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Reorganizing My Personal Learning Environment

Who's In Charge of Learning?

A few days ago, I posted about my personal learning environment and how I'm using a variety of web-based tools to manage my own learning. Since then, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the whole concept of personal learning and how that relates to "staff training and development," what I consider to be more institutionally-driven training. In addition, thanks to a mention in Stephen Downe's excellent OLDaily, a lot of new traffic has come through my site, giving me some additional fodder for thought. I'll warn right now that this is one of my "stream of consciousness posts" that I find that are periodically necessary for me to make sense of the things rushing through my brain.

I'm going to jump off of a post by Stephen on a recent presentation he did on personal learning:

I can talk about webs and networks and personal learnings and PLEs but there's a disconnect unless people see themselves as learners rather than teachers. Unless they are seeking to empower themselves and build their own lives, rather than seeing themselves as helpless before the whims of those with power and control. (my emphasis)

That, to me, is the heart of a critical issue here--most people don't see themselves as learners, with a responsibility to manage their own learning. I can't tell you how many people I work with in training classes who complain that they can't do their jobs properly because the organization for which they are working "hasn't trained us yet." They've given the responsibility for determining what they will learn and how they will learn it over to the organization, not realizing that they are turning over their greatest source of power in that process. And they model this disempowerment for their clients, too.

Here's the thing. In a knowledge economy, knowledge and information is power. The more you know, the more you can do with it, the more marketable you are. You can't AFFORD to let an organization tell you what you should be learning--too many organizations, businesses and nonprofits alike, are so busy struggling for survival that they aren't even sure what needs to be learned anyway. All of a sudden they look up one day and say "Oh no--we need people who can do X or Y." Waiting for someone else to tell you what you should learn is a sure ticket to the unemployment line.

I think we're operating from old knowledge and learning paradigms that developed in an industrial age when companies owned the means of production. As a worker, you couldn't make a living if you didn't have access to the (expensive) machinery owned by the company. So you waited for the company to tell you what you should learn--they knew best. But now, WE own the means of production--it's in our heads. It's what we know and can do. Do we really want to turn that over to the organization to decide? Or do we want to be the people who say "I'm going to take charge of my own learning. I'm going to be curious and pay attention to what's changing and where things are going and I'm going to pro-actively prepare myself for those things, regardless of whether or not the organization tells me I need to learn this."

To me, this is really why personal learning and creating a personal learning environment is so critically necessary. I don't believe that we can rely on the organizations that employ us to drive what we learn. Yes, we need to be responsive to what they need us to know--we need to attend the trainings our bosses suggest, etc. But as individual workers, I don't believe that we can afford to wait around for someone else to tell us what to learn. We shouldn't be waiting to receive permission or be empowered. We should be seizing that power and doing everything with it that we can. Our knowledge and skills are the only "job security we have." And we've seen time and time again what happens when we turn over job security to someone else.

So this takes me back to "staff training." While I believe that organizations should take responsibility for staff development, I see that as something that should be equally driven by the staff person. I think that one of the reasons people are so passive about learning is because everything in society conspires to make us believe that learning is someone else's responsibility. When we're in school, what we will learn and how we will learn it is determined by the teacher. Once we graduate, we turn that over to our employer to decide. Even if we decide on our own to learn more, we go back to school where we rely on a professor or instructor to tell us what we should know and how we should learn it.

Why don't we treat learning as something that we should do for ourselves? Diet pills and surgery aside, no one really believes that it's someone else's job to make us lose weight. Why can't we have the same attitude towards learning?

Earlier today I was pulling together some resources for a presentation I'm doing next month on globalization and the workforce. I came across this video:

Did You Know? - Funny videos are here

This is the world we're preparing ourselves for. We aren't going to be able to do that if we don't responsibility for ourselves.

I was also browsing through the TEDTalks library, where I found some phenomenal speeches by some great thinkers. One was by Charles Leadbetter on the rise of amateur professionals who are now our greatest source of innovation. His whole premise is that established companies don't innovate and grow on their own--it takes the involvement of passionate amateurs who hold themselves to very high standards and work on developing skills, knowledge, tools, etc. to create change. Again, to me this makes the case for needing to pursue your own learning.

Some Personal Learning Resources
To pursue my own learning, though, I need resources. And I need to be thinking about learning every day--a form of exercise that's as important as running or lifting weights. Some that I think are useful:

13 Rock Solid Ways to Build Knowledge for a Lifetime

7 Little Known Ways to Drastically Improve Your Learning

From Sean Fitz, Creating Your PLE

PLEase, from Jay Cross an advocate for informal learning (who also argues that "personal learning environment" doesn't quite capture his thinking on this).

Because I work in workforce development with agencies that are supposed to be preparing "tomorrow's workforce," this whole thing feels even more critical to me as something we need to be pushing with people. It's important for staff, but it's even more important for the disenfranchised, disempowered clients with whom we're working. If they don't look out for their own personal learning, then they really won't have anyone else doing it for them.

UPDATE--Oops--via Tony Karrer (who has a round-up on personal learning going), here's a quick guide to starting your own personal learning environment from Tony O'Driscoll. And here's another one--77 Ways to Learn Faster, Deeper, Better.


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This is an amazing collection of links and the ideas are very clearly stated. After returning from the eLearning Guild conference in Boston I can assure you that your thoughts are echoed by an army of learning professionals working hard to convince the lesser informed middle-management levels of our organizations that what you have so eloquently described is, in fact, the future of the learning organization.

Thanks, Brent--I really do hope that people are starting to think this way. I don't see it in my world as much as I'd like so it's nice to hear that others are joining the call. :-)

Just caught up with this post and it really links in with what I am struggling to do with health professionals. Getting them to see that they are responsible for their learning rather than their employer is hard.

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