Monday, 5 January 2009

Tool Set 2009

I thought I'd kick off this year by posting a series of posts on topics related to tools and methods for work and learning. I'm hoping to address questions such as:
How do you create a personal tool set or Personal Learning Environment (PLE) for yourself? What should be in your tool set? What are the most important methods to adopt in addition to the tools? Should twitter be part of your tool set?
The information in this series has been something I've been presenting, writing, blogging about and more recently doing workshops around.

But I'm worried, because while I just got through writing about my concern in Using SharePoint that learning organizations seemed to be making the same mistake of Not Preparing Workers for Web 2.0. Setting up a SharePoint for a community or work team is very different from teaching them about Personal Learning. It is our personal and professional responsibility to Improve Personal Learning - A Continuing Challenge for Learning Professionals.

In fact, the lack of attention to this topic was the reason I founded Work Literacy in June of 2008. I still don't think it is getting nearly the attention it deserves. But hopefully 2009 will be the year when that begins to change. We are now beginning to offer work literacy workshops.

As an aside, what finally pushed me to create this series was a great post by Sue Waters' about creating your own personal learning network (PLN). This made me look back at a post I did quite a while ago - Personal Learning for Learning Professionals - Using Web 2.0 Tools to Make Reading & Research More Effective. And I realized that I really needed to get moving on this topic again. So, here goes ...

What is a Tool Set?

First, let me say that we all have a tool set and a set of methods and frameworks that go along with that tool set. We may not think of this in terms of a personal learning environment and a particular set of methods, but it's there. Being unconscious about your tool set is unconscionable.

Sue's description of a personal learning network is:
Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are all about using web tools such as blogs, wiki, twitter, facebook to create connects with others which extend our learning, increases our reflection while enabling us to learn together as part of a global community.
This sounds a lot like a personal learning environment, personal knowledge management (PKM) and personal work and learning environment (PWLE) and PIM. Yes there are distinctions, but probably not worth considering. So, for the purpose of this description, I'm going to focus on day-to-day tools that the average concept worker should have in their tool set and discuss a few methods for using these tools.

Tool Sets are Personal

A caveat that I make in every presentation on this topic is that studies of personal information management repeatedly show that tool sets and methods for personal work and learning are personal. The same tool and method can be highly effective for one person and not effective for others. It depends heavily on the person, the job, the needs, etc. Thus, whenever I say you "should" be using this tool, I really mean you should try this tool out and consider adopting it.

No Excuses

At one presentation someone told me that it was okay for them not to know about tools and methods because "they would find out about them when they needed them." I don't believe that this is really true. If you are unaware of particular tools then you don't know when they would be useful. And once you begin to really fall behind on this stuff, your skills will atrophy to the point where you are hopeless. There are no excuses. You need to
understand your choices, try new methods and tools and adopting practices that improve your work and learning skills. We are all too busy. If you care about being relevant and valuable in 2015, you had better be making moves in 2009.

No Clear Tool Choices

One of the techniques I commonly use now that eLearning Learning has Related Terms is to look at a topic and see what relates to it. For example, Personal Learning, PLE, PWLE, PKM are all pretty closely related. But when I go to PLE and then look at the related Tools, I'm not seeing clear winners. In fact, the top results such as Drupal and Blackboard are likely there because people are discussing how they don't really support PLEs. They are associated by contradiction.

What that means is that there are so many tools out there that get discussed as part of people's personal learning environment that there is no clear winner. That also shows part of the value of something like Jane's Top Learning Tools in that it surfaces some of the top used tools. One note of caution on Jane's list is that these are both personal learning tools and tools used to create learning opportunities for others. For example, I doubt we are using an authoring tool for personal learning.


This series is going to be way too long as it is, so I have to draw the line somewhere. I'm not going to cover a core literacy for concept workers that is what I think of as productivity. Getting Things Done is the classic example of this. If you've not adopted the core concepts such as:
  • Only touching any piece of paper or email once
  • Defining the immediate next step
  • Setting up reminder systems
and the tools / methods of:
  • Where you keep your task list
  • Keeping the immediately next task and due date
  • How you handle longer term things
  • How you manage this list
  • How you manage your time
  • What you need to do
Then you really need to go do that. But, I'm going to mostly skip by these issues.


The intent of this series is to capture my thinking at the start of 2009 about the tools and methods for work and learning. There will be a lot coming at you through this series and it will be easy for you to become overwhelmed. So a couple of quick recommendations.
  1. Slow and steady - adopt practices and tools in a slow, steady, measured way. Assess your adoption as you go.
  2. Leverage others - this should be one of your tasks - continuous improvement of your tool set and work methods. And you should definitely engage other people to discuss this with in an ongoing basis.
I would also recommend considering participating in a workshop that will help you get going on these tools.

Other Posts in the Series

Other Places to Look
Ongoing information from eLearning Learning: PLE, PWLE, PKM, Personal Learning, and Personal Learning and Virtual Learning Environments.

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