In my last post, we learned some practical tips regarding how one might think about building their own Personal Learning Environment (PLE). Perhaps those of you in L&D or in People Operations are wondering how you can help your organizations support these learning workers and their journey of learning how to learn. If so, I have some information that may help you.

No L&D!?

People who have been thinking about this topic a lot longer than I have posed the question, “What would happen if there were no training or L&D department?” (Granted, I work in a small organization and have zero L&D resources, but I am thinking in the context of larger organizations for this installment.) The responses that most actively captured my imagination speak to a concept of a Personal Learning Advisor or specialist who can enable and support all the different ways employees can learn at work (check out Jane Hart’s diagram below to see just how many ways there are!)

ways we learnimage from:


If you haven’t picked up the links in my other posts, groups like the Internet Time Alliance  are a great anchoring point to kick off some research into modern trends of workplace learning. Specifically, social learning is something that I have kept my eye on these past few weeks in exploring themes of self-directed learning and PLEs.

Social Learning

Jane Hart writes about social learning, and I think this next paragraph in particular should be a focus for people who want to encourage this type of learning in their organizations:

“For genuine social interaction to take place it needs to be relevant, purposeful and appealing in order to stimulate a real desire or need to engage. In fact it needs to be in tune with the ways people interact (and learn) in real life or on the Social Web. All you can do is provide the framework for – i.e. the infrastructure and the right conditions – for learning and performance improvement to take place – rather than set up a space for (en)forced conversations. The latter simply results in a cohort of compliant learners rather than a group of engaged individuals.”

So, in short, we need to build the necessary conditions for learning but also support people develop some basic skills that will help them drive this self-directed behavior in the future.

Not enough evidence for you? Academic research on PLEs points to the following takeaways:

  • Not all learners possess the knowledge management and/or self-regulatory skills to customize a PLE.
  • Teaching learners to become effective self-directed learners (and self-regulated learners) may help them build the skills required to create, manage, and sustain PLEs using social media and other tools.
  • If successful, a PLE can be entirely controlled by a learner to meet all of their formal or informal learning needs.

At the risk of over-emphasizing my point, the last three installments have really been leading up to this. In organizations, we need to focus our L&D efforts on helping individuals learn how to learn. How can we do that? By helping people learn how to help themselves! You are probably sensing a theme here. This is not to say that L&D or People Operations workers should abdicate our responsibility, but rather we should focus our efforts. Focus not on specific content related to roles and responsibilities but on the capability of learning in a self-directed fashion.

Moving beyond content development to capability development

ESN ImageBut HOW!? Don’t worry, Jane Hart has some ideas (if you haven’t checked out her eBook, you really should). There are a host of ideas that you can think about incorporating in your organization. Many of which are popular in the realm of knowledge management and workplace learning. Most of the ideas below are larger initiatives and require a mindset shift on behalf of the traditional L&D function in that they should think about their work more as a service function rather than a content curation and delivery function. Examples include:

  • Working with managers and teams to help them learn from daily experiences at work (via an Enterprise Social Network or some other technology)
  • Helping other social groups within (and perhaps outside) the organization by taking the role of a community manager in a Community of Practice
  • Create a Personal Learning Service or Help Desk function to work with managers to help build a learning worker mindset and/or working with individuals to develop these skills.

Can we start smaller?

You might be thinking, those are rather large initiatives and I do not have the time to think about any of those right now. That is totally fair and frankly analogous to the world I live in as well. The good news is that there are smaller initiatives or ways that you can help individuals within your organization start to help themselves. You can even start with monthly office hours or something more regular where you can discuss the following topics (of course, recommended by Jane Hart!):

  • Help them learn effective web search skills (this may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people lack this!)
  • Help them think about how they can build their professional network (hint: I spoke about this in my last post!)
  • Help them with quality control and teach them how to assess the validity of the content they discover.
  • Help them think about where to share what they find (either internally or externally).
  • Encourage people to build on existing resources or job aids and share new ones internally. If is helpful for them, it is likely to be helpful for someone else!

For people who like tools and technology

If you have the budget, a final thought is that you can always consider a technology solution that helps facilitate knowledge discovery and sharing within organizations in a self-directed fashion, like Degreed or Brainspace. I have started to look into these myself but am still in the earlier stages of evaluation so unfortunately, cannot endorse anything at this time.

This wraps up my third, and final installment of an exploration of self-directed learning in the modern workplace and personal learning environments from the individual and organizational perspective. This is hardly an exhaustive commentary but hopefully it helped you land on some practical tips that you can build on to curate your own PLE or help people within your organization build theirs.