Building a Personal Learning Solution: 10 Steps to Control Information Overload and Take Back Your Life

When you look at the statistics of how much training actually gets retained by learners and how much training actually transfers back to the workplace, you have to ask yourself two questions. Why are we doing training? What can we do better? The problem with most training is that it doesn’t fill an immediate need. What’s the point in taking a class on Microsoft Access if I’m not going to use it for six months or worse don’t even have the software installed. Sounds crazy but believe me it happens. One of the other problems with training is that of ownership. We’ve grown up in this 20th century idea of training with the “sage on the stage”–of one person disseminating information and the learners hoping to learn it all through osmosis. It just doesn’t work that way.

Real learning is a participatory act or a dance between the learners and the facilitator and the learners among themselves. But what to do with information pouring in daily by the gigabyte? Too much to do and too much to keep up with. Enter the personal learning solution = personal learning environment + personal learning network. The 23 Things Program was the first widely distributed example of a personal learning solution. Participants used a blog to keep track of their learning, participants connected with other bloggers, and participants learned a lot about Web 2.0 and technology that was new to them.

In many ways PLSs are ideal for library staff who must manage lots of information with a limited amount of time. The following slides were used this week for a presentation for LibraryLinkNJ. Take a look at them to learn more about PLSs.

View more presentations from Lori Reed
My PLS has and will continue to change over time. Initially it consisted of thousands of RSS feeds in Google Reader. But then I got tired of seeing the count of 1000+ unread items. My true unread count–Google can’t even count as high. Next I navigated to Facebook and Twitter where I made more personal connections with other trainers and library staff. I like that the information is instant, timely, and doesn’t give me a read versus unread count. If I miss something, I can be sure that someone else out there will share the information. This past summer I migrated towards having all my information come into my Gmail account where I set up filters to organize and file the information. Your PLS will be unique to you and it will and should change over time.
If you are creating or thinking about updating your PLS, I’d encourage you to start with the end in mind and think about your goal. No one can keep up with everything. Is your goal to be a better trainer? To stay informed on local, community events? To learn more about one topic? To keep up with the latest tech news? Or to keep up with library news in general? Start with a specific goal and add more content only when you feel comfortable with the amount you already have.
In the following weeks as I embark on a new job and new phase in my career, my learning and information needs will definitely change. As I transition from a focus on “training” to a broader scope of customer relationships and end-user experiences, my information needs will look very different. With my thousands of feeds, I’ve decided to delete them all and start over fresh with a limit of 100 feeds. By effectively filtering information as it comes in using Google Alerts and Twitter Searches I should be able to keep my list of feeds to a manageable size. I’m reminding myself daily that quality should be chosen over quantity.
As we enter to into an early Spring, at least here in North Carolina, I invite you to do some early Spring cleaning and take stock of your information consumption by doing the following:
  1. Mark all your RSS feeds as read. I hear stories of people who get stressed just thinking about the number of unread RSS feeds they have. Remember that technology is here to serve us not the other way around. If you miss something important your sure to see it again from another source.
  2. Prune your RSS subscriptions to an amount that is manageable for you, or delete your feeds and start over.
  3. Know when to subscribe to RSS versus when to bookmark a site. Do you really want to read every post? Or do you want to make sure you can find the site again? Delicious and Pinboard are great bookmarking tools.
  4. Use lists in TweetDeck to manage the people and information you follow. Set up groups based on how much you want to see from the people in the group. The smaller the group, the more you will see. Add keyword columns to search on topics that are relevant to you. Twitter can easily get unmanageable without tools to manage lists.
  5. Unsubscribe from people who complain or are just generally negative all the time. Why surround yourself with negativity.
  6. Unsubscribe from people who post little of value to you. The information may be great, but as your needs change so should the people you follow. Get over the Twitequette that says you need to follow back anyone who follows you.
  7. Learn to use Facebook’s lists feature. You can create lists of coworkers, personal friends, family, librarians, or just about any list imaginable. The benefit is two-fold. First, you can click a button and see only the updates from those most important to you–close friends and family. Second, you can post updates that only specific lists of friends can see. If I’m posting about my cat or children, I may not want all 500 of my friends to see the post. Likewise if you are at a conference, you don’t want to overload your non-library friends and family with ALA totebag posts.
  8. Schedule time each day for online information consumption. 30 minutes should be adequate for most people. If you are in a PR, marketing, or role that requires you to keep track of more information, then adjust the time accordingly. If you are a manager who expects your staff to stay current on library news and information, make that expectation clear and schedule time for staff to do it. If it’s not scheduled it won’t happen.
  9. Schedule time each day to play and set a timer! Facebook is a time suck! Acknowledge that and do something about it. If you are ok with spending hours each night playing Words With Friends or preparing a new crop for Farmville, and it doesn’t affect your personal life, great! But if it interferes with your family relationships or causes you to neglect other parts of your life, do something about it and set a timer. Did you know that inpatient centers are popping up to treat Internet addiction? Internet addiction is real and is more prevalent than you might realize. If you are using the Internet to escape some part of your life, get help. Life is too short to live in a virtual world like the folks in the movie Wall-E.
  10. Don’t forget to take time to participate in your networks. Comment on blogs. Post links to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Add to the discussions taking place. If you don’t have anything to add, offer encouragement to someone having a bad day. This is your social network karma.

I hope this information and tips are helpful. I’d love to hear from you in the comments? What does your personal learning solution look like? And how are you controlling the overload of information?

UPDATE: If you are looking for a tool to manage multiple social media accounts. Check out this great review of three products from the Social Media Examiner.

The Facebook Balance – Work/Personal

Facebook has emerged as one of the top communication tools of our time. Connect with friends, family, coworkers, old friends from college and high school. But how do you manage the challenge of balancing personal information with a network that contains professional colleagues?

Facebook by Massimo Barbieri

For my capstone project at East Carolina University I am conducting research on best practices and current trends on using Facebook for work and personal use.

Please help me by completing this short survey on how you use Facebook:

This survey is completely anonymous but I am looking for statements that can be attributed back to a source. If you would like to be interviewed for this project please contact me ASAP at Look for the final report to be published here in April.

Living in the Online Cloud: The Dark Side

I rely heavily on technology for nearly all aspects of my life. Last year the power went out, and I was excited because I could still watch a movie since my netbook has great battery life (around 8 hours). I made my hot tea on the grill and was ready to curl up in front of the fire with a Netflix movie–only to realize that my wifi and router both need power. DOH!

While my last post focused on my favorite apps that have made my life easier, this post will share some of the potential pitfalls to living in the cloud.

Last week I spammed the world. Seriously. You may be one of the thousands of people who received an invite to Plaxo from me. If so I apologize. Allowing 3rd parties to harvest your personal information if one of the dangers of living in the cloud. Here’s the back story.

After years of dealing with inadequate synching between Outlook and my Blackberry, I was excited to get a Droid X which syncs wirelessly with Gmail. The problem was that I needed to merge my Outlook and Gmail contacts but didn’t want duplicates. Plaxo offered a way to synch contacts between multiple email and social networking accounts, so I signed up.

In the process of signing up however, I missed unchecking the box that said, “Invite your contacts to connect on Plaxo.” Thus Plaxo sent invites to everyone in my list of Google contacts which includes: President Obama, all of my county commissioners, the entire staff of my library, list servs, professors, friends, relatives, and even the nanny that I fired two years ago.

You might ask why all of these people are in my contacts list. I’d like to ask Google the same thing. Apparently a long time ago, Google thought it would be a good idea to add anyone you email to your contacts list. I’m fine with that but they also added anyone who emailed you or was on a CC line with you in any email. So all you people who send out funny jokes or virus warnings to friends and family members–all of your friends and family became part of my contact list.

In 2008 Google changed the way contacts are added and those random contacts became suggested contacts rather than automatically added contacts–but not before adding thousands to my contact list.

So while this was totally a case of user error, it’s something that can (and does) happen to anyone.


Have you ever noticed when using Gmail that the ads within Gmail often relate to your email conversation? That’s no accident! Google is performing a keyword search through your emails in order to display relevant ads. While they claim not to store any of this personal information, we all know that storage happens. Earlier this year Google suspended the practice of collecting Wi-Fi information after it admitted to inadvertently collecting user data over unsecured Wi-Fi networks while photographing for Street View.

While I’m not ready to give up my Gmail account yet, I do have concerns about my privacy. I haven’t switched to another email provider because I’m not convinced that the same, or worse, privacy violations might happen. It’s not that I have any top secret email information but it’s more of the principle. I rely on Google Apps to host the email for my website and use Google Docs to hold everything from term papers to financial records. It’s a bit scary having all that info out there and scoured for information by a corporation. Yet for me, for now, the benefit to having that data available from anywhere outweighs the risks of having the data potentially harvested.


Apps, short for applications, allow you to do cool things on your phone like throw birds at pigs as well as navigate using maps and GPS. However there is some risk in downloading and installing apps.

When you install most apps you will be asked to allow that app to have access to certain information such as your address book, location via wi-fi, and state of the phone (whether you are on a call or not)

This is a screen you definitely do not want to breeze by. Look carefully at what information the app wants access to and try to determine why it might need that info. Many apps ask your your location to place targeted ads in the app. So I might see ads for a local store rather than a store in another part of the country.

One of the apps I really wanted was a wallpaper app that allows you to download cool pictures to use as a wallpaper, but that app wanted access to my SD card, contacts, and location. There is no reason for this much information to be accessed by a 3rd party for pretty pictures! See the Android PSA on Droid Ninja. Note that the same warnings apply to other smart phones as well.


I don’t even know where to start with warnings about Facebook–maybe the obvious place–have you read the terms of using Facebook? Do you know what happens to the rights of content that you upload to Facebook? I’m not posting anything that I would want copyrighted so not a big deal to me, but if you are using a tool to import entire blog posts to Facebook as a note, I would check in to this. Then there are the privacy issues of what data friends can see and friends of friends can see. My rule of thumb–don’t post, text, email or otherwise digitally create anything you wouldn’t want published on the front page of the New York Times or your hometown newspaper. Even if you have privacy settings set to most secure there is always the chance that someone will do a screen capture and print or create an image of what you posted. Trust me! It’s happened to me.

Facebook Apps or other Browser Add Ons

Every week or so a new warning comes out about potential security holes in Facebook apps or add ons to browsers. The lastest is I hijacked a Facebook account with Firesheep. For more on Facebook and privacy, take a look at some of the posts by Bobbi Newman where she gives step-by-step instructions for updating your settings.

These are just a few of the situations I can think of where I have learned a lesson or two about protecting my privacy as well as others’ privacy. Did I miss anything you’d like to share?


It started with an idea…like all projects do.

One of my classes this semester is Media, Culture, and Society. It’s been a great class! For our final project we were each assigned to create a work of pop culture. I knew the project would involve libraries but was not sure how. At one point Tony Tallent and I planned to collaborate on a “Gaga for Libraries” project (imagine a mashup of Flat Stanley with Lady Gaga in libraries).

However in the beginning stages of planning, my own library went into crisis mode as we prepared for an immediate $2 million reduction in our current budget and a looming 50% reduction for the next fiscal year beginning in July.

Last Friday after 148 of my friends and colleagues got “the call” that they were going to be laid off next week, I went to bed hoping to wake up Saturday and realize this had all been a bad dream.

I woke up Saturday and realized it was no dream. I saw how Facebook had become a support system for our staff. I realized that I could either cry or do something.

I immediately turned to my own social networks on Twitter and Facebook for ideas. The domain was available. Within an hour Blake Carver of LISHost had WordPress up and running thanks to Robin Blum who answered my call for help via Facebook Saturday afternoon.

Heather Braum quickly volunteered to help with the site along with several others.

So let me announce a new resource for libraries, Our mission is to help raise awareness of the funding crisis libraries are facing. We will serve as an aggregator of news about library budget cuts, closings, and reductions, and compile links to “Save Library” campaigns.

Our slogan is, “When one library is in trouble, ALL libraries are in trouble.” There is a trend happening in this country and it’s one as a society that we should be appalled at. Our libraries represent the freedom and democracy that our country was founded on. Can you think of another place where all are welcome? No matter what your color, religion, or economic status the library is there with open doors.

However when libraries close and communities accept library closings as “the new normal,” then all libraries are in trouble. Other states, other communities, and other politicians are going to get the message that it’s ok. If it was ok for _____________ to close it’s libraries, then it’s ok here.

Well here’s a message. It’s not ok! Especially now. Communities need their libraries more than ever. I realize that we are in a recession. I get that state and local governments are out of money. But as library professionals, it is up to us to come up with a solution. Be a part of the solution!

Together we can make a difference. Together we can come up with a solution. Together we can save libraries!

10 Tips for Training in Tough Times

Libraries across the country are being impacted by the economy. Staff are being laid off. Doors are being locked as libraries close or reduce hours. As we face this new reality, how does this impact our roles as trainers/teachers/learners? What can we do to not only support our organizations but secure training’s place within our organizations? Here are ten ideas for you to consider.

  1. Alignment. Align training with strategic priorities. If ever there was a time to tighten the training belt it is now. Do you know what your library’s strategic priorities are? If not, ask. Make sure that all of your training supports those outcomes and priorities for your library.
  2. Attitude. Set a good example. Employees often look at trainers as role models for the organization. Doom and gloom do not do anyone a bit of good. Lead by example. Look for the silver lining that exists and embrace this time as an opportunity for growth and change. Be flexible and willing to do things that may fall outside of your normal realm.
  3. Network and Collaboration. Look for ways to collaborate with other trainers. There are trainers across the country who are ready and willing to share and trade training materials. If you need a handout on the fly try posting to an email list. Or you might decide to create a more formal training exchange with a sister library.
  4. Webinars. ALA Learning will soon be announcing a new resource for sharing training and learning opportunities. Many of these events are free. Better yet many are online and require no travel. Publicize these events to your staff.
  5. Outcomes. Think in terms of outcomes rather than trainings. What outcome or result are you looking for? What problem are you trying to address? Once you’ve determined your outcome then you can determine if training is the best way to reach that outcome (in many cases it’s not). Don’t invest time and resources in training that’s not needed.
  6. Free. Look for free authoring tools. Do a search for “free elearning tools” and you will find lots of great articles. Like this one and this one from our own Jay Turner. With her budget cut to nearly 70% Sue-Minton Colvin, training and development coordinator for Lexington Public Library turned to e-learning. Not already having an established platform, Colvin created an entire training intranet using Shutterfly. Yes, you read that right, Shutterfly. I never even realized you could create a Web site using Shutterfly! Talk about using your resources!
  7. Social Learning. On her Web site Ageless Learner, Marcia Conner says that, “Informal learning accounts for more than 75% of learning that takes place in organizations today.” Embrace the power of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, and Twitter to facilitate informal learning. Host a discussion. Host a chat. The sky is the limit and we are only on the verge of utilizing these tools fully in learning and staff development.
  8. Visibility. Be visible in your organization. When you work primarily behind the scenes, it’s easy to stay holed up in your office. Get out and talk to staff. Find out what’s going on. Let them know what’s going on with training. Listen with empathy and remember tip #2.
  9. Better With Less. Instead of focusing on how we are doing more with less, focus on the opportunity to do better with less. As I said in tip #1, this blip in the radar gives us a chance to focus on the basics, rethink our training strategies, and truly show an impact on the organizations we serve. Staff training in the library is very different from public training. We are here primarily to improve the performance of staff within libraries so that they can better serve our customers.
  10. Don’t stop. No matter how tight the budget is, it’s a huge mistake for any organization to stop training completely. As the economy ebbs and flows it is crucial that libraries and our staff learn to go with that flow. Only through continuous learning can we keep our workforce’s skills up to date and prepare our employees for the changes that will no doubt take place in organizations.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about training in tough times. Please comment on this post to continue the discussion!

Lori Reed, managing editor of ALA Learning, is the learning & development coordinator (and mayor 🙂 ) for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She also blogs at