Learning Out Loud

A brave new world...

Author: egy344

Helping Learners Help Themselves

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: http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/2016/03/20/supporting-all-the-ways-people-learn-at-work/


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.


From Knowledge Workers to Learning Workers – Personal Learning Environments

In my last post, we spoke about Drucker’s concept of the Knowledge Worker. From here, we should think about shifting from knowledge workers to learning workers. Today, there is a good chance that a great search engine and a smartphone can make you one of the most knowledgeable people in the room. The ability to learn and apply new knowledge and information, or learning how to learn, is the skill that people should continue to hone to differentiate themselves. This comes naturally to some, but don’t worry if it doesn’t for you. There are some concepts and tricks in this post that can help you utilize the wealth of information around you (or help people within your organizations discover how to utilize it for themselves). The first concept, is a Personal Learning Environment (PLE).

What is a PLE?

I am fond of Connie Malamed’s take on a PLE, “a self-directed and evolving environment of tools, services, and resources organized by a person seeking a way to accomplish lifetime learning — to create and connect with others of similar interests.” If you are reading on from my first blog post, you’ll notice that self-directed phrase again. Flexibility and the intrinsic desire to learn and adapt seem like necessary conditions to keeping up with the pace of the world around us. PLEs can be our training regimen to keep us fit for that race.

How should one think of building a PLE?

As mentioned earlier, a PLE is comprised of tools, services, and resources. Jeremy Hiebert’s model not only breaks down a PLE on a timeline, but also shows the actions involved in building and continuing your PLE: collecting, reflecting, connecting, and publishing. We can talk about some specific tools later, but for now, let’s talk about what these tools should afford the user of a PLE. Colin Milligan et al share a great summary in their paper which we can think of as a high level model:

  • Learn with other people: manage, discover, and create relationships and form links between an extended, informal network
  • Control their learning resources: the ability to structure, share, and organize their resources from their own discovery and from those in their network
  • Manage the activities they participate in: the opportunity to set up and join a variety of activities and groups that connect people with people and people with resources
  • Integrate their learning: combine learning from a variety of sources and institutions and start to make connections between formal and informal learning

Hopefully, this sheds some light on what we are looking for when we talk about the tools of a PLE. Let’s move on to examples of services.

Jane Hart shares a plethora of great tips to help people begin to set up their Personal Learning Network (PLN). Before you start scratching your head and saying, “Hold up. I thought we were talking about PLEs!?” Let’s quickly differentiate these terms. A PLE is holistic and all-encompassing. It may include tools, networks, people, resources, and a host of other items that you draw from to inspire and drive your learning. A PLN is a subset of a PLE and refers specifically to the people component. These people may be colleagues, professional association members, customers, competitors, industry experts, vendors, etc. The pool one can draw from is quite diverse. Examples of services that sit within a PLN could be social networking tools that help you discover and maintain connections with these people.

Tips for building your PLN


[Photo credit: www.gotcredit.com]

We all know how hard it can be to change our habits. So, before you spend hours building this magical PLN, you should first make a commitment to yourself to build this behavior into your routine. Think about a personal daily learning workout or how you might spend 30 minutes a day. Perhaps you can spend 20 minutes reading/discovering and 10 minutes reflecting/writing. Start with this intention and then read on for more specifics about how to build out your network.

It is all about discovery! How can we enable that for you? Jane Hart, again, to the rescue with some steps one should take to build their PLN:

  • Analyze the existing state
    • What does your analysis show about your existing professional network?
    • What are 3-4 specific actions you could take to improve the quality, nature, and composition of your professional network?
  • Build or extend your PLN
    • How many people should you have in your PLN? (Value of members > quantity! Think about people who both reinforce your current thinking AND challenge you to think differently.)
    • Where will you find people to follow?
    • Identify which social networks to join. (Think about the pros and cons of each. The e-book referenced above has some guidance here as well.)
  • Start networking!
    • Sign up, check out support pages to learn the ropes, post, respond to other posts, add new connections weekly, and share your account details with others.
  • Manage your professional network!
    • Where can you spend your time that will bring you the most value?
    • Are you getting value from the people you follow?
    • Can you turn on notifications or other features to help automate your workflow and filter out the content you want to ignore?

Not sure where to start?

[Photo credit: http://milingual.com]

The goal is to “learn the new” and there are some tools out there that can help you stay current. Many of these recommendations may seem fairly obvious to readers who are savvy social media and technology users. However, it is important to remember that we exist in a diverse, multi-generational workforce and these tools are for everyone. We’ll talk more about how organizations can encourage self-directed learning skills and awareness for their teams in my next post. But for now, here are some basic tools and tips you may want to utilize if this whole concept is new to you:

  1. Google Alerts
  2. Read, discover, and follow blogs. Utilize RSS feeders (Really Simple Syndication)
  3. Check out content curation tools (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Scoop.it, etc.)
  4. Verify your resources! (Ask yourself: a) How reliable is this source? b) How valid is the content?)

From an individual lens, PLEs (and PLNs) are a great way to start thinking about building our capacity to learn how to learn. You can go pretty deep here into theory, tools, and all of the research related to PLEs but the intention of this blog was to think more practically about how to kick-start this process from an individual’s perspective. In my next blog post, we’ll talk more about how to build and develop this capability form the organizational perspective.

Learning How to Learn – Setting the Stage

I am not one to throw my thoughts out into the universe with any sort of regularity (just check out my Facebook or Twitter accounts to validate). As a member of the MSLOC 430 Spring 2016 cohort, I decided it was time to test the assumption that I wouldn’t enjoy this very public reflection process. The opportunity to test assumptions and rise to Jeff Merrell’s challenge brings us to this, my first post. I will explore the background of where my brain has been living for the last few weeks with regard to: 1) the profile of workers that organizations need to accommodate, 2) the concept of self-directed learning, and 3) a quick preview into what’s coming down the pipe in future installments.

The background – The knowledge worker

Knowledge Worker

As the People Operations person in a start-up tech company, I am endlessly curious about how humans can improve their ability to collaborate, learn, and perform while feeling happy and engaged in their work. While people like Peter Drucker foreshadowed the concept of the knowledge worker over 15 years ago, I get the sense that many organizations are still struggling to adapt their L&D functions to accommodate this population. Robert Kelley from Carnegie Mellon shares that the percentage of knowledge one needs to memorize in order to effectively do their job is shrinking. Knowing how to get the answers you need is more important than storing information in your head. This is increasingly true given how quickly knowledge evolves and develops in our increasingly connected world.

Harold Jarche writes about transitioning from the market economy to the network economy – away from best practices and the need for predictability and instead utilizing the intelligence of our networks to solve problems together. He also posits that the only way to manage in a complex environment is for an organization to give up control. What does that mean, to give up control?

Melinda Turnley asked a great question in our class discussion thread, “If staff (rather than traditional L&D functions or management) have more control over their own development, what does this mean for how they are evaluated and how the organization measures success?” I believe it is important to measure the effectiveness of any initiative, but I am not convinced we can measure learning or knowledge in the traditional sense (i.e. Did s/he complete this training? Can they perform a route task quickly/more efficiently?) The ability to learn and develop is becoming an intangible benefit that the knowledge worker requires to feel engaged in their work. The ability to continuously learn and adapt is also a necessary condition for employees to deliver value to modern organizations. I wonder if the unit of measure would be 1) employee’s levels of self-efficaciousness with regard to their roles and 2) how their managers/organizations assess their ability to deliver value in their roles. This could be a whole different blog post, so I’ll get us back on track here.

Where were we? Ah, yes. We were talking about giving up control which led me to think about autonomy more broadly. A 2014 HBR article references Drucker’s work which urges organizations to embrace employee autonomy as a means to empowering knowledge workers. There is also reference to Hagel’s article on “scalable learning” and the notion of “creation spaces” that can help facilitate (vs. limit) interactions and relationships that allow organizations to increase internal information flow to facilitate learning, adaptability and innovation. These topics, Melinda’s question, the evolution of our network economy, and the arrival of the knowledge worker seem to be pointing us in this direction of individualization at scale. Organizations can’t afford to move slowly but they also can’t build individual cirriculums or trainings in the traditional classroom/module format. All the signs seem to be pointing in the direction of self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning – What is it and why should you care?

Indvidualized learning

I am fascinated by the concept of self-directed learning and how organizations can support this process. Suren Ramasubbu shared the accepted definition of self-directed learning as a, “process in which individuals take the initiative with or without the help of others in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” Can you imagine a world in which all of your employees did this naturally? I hear this referred to as pulling information from the world rather than having people push information at you. I think this could be the secret sauce of the modern, competitive Talent/L&D function.

By helping employees focus on learning how to learn, we can meet the development demands of the knowledge worker, adapt to the network economy, and meet the demands of a constantly evolving world.  People in roles such as mine can support individuals’ personal learning journeys through a variety of means whether it is coaching, technology, routines, or other mechanisms.

So What?

Now that I have shared where my head has been these past few months, I can share a little insight into where I am headed (I hope!) In the next installments of Learning Out Loud, I will explore this concept of self-directed learning through two lenses: 1) the individual lens by doing a deep dive into a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) to explore what makes a comprehensive self-directed learning ecosystem and 2) the organizational lens by sharing thought-leadership about the types of L&D investments that could support this individualized, self-directed approach to learning in the workplace.

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About Liz

Liz works in People Operations at a SF-based technology startup.

She is also pursuing her MS from Northwestern focusing on organizational development, organizational and social psychology, learning sciences, strategy, change management, coaching, and design.

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