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Seven Strategies for Supporting Personal Learning Environments at Work

Learning_gateway_2 Yesterday I started to answer Glen Ross's question about how to support staff in developing and using personal learning environments (PLEs) by defining what I mean when I talk about a PLE. Today I'm getting to the real meat of Glen's question, which is how to support staff in creating and using their own PLEs.

Nurture a Culture of Learning
Staff have to feel that learning is part of their jobs and that the organization they're working for truly supports their professional development. I've written before about how to create a learning climate here and here and I think that without this critical component, PLEs are really dead in the water.

As part of this process, I would also suggest helping staff understand and develop the skills of personal learning, which I think many of us lose along our way through academia and the work world. And your organization will need to cultivate a tolerance for taking risks and making mistakes, assuming that it hasn't already done that.

Show People What You Mean by a PLE
Stephen Downes put together a great video to show people how to create a PLE. It explains the concept of a personal learning environment and it also describes and demonstrates how to use a number of different tools.

There are also some good resources at the Learning Technologies Centre PLE Wiki, including some images and descriptions of other people's PLEs. Mine is here.

Remember, though, a PLE is as much a state of mind as anything else. What we're talking about here is how do people gather and process new information and develop new skills and knowledge as a result. This isn't an LMS or a VLE. A PLE is for learners. The organization can benefit from the learning, but they should avoid controlling or requiring it. That really defeats the purpose.

Start Introducing the Tools
Yesterday I said that I believe in the idea of small pieces, loosely joined. That is, we introduce people to various tools that can be used to support personal learning and we let them figure out which tools work best for them. Imposing tools on people is a recipe for resentment and confusion in my opinion because everyone has their likes and dislikes. You may love Google Reader, but I still want my Netvibes--and I'll fight you to the death for it.

As part of Jane Hart's recent project to identify the top 100 Elearning Tools, she's also put together a Learning Toolbox that recommends a variety of tools for different personal learning activities. I'd start there. I'd also make sure that you get with your IT Department so they can unblock any sites that might be on the list.

And be sure to check out the Common Craft Plain English series of videos on RSS, Wikis and Social Bookmarking--in 3.5 minutes for each, staff will start to know what you're talking about.

Technology Try Introducing Tools in the Context of Productivity and Making Work Easier
A lot of staff feel overwhelmed by their workloads and may see the introduction of PLE tools as another thing on the To Do list. It may make sense to introduce tools as part of better, more efficient ways to get work done, rather than as tools of personal learning. Not everyone gets excited by learning, especially if they think it's on top of their regular work load. For example, I've used wikis to manage my own projects and RSS as a way to stay on top of information I need for my job. This approach might be more appealing to some people. You can point out to them later that these same tools can be used to learn--or that they're already learning without even knowing it. Kind of like hiding the vegetables in the spaghetti sauce as I used to do with my girls.

Have Staff Play Around with Mini Lessons and Using the Different Tools
Some people will take to new tools like ducks to water. You just have to show them something and they're off and running. Other people may need a little more guidance. The 23 Things series Web 2.0 lessons is a fun way to start introducing tools and letting people play around with them.(I'm working on a remix of the lessons, but still have a long way to go)  Depending on your organizational culture, you could turn the lessons into a friendly competition between departments or provide prizes for completing certain milestones.

Reward Staff for Being Learners
If you want staff to become learners, especially if they haven't been encouraged to learn before, you need to reward their new activities. Find ways to positively recognize people who are learning new things and to help them use new skills on the job. This will further encourage them to use the tools.

Find Some Champions and Support Them in Using the Tools and Spreading the Word
Depending on the size of your organization, I'd start looking for some of your top influencers and get them using some of the tools. Encourage and support these folks and see if you can have them coach those who may be more reluctant to try things out. Also have these people talk up their experiences so that others will learn from them.

That's my thinking on how to start supporting staff in any organization to create and use their own personal learning environments. If you have other ideas, please email or leave me something in comments. And Glen, I hope I finally answered your question. I know it was a long time coming.

Note--The photos I used here are from a Flickr set on using space, furniture, technology, etc. to encourage learning. Some cool stuff here with interesting commentary.

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Really helpful compilation of useful resources.

Fear of "it will be more work" is so pervasive in organizations. I am constantly running into it in my consulting, and spend a lot of time helping people first manage it themselves, then devising ways to help them help their employees manage it.

And being over busy myself, I totally understand it.

Christine, like you, I completely understand people's fear that this will all be more work. At the risk of sounding cliched, though, I think that a lot of PLE tools actually help people work and learn smarter and more effectively. Many people were convinced that email was going to add to our work loads (I knew people who would send an email and then fax or use snail mail, "just in case,"), but eventually we figure out that we can use these things to operate more effectively. Of course the trick is to work WITH people in this process, which as you obviously know is easier said than done.

Have you found any strategies that seem to work in supporting people with this stuff? Any tools that people seem more willing to start with?

Walking them through it.

Earlier today, after talking to an executive director about blogging multiple times and saying it was easy, we just decided to walk through the process. I had her register the domain on a new isp, install wordpress, and pick out a theme in less than 15 minutes. She has been battling with multiple service providers to do a redesign of her website, so her expectations were of months/weeks/days not minutes.

Couple of days ago, I leaned over someone's shoulder and had her set up google reader, load in several blogs, and use google blog search. Only took a few minutes.

I find it takes longer to explain than it takes to do. Of course this assumes I am face to face. I think the screencasts are great online.

I totally agree that all of these tools save time. Like anything else, if you can find the biggest pain point, providing a solution is the easiest route to buy in. Helping to manage email, organization tools, anything to enhance productivity even a small amount seem to be great places to start.

Hi Michele,
Truly amazing article! there can be no other way of learning than sharing.

Cheers to ur article :)

You're right, Christine that it probably takes less time to walk people through and show them how it works as opposed to telling them. I think about how I've written here about Netvibes, but then when Alex Miller did her screencast, people really GOT IT. We need more simple screencasts on how to do things for specific audiences, too, I think. Although that will never replace walking people through it.

And Rohini--thanks for the shout-out. Glad this article was useful!

Great article Michele, really useful!

What an interesting facet to life. It had not occurred to me to think this right through, assuming that my emails, for example spoke of me, as I a. But you know, even though virtually retired now, I am going to have a closer look at my image. Let me see what I can change to project a livlier presentation of myself.
Thanks for stirring up a slightly faded mind.


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