes a number of examples of how seating in parks, train stations and other public areas actually discourages people from sitting in or using those areas. Apparently one set of benches has been specifically designed so that homeless people won't sleep on them, with the effect that no one would want to sit on them. I personally see this as a restriction that serves no one well, but others obviously see it as a perfectly legitimate use of design principles for the public good.

  • What is the larger societal impact of a design approach that seeks to control and restrict? This, to me, ties back into the scarcity mindset I explored a few months ago. Scarcity is about control and restrictions. It would seem, then, that we have a mutually reinforcing dynamic going on where the more we see scarcity, the more we seek to control through design and the more we control through design, the smaller and more restricted the world becomes. Is using design to restrict behavior the symptom or the disease? Or both? And how does this really influence all the ways in which we see and interact with the world?
  • In looking at technology, the interplay between the open source movement, the growth of user-centric Web 2.0 tools, etc. makes things more confusing and difficult to discern.  The hoopla around Facebook as platform seems a perfect example of how the design of a thing can appear open, yet actually control, as this Read/Write Web post shows. Where else does this go on? Does it matter?
  • Despite what we know about design, it's still very often unintentional. Because how we interact with a product or system often happens below any real level of consciousness, how is it shaping our behavior in ways we don't really understand? In my system development work with organizations, we often run up against the fact that the design of their  customer systems is actually reinforcing the very behaviors staff want to change. So, for example, in a system that's supposed to help people independently prepare for and find employment, most of the service functions actually discourage people from taking any independent action. One of the challenges is getting people to recognize how design really does influence behavior. It's something that happens below the radar, so they don't really notice.

I see that this has become one of those rambling posts with no real conclusion--just some questions and observations. One immediate impact for me of reading this stuff is a greater awareness of the design of things and how they influence what I do. It also reminds me about the need to assume nothing and to question everything, including how objects and systems may encourage certain behaviors that I consider to be negative, but have not noticed.

I'd be curious to hear other people's responses to Dan's blog and how you see this playing out in your corner of the world. Is this something we should be paying attention to or is it just an academic exercise?

A Plea to Re-Think The Desire to Meet

Question for the Day: Why does the face-to-face model of sharing information persist?

Currently I'm working with a state-wide group of youth providers working on a specific grant.  One member recently circulated an email asking if people were interested in meeting for a few days and if they were, what did they want to accomplish?

Within minutes, several emails came back indicating that 1) getting away to a meeting would be difficult and 2) if they were to meet, the main reason to do so would be to share information and answer some specific questions they have about how to operate their programs.

Since I've immersed myself in social media tools, I've found that in most situations, I will now ask myself if this is something that could be done more effectively and efficiently on the web. In this case, the first thing I thought was "Why do we need to meet? We should just set up a wiki with the questions and then have people post responses and resources to answer them." Apparently I'm alone in this thought process, though, as meeting organizers are forging ahead.

This got me thinking--Why is it that within certain circles, the first response to information-gathering is to have a meeting?

Having a meeting makes no sense to me when people are short on time to begin with and when many would be traveling 3-4 hours and would have to stay overnight to participate. Finding an online solution would be more cost-effective, make better use of everyone's time and would also provide a permanent repository for the information that these people will undoubtedly need again at some point.

Sometimes I think I'm missing something. Is it possible that because I'm so web-enabled I'm forgetting about the importance of face-to-face meetings and need to quit thinking that the answer can always be found online? (Of course, there's irony in the fact that I searched for answers to this question on the web).

Cliff Allen at SuretoMeet has a good answer to this question, I think:

Facetofacemeetingsreasons As his chart suggests, if people are short on time and they need to gather information, then online is the way to go. If, on the other hand, they are seeking to build relationships and to become motivated and inspired, then face-to-face is the answer.

In the case of the group I'm working with, the clear reason for the meeting is to share information. Many members are already working together, so relationships aren't the focus. They may want a little inspiration, but in my experience with this group, the meetings they hold don't necessarily accomplish that objective.

So why does face-to-face persist? A few reasons, I think:

  • They've always done it this way.
  • They haven't moved into that web-enabled mindset of asking if it's something that could be better accomplished with online tools.
  • They have (in my mind, unfounded) faith that when people meet, there is actually a structured transfer of information.

On that last point--if meetings were such a great way to be sure that people had the detailed information they needed to do their jobs, why is it that we continually revisit the same questions in every meeting? In the case of the group I'm working with, the questions they want answers to are questions they've wanted answered in every face-to-face gathering we've had in the past year! Obviously face-to-face isn't working too well for them.

I suppose that this is all part of the issue of technology stewardship--helping people realize when it makes sense to use technology to get things done. Sometimes I'm frustrated, though, by the persistence of the old ways of thinking. Or maybe it's just that I don't want to have to lose a day in order to get the information I need when there are better ways to do the job.

Am I off-base?

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The Rise of the Do-It-Yourself Portal

In the past few days, I've found a number of new portals online. I'm starting to wonder if we can't learn a thing or two from what's happening.

First, via Eisenblog, came Open Learn University's portal, created by Stuart Brown in Netvibes to support OU students and instructors.

Then I find Crimson Connect, the student-run Harvard University portal, developed in the wake of student dissatisfaction with Harvard's "Official" website. (Take note--if you don't create a useful website for your organization, someone else might take matters into their own hands).

And finally, last night I see that Impactiviti has launched a Training Bloggers portal using Pageflakes, featuring feeds from some of the best bloggers in the training and development space. This on the heels of two other portals they've created--Pharmacentral for the pharmaceutical industry and the Marketing Bloggers portal for marketers.

So why should we care?

First, take a quick look around each portal. Harvard's includes access to email and Facebook, shuttle schedules, Boston weather, feeds to student clubs, athletic events and activities, the library--even dining hall menus. Open Learn University's portal has video lesson feeds, feeds to each of their departments, and a keyword search of their content. The Training Bloggers portal includes feeds to several different categories of T&D blogs, pre-selected for quality.

Think about how these types of portals could be used in the nonprofit world:

  • Create a "cause-related" portal that includes feeds to related blogs, audio, video, etc., as well as a calendar of events, etc. I've written about this before and I'm really seeing the possibilities now.
  • Create portals to support better conferencing. A few weeks ago, I was thinking about how to improve the conference experience. Portals are another option. Imagine sending an email out to all conference participants with a Netvibes or Pageflakes portal link that includes feeds to weather, newspapers, events, etc. in the location where you'll be holding the conference. It could also include a calendar of events and feeds to the wiki pages I suggested that you use to develop the conference agenda and get the conversation started. It could also include access to MySpace and Facebook modules, audio and video feeds on related content, email, etc. This can also become a way to follow-up on a conference, by adding feeds to those bloggers who are blogging the conference.
  • Create an organizational portal for staff and volunteers and make it the start page for staff so that they can be updated daily on what's happening in the organization.

Putting together a portal is really not that difficult. It's a matter of finding the content you want to include,  setting up the tabs in Pageflakes and/or  Netvibes and then sharing them with the world.

You can see how other people are already doing it. Tony Hirst blogs here about how he created the predecessor to the Open Learn University portal.  PC World  has an article about creating a Netvibes portal or you can check out this screencast that will give you the basic elements of setting up and configuring an account and using tabsharing. If you're interested in Pageflakes, then this tutorial can help get you started.

The tools are there. Many people are already using them. It's just a matter of us figuring out how to use them on an organizational scale to create value for various stakeholders. As I watch what other people are doing with these tools, I can't help but feel that we may be missing something big if we don't act soon.

Blog Experiments

Beth Kanter points to blogger Brian Kelly's page of blog experiments. Here, Brian records experiments he's running on his blog and their results. For example, he looks at what happens when he has a guest blogger or when he adds a widget to his sidebar. A typical experiment write-up looks like this:

Sonific Wordpress sidebar widget.
Reasons For Experiment
To explore possible benefits of this particular plugin and, more importantly, to investigate some of the more general issues related to use of plugins, including policies regarding their provision, user benefits and usability issues.
The Sonific Wordpress plugin was installed on the right hand sidebar on 22nd January 2007 and the song updated on 29th January 2007. The sidebar was removed on 1 March 2007.

It's an interesting, more formal way to monitor what happens when Brian tries new things on his blog. This sparked a couple of thoughts for me.

First, I like the idea of taking a more formal approach to running experiments on your blog. I think I'd structure things a little differently though. Like Brian, I'd include a  description of the experiment and my reasons for running it. But instead of setting up a separate page just for my experiments, I'd run them as individual blog posts, tagged as "blog experiment." That way I could also seek reader feedback if it was appropriate for that particular experiment. For example, if I wanted to experiment with changing the layout of my blog, I'd want to include a poll and allow readers to comment in the comments section of that particular post. If someone wanted to see all of my blog experiments, they could then use the tag as a way to find them.

Beth brings up a good point about doing this kind of experiment--that Google Analytics would be a great tool to use in evaluating the impact. (Note--Beth has just put up a fabulous screencast and primer on using Analytics) In writing up my results, I'd most likely include whatever I got from email and comment feedback, as well as any pertinent Analytics data. I'd have to think carefully, though, about which results to look at. For example, if I'm going to change my design, that might have an impact on the bounce rate, so I'd probably want to keep an eye on that, in addition to whatever reader feedback I got. If I found that a design change meant that people left my site more frequently, I'd want to re-evaluate that change. (Correction--per Beth's note in comments, bounce rates aren't as meaningful for blogs as other metrics. I wrote this post before I had a chance to take a close look at her work on the Analytics info, so spoke out of turn on that one.)

I think I'd also be clearer about the results. In the example above, Brian indicates that he removed the widget he added to his site, but doesn't say why. Maybe he didn't write about it because he knows why he did it, but one of the values of sharing experiments is so that others can learn from your experience, so I'd probably want to indicate why I decided to make a change so that others could be forewarned.

The final question here is what kinds of experiments does it make sense to run. Obvious choices are in layout and design to try to make it easier to find things on your site and to navigate through it. Other possibilities include:

  • Using Guest Bloggers (as Brian did)
  • Adding a widget or some other element to your site
  • Playing around with the frequency of posting. (Beth tried posting less last week and found that people started to worry what had happened to her).
  • Creating Landing Pages
  • Adding a Beginner's Guide to your blog
  • Adding multimedia, like a podcast or videocast.

The great thing about blogging is that you can play around with a lot of things without a huge investment of time or resources. I like the idea of being more formal about the process, though, not only as a way to measure impact for myself, but also as a way to share information with other people. It would be really cool, actually, to create a wiki for sharing blog experiments so that we could start to create collective knowledge about strategies for blogging and the results of those experiments. Hmmm. . . another thing to add to my "some day" list.

In the meantime, what blog experiments have you run? What happened? And do you have a process for documenting and evaluating what you try?

PLEs and Personality Styles

Glenn Ross made my blogging job easier the other day by sending me a list of topics he wanted to see me write about related to personal learning environments. One of those questions was:

Is there any data linking personal learning environments to management styles (DISC) or personality types?

The short answer to that question is "no." Or at least I couldn't find anything that specifically looked at either DISC or personality styles and the development of personal learning environments.

I suspect that this is partly because personal learning environments are pretty new on the scene so there hasn't been a lot of time to get any research going. I also think that there's still a lot of discussion around definitions--what exactly do we mean by a PLE? Some people see them as some kind of centralized learning management system, while others believe that it's "small pieces, loosely joined," (a belief that I share.) So when we're dealing with something new and we're not completely sure that we agree on how to describe it, I'm not surprised that there isn't research around it. Of course I may be missing something, so if I am, I'm assuming someone will let me know.

That said, I think you can probably extrapolate from previous personality and management style research some hypotheses about how different types might respond to the ideas and tools of PLEs. Which is what I'm going to attempt to do here. Keep in mind that this is just my thinking, not based on any formal research into the question.

First, let me say that I know that there can still be a lot of controversy about using "personality styles". Many people think that the whole concept of being able to "type" people is ridiculous, confining and dangerous. In general I'm against stereotyping people through these kinds of systems. But I've also found that I can learn much about people through an understanding of various styles.

Glenn asks specifically about the DISC, but unfortunately my experience with it is pretty limited, so I'm not even going to pretend to go there. Sorry Glenn. 

I do have more experience, though, in using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, so I'm willing to take a stab at how the different MBTI preferences might approach PLEs.

A little background, first--Myers Briggs types are based on four different preference areas, which I'm going to describe below. These four preferences make up a four-letter Myers Briggs Type. While I'm going to look at each preference individually, it's important to recognize that the four preferences interact with each other differently, depending on the person's 4-letter code, so this will be a broadly drawn portrait of how the different types might go about constructing and using a PLE.

Extroversion/Introversion (E/I)
This preference is about how people energize themselves. Extroverts get energy from the outer world. They seek social interaction and learn best by explaining to others and in group settings.

Introverts get energy from their inner world. They learn best when they have time for reflection. They need space for private thinking and enjoy asynchronous, computer-based learning.

The majority of Americans are extroverts, which is why I think that the web has really taken off as a core part of people's lives as more social aspects have been developed.

This article takes a look at the E/I preference and online learning environments. It notes that extroverts  place a premium on their external environments. Their surroundings should be attractive and comfortable. This suggests that in constructing an online PLE, extroverts would also place a value on using tools that were visually appealing and that made them feel comfortable and welcome. They will also probably prefer to learn with some kind of background noise, such as music.

Another key finding from the article is that introverts need a "private" space for learning, while extroverts will want a more social space. This suggests that while extroverts may thrive on contributing to group work, such as using wikis with others, introverts will want to have some private space for personal reflection, such as a blog or a wiki for personal space.

The article also suggests that extraverts would be more likely to create PLEs that really emphasize the social nature of learning. Their first choice would be some kind of face-to-face environment. If they used online tools, they would seek out the tools that are most socially and community-oriented and that allowed for real-time interaction. They would want to use a Facebook profile or other social network as the hub for their learning. They would also be more likely to use things like Skype or IM to connect with others.

Extroverts like to talk their way to answers. They often need some kind of audience to learn.  Blogging might work for them, but it's potentially a poor substitute for actually talking. It would be interesting to use podcasting to enhance the extrovert's need for conversation, even if it's only with themselves.

Introverts, on the other hand, would be naturally drawn to creating an online PLE. They would probably focus on creating a PLE that's heavy on information and processing that information on their own. Blogging would be a natural fit, as would heavy use of RSS feeds to gather information. They also prefer asynchronous communication through threaded discussions and lists, which give them time for reflection.

This doesn't mean that introverts wouldn't also want social interaction. They would simply be less likely to see that as the place they would start in their learning. They also want that social interaction to be on their terms, when they're ready for it. Blog commenting, threaded discussions and lists are perfect for this.

Sensing/INtuition (S/N)
This preference is about how you receive and process information. Sensing types are sequential, detail-oriented learners who tend to seek information based on the five senses. They are most interested in concrete, here and now information.

Intuitive types are the big picture thinkers. They look for patterns, possibilities and connections and often make "intuitive leaps," rather than moving step-by-step. Sensing types start with the details while Intuitives first need to see the big picture.

I think this preference would have the most impact on the kinds of content that would be included in a PLE. I suspect that Sensing types would seek out more factual, concrete information. The blogs and articles in their feed readers would be on more practical how-to's and step-by-step instructions. Intuitives would be more likely to seek out "philosophical" content--information that would focus on seeing overall patterns and trends, looking at what things MEAN as opposed to just the facts.

For both types, blogging would probably work well, but, again, there would most likely be different content. I'm an intuitive, for example, and I rarely write "how-to's" that are "step-by-step." I find that I'm more attracted to writing "big picture" articles and posts.   

The majority of people are Sensers, which explains the popularity of lists and how to's on the web.

Thinking/Feeling (T/F)
This preference is about how people make decisions. Thinkers tend to focus on logic, facts and impartiality. Feelers tend to consider the impact a decision will have on people and use personal values as criteria for decision-making. Thinkers value a "just" decision, while Feelers value group harmony.

In terms of PLEs, this preference would probably have the most impact on how people interact in the social networks they've constructed as part of their PLEs. Thinkers would be the ones writing "blunt" blog posts and commentary, while the Feelers would be more likely to seek consensus and look for the commonalities. Thinkers would be "making a case" while Feelers would be wondering how information will impact people.

Judging/Perceiving (J/P)
Judging types prefer structured, organized environments. They seek closure and want decisions to be made quickly. Judgers want an agenda and they want everyone to stick to the agenda.

Perceivers are about possibilities, gathering information and leaving things open-ended. Questions lead not to answers, but to more questions. They dislike too much structure, particularly if it's imposed on them. They also prefer informal learning to more structured formal courses.

I would guess that Perceivers are the ones who are most attracted to PLEs, particularly the "small pieces, loosely joined" approach. This gives them tremendous flexibility to both pursue questions and answers, and to also construct a variety of learning opportunities for themselves. I think that they would have full RSS feeds and would spend a lot of time following leads.

Judgers would like PLEs, too, but would be more likely to want a single, structured system that would move them quickly to answers and closure. They would be more likely to have specific questions to which they wanted quick answers and would use their PLEs in a more problem-solving mode.

Pulling It Together
The real value of Myers Briggs lies in the interaction between the various preferences. I'm not going to go into each of the 16 major types, but it's important to understand that it would be the interaction of these various preferences that would provide the fullest description of how the types might interact with and construct PLEs. An Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking Perceiver (INTP) is going to create a PLE that is very different from an Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling Judger (ESFJ). The INTP will likely focus on creating an entirely on-line PLE that is heavy on information and big picture ideas. The ESFJ will more likely prefer a PLE that is heavy on interaction (preferably face-to-face) and on practical, concrete how to's.

Myers Briggs and Learning Style Resources
If you're interested in the Myers Briggs and learning styles, here are some additional resources:

A final note--Glenn's biggest question for me was "How can I implement PLEs in my organization?" That's so meaty it's becoming a series and possibly a wiki of its own. Stay tuned. 

How Much Hidden Talent is In Your Staff?

Paul Potts is a cell phone salesman in the UK. He's completely unassuming--bad teeth, a little overweight, not much of a dresser. The last person you'd imagine taking the stage as a serious contestant on Britain's Got Talent, the UK version of American Idol. But beneath that quiet exterior is a most amazing voice. It literally gave me chills to listen to him. And it made me wonder how much hidden talent is around us? How many people do we see on a daily basis--co-workers, supervisors, teammates--with hidden strengths we never see? How many people do we judge based on how they look or on our own preconceptions of what they should be doing? How many great talents do we miss in the process?

Here's the challenge for today. Try to find a Paul Potts in your organization. And then do something to nurture that talent.

More People Isn't Always the Answer

Just back from a conference where I had an interesting exchange during a session I was conducting on providing services in a global economy.

I was presenting to a state-wide group of government and nonprofit workers who help people access education and find jobs. We were discussing how business has changed the ways in which it operates and how these organizations could utilize some of the new principles for operating in a flat world to run their own organizations. As inevitably occurs, the topic of staffing came up. "We need more people if we're really going to get this job done," one participant informed the group. Nodding heads all around. Yes, of course, throwing people at the problems will take care of everything.

Here's the thing, though. In my experience, these organizations--like many organizations--need to look at how they're operating before they start thinking that they need more people. Hiring more people is like the age-old belief that when you have a performance problem, training is the the answer.

So I challenged the group to first think about a few questions:

  • Are you making the best uses of technology to share information and provide services? Are there processes that could be automated? Are there ways you could use technology to enhance self-service opportunities or to help staff better manage their work?
  • Have you developed an effective customer flow? For example, in many of these organizations, there's a tendency to provide one-on-one, face-to-face services in situations where self-service and/or group processes would work just as well if not better, allowing them to serve more customers, more effectively in less time.
  • Have you identified and eliminated all unnecessary paperwork? Have you looked at how to automate paperwork or how to combine several forms into one?
  • Does the way you've defined job descriptions and activities make sense or are there opportunities to redefine job functions and activities to provide more efficient and effective services?
  • Are you duplicating work being done by another organization or department and would you be better off partnering with them to provide services?

Once you've addressed these issues, then I think you can start talking about the need for more staff. But adding more people to run a creaky, inefficient organization isn't going to cut it.

The other problem with this viewpoint is that it often stops organizations from doing what they should to address inefficiencies. They say "We need more people to really get the job done, but we don't have the funding for it, so we'll just have to settle for how things are now." I roundly reject this kind of thinking and frankly, get REALLY frustrated when I encounter people who operate this way. The way to think about these issues is to say "We're not operating as well as we should and we need to take a look at how we can do better, given our constraints." In fact, it's often the constraints of limited resources that lead to the most creative solutions!

So before we start thinking that if only we had more staff we could do so much better, I think we need to take a look around at our operations and decide if we're doing everything we can to run "lean and mean" with our current resources. Adding more people to a poorly-run organization only means you have more people doing poor work.