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.
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.
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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