Personal Learning is in Your Future!


Doris and I have been musing about learning and reflection in this series of blog posts. I began with Reflection and Journaling: Seek, Sense, Share and Doris followed with Adopting the Habit of Reflecting and Journaling in Your PKM. We both explored how reflection is necessary for understanding and assessing one’s learning, and how developing reflective habits, such as journaling or blogging, increase learning.

We have also written about the new world of work in several of our blogs, highlighting the rise of the contingent workforce, project-based work, and the future of work. All of our blogs point out today’s new reality:

  • It is up to you to develop your skills and know how
  • Keeping up with the digital world is a must
  • Working collaboratively online is the new norm
  • Contracting is the new employment, often project-based and short term

Hence this series on reflective learning – if it is now up to each of us to manage our own professional and personal development, reflecting on what we know and don’t know is our new road map. Even the professional development process has changed (what else is new?) from others directing our learning and emphasizing content, to directing our own learning and emphasizing practice and skill building. There is too much to know in our modern world, with content and knowledge going out of date before we have even internalized it. Harold Jarche in his blog, Social Learning for Complex Work quotes Jay Cross from 2006:

Carnegie Mellon’s Robert E. Kelley … says the percentage of the knowledge you need to memorize to do your job is shrinking rapidly:

  • 1986: 75%
  • 1997: 15-20%
  • 2006: 8-10% estimated

Knowing how to get the answers you need is more important than storing those answers in your head, especially with the shorter lifespan of knowledge these days. What you find when you look something up is probably current. What you already know is more and more likely to be out of date.

A vital meta-learning skill: how to find the answer you need, online or off.

If this was true in 2006, just imagine what the % is today, 10  years later!

Personalized vs. Personal Learning

Stephen Downes, one of the father’s of the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) defines this shift in learning as Personal learning as opposed to Personalized learning in a presentation from March 19, 2016 at the World Conference on Continuing Professional Development. In personalized learning, predetermined content is taught, and you are tested on that content. You either get it right or wrong. The teacher, professor, or trainer delivers the content and assesses learning based on a  test. In personal learning, you determine what you need to know, practice acquiring that knowledge or skill, learn from mistakes, and try different approaches. The teacher, professor, or trainer is there to guide, offer suggestions and help, and may observe skills to determine mastery. In other words, in personalized learning you are a passive participant. In personal learning, you are a very active one.

Here is the slide he uses to show the difference between the two:

personalized vs Personal use


In his opinion, personalized learning is on the wane because it does not help you acquire skills you can use. Remember that the content you need to know to do your job is shrinking rapidly (8 – 10% in 2006), so basing professional development on content as personalized learning does has built in obsolescence. Reflection is important in personal learning as you iterate and try new ways of working based on mistakes, failures, and missteps. Downes labels personal learning “an exploration”.

He also emphasizes that learning happens in learning networks, not in isolation. Learning networks can inform, validate, and/or expand learning. Here is another slide from Downes’ presentation:

learning networks


Harold Jarche adds that the more complex systems we work in and with are, the more we need social networks to make sense of them. In his blog, Social Learning for Complex Work, he states:

If you are working in a complex system, you will never be able to know everything. For instance, the environment and communities are complex systems that cannot be controlled, only influenced. There are no right answers, there are many ways of trying to achieve your goals and there are too many variables to control. This requires cooperation and collaboration between people to understand the complexity.

Social Media for Learning, Reflection, and Curation

Donald Clark, in his blog Social Media as a Powerful Method of Learning – the Evidence, makes the case for social media being valuable tools for creating learning networks, reflecting on work, and curating learning that you can look back on and reflect what you have learned when. He says:

The fact that social media is an act of expression, reflection, elaboration, retrieval and practice is of interest to those of us who like to see concrete evidence for powerful learning and retention. I often feel as though I remember more when I use social media, indeed have stronger memories of the things I posted than the original exposure. Tweeting during a conference helps me consolidate my thoughts and capture key insights. Facebook helps me share resources. LinkedIn is a useful professional tool. However, it is blogging, such as this post, that is by far my strongest form of learning, as it involves a number of things that are all supported by researched learning theory, and which improve memory and recall..

Harold Jarche concurs. From his blog, Sense Making with Social Media:

Blogs are for longer thoughts while Twitter is where I can feel the pulse of the action and am able to follow the most conversations. Social media are the medium by which we can make work learning, and learning work.

As our water coolers become virtual, social relations online will be the glue that connects us in our increasingly distributed work. Every little tweet, blog post, comment, or like online shares our individuality and humanity. These actions help us be known to others in the digital surround. They help us build trust to get things done, be productive, and innovate. However, we cannot benefit from professional social networks unless we engage in them. This requires more than merely mastering the technology. It means being social in our work. Not using social media to connect, contribute, and collaborate is like sitting in a closed office all day.

In our digital age, there are many ways to learn, reflect, and share (seek, sense, share of Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery process). Using all the tools available to us puts personal learning at the forefront, and reflecting, whether via social media, a journal, a blog, or other means, easier to do for ourselves, with others, and for the common good.

How do you use social media for learning? What type of learning, personalized or personal, do you engage in? What have your experiences been with reflective learning?


Resources used for this blog:

Stephen Downes: From Individual to Community: The Learning Is in the Doing; March 19, 2016

Harold Jarche: Social Media, and Unrealized Opportunity: January 26, 2016

Harold Jarche: Social Learning for Complex Work: March 20, 2016

Harold Jarche: Sense-making with Social Media: March 22, 2016

Donald Clark: Social Media as Powerful Method of Learning – the Evidence: March 20, 2016

Women’s Learning Studio blog

Featured image by the artists at Pixabay

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