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.

Idea for Job Seekers – Wordle Your Resume

I’m home sick with allergies and a sinus infection and when I get really bored I like to browse through the questions posted on LinkedIn. I enjoy responding to questions–must be the librarian in me. LinkedIn is a great place for library staff to monitor, respond, and help people. I see a lot of questions about recommending resources, finding books and other materials, and information needs in general. Library staff could really be promoting the profession by responding to these requests on LinkedIn and reminding people that we are about more than buns and books.

Tonight on LinkedIn I came across a new (to me) use for Wordle a fun, web-based tag cloud creator. Resumes. Run your resume through and see what it says about you.

Wordle is great for the visual and kinesthetic learners and this may be a fun way to spice up resume and job hunting classes you are offering to the public.

My Resume in Wordle

Evaluating, Recommending, & Justifying 2.0 Tools

Mid-afternoon session on the Social Software track Evaluating, Recommending, & Justifying 2.0 Tools by Marydee Ojala editor of ONLINE Magazine.

This is a totally packed house! People standing outside the door.

New Technologies

  • Everything x2.0(empowerment, sharing, communication, and unifying themes)
  • Social networking/software (collaboration is a unifying theme)

Implications for Research

Magazines and newspapers add info to sites that don’t show up in archives

Mashups of 911 calls in Indy. How do you search through these?

What is a publication? What is saved? What are we paying for with premium content?

Social Media for Research

  • LinkedIn

The “Social” of Social Media

Is social media becoming more traditional? Or is traditional media becoming more social?

Should you friend your boss? Should you friend your employees? Good questions…not all social networks are the same or have the same purpose.

Separation of work versus personal life/space on social networks.

  • Would you Super Poke your boss?
  • Would you throw something at a customer?
  • I’m going to talk to you but don’t talk back to me. Is that social?
  • What do your customers say about you on the back channel?

Enterprise Social Search Tools

  • IBM introduced software for enterprise mashups
  • Yammer
  • Jive
  • SharePoint
  • Vignette

Evaluating Social Software

  • What problem does it solve?
  • What is the best solution to this problem?
  • Only then do you look at products to solve the problem (such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Who owns data you put up on Facebook?

Common objections

  • Wastes time
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Opens us up for security violations
  • Employees could give away corporate secrets
  • Fad
  • What about Sarbanes Oxley?

Many of these are management issues not technology issues.

These Aren’t Trivial

  • Don’t be quick to brand people Luddites
  • Some of these are real and serious concerns
  • Some of them are deal killers
  • Some aren’t
  • You need to know the difference and to be able to explain the difference
  • Never say “Yes, but” instead say “Yes, and.” But = no to the listener

Business Cases

  • Need to align with organization’s goals
  • Understand decision making process
  • Build a case built on outcomes
  • Deflect criticisms before the are voiced
  • Anecdotes or statistics? Tailor to your audience
  • Do research
  • Ground business case in realities of current situation
  • Free can still have a cost (time to maintain, install)
  • Justified based on…? ROI or non-monetary benefits

Business Cases in Short

  • What problem does it solve?
  • How to solve the problem?
  • What are the benefits?

Example of objection to wikis: CIA has its own wiki called Intellipedia

Are you LinkedIn yet?

I joined LinkedIn a few months ago at the invitation of a colleague. My first thought was, “Can I really manage another social networking site?” But I have been pleasantly surprised by LinkedIn. It seems to be geared to those looking for a job or making business contacts.

I’ve connected with a few librarians who I have never met (not in person anyway) like A-list blogging librarian Sarah Houghton-Jan. I’ve even been contacted by a few friends of friends who are applying for jobs at PLCMC.

Once you set up your profile and make some connections, it’s interesting to see how close we are all connected. Remember the six degrees of separation? LinkedIn works a little like that.

For instance Sarah is listed as a 1st level connection for me. I can browse her connections and see that she is connected to Stephen Abram. So now Abram is listed as a 2nd level connection for me through Sarah.

My favorite part of LinkedIn is the Q&A. You can throw a question out there about anything and get some really good responses from people all around the world in all different professions. Answers are ranked by the person who asked the question. Each question has a “best answer” selected.

I have selected the areas that interest me and subscribed to them via RSS feeds. I mostly just read the responses to questions that interest me, but occasionally a questions gets put out there that I can’t resist answering. It must be my inner-librarian! I made it a mini-goal for 2008 to have at least one answer selected as a best answer.

I was surprised to log in yesterday and see that I scored two best answers this week! One in the area of Occupational Training and one in the area of Professional Networking…and the year is only 1/12th of the way over!

LinkedIn: Best Answer

So my question to you is, do you use LinkedIn and how do you use it?

Remember this phone number!


If you are away from your computer and need a question answered here’s a service that will do it for you. The company is Look Up Web for Me. It’s a toll free call and a free service. You name the question and they look up the answer.

I decided to test the service out. I called and was put on hold while a “Search Maestro” was located for me. By the way Search Maestros get paid $10-15 per hour and work from home! I was on hold for a few seconds then Jen answered my call. Pleasant and easy to understand Jen was willing to look up pretty much anything I asked. When I first read about the service through a question posed by founder Altaf Boghani on LinkedIn, I was a little suspicious. It sounds too good to be true. Right now the service is privately funded and I wonder how they will generate income in the future. Maybe it will be via phone ads as Google 411 plans to.

In all it’s a great idea. I can’t tell you how many times I have called home, a friend, or even the library to have someone do a quick Internet search for me, and that’s exactly where the idea for this business came from. According to a Jan. 11, 2008 press release, Boghani researched and found that people call family and friends to look up a wide range of information on the Web.

The most frequent categories were directions, store hours and locations, train times, traffic jams, weather, address confirmation, hotels, flight information, phone info from an organization’s web page, and doctor’s number from an HMO Web site.

Heck, my mom called me tonight to ask how many calories are in a potato!

I’m curious to see how librarians view this service? Do we have some competition? Or is this just another great resource? I’m also curious to know why people, my mom included, don’t call their libraries for information like this.