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.

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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.

Generations in the Workplace, Generations in the Library

Generations in the Workplace, one of my most popular courses, has also been the course with the most discussion, debate, opinions, and follow up conversations long after the course is over. Lyrasis will  offer this course later this year. Keep an eye out for their continuing ed schedule because you will definitely get a lot out of this course.

Before you take the course or look at the slides below, take a few minutes to take the How Millennial are You Quiz from the Pew Research Center.
I’m not surprised at how high my score is, and I would guess most library workers will score high as well. It’s the nature of our work that we stay abreast of technology. From the quiz: I have only a cell phone, have a piercing, play video games, don’t read a newspaper, and don’t watch TV programming. I am the complete opposite of my Boomer parents.

The opening slides with Professor WTF are based on an actual incident that happened while my husband was the Help Desk Manager at a College. Yes generational mishaps occur!

I think the reason the idea of generations struck me is that as a member of GenX, I realize that we often get a bad reputation by default. Without ever stepping foot in a room, someone can see your birthdate or graduation date and make immediate assumptions about everything from your attitude to your tastes in music. It’s going to be an interesting time the next few years as we see the multiple generations expand and see the second baby boomers, the Millennials, not only enter the workforce en masse but quickly move into leadership positions. However younger workers still have much to learn from older, more seasoned workers. It’s a two-way street, and each generation has just as much to learn from the other.

I also find the concept of shared generational experiences fascinating. Think about high school and how important that time was no matter how good or bad. There is a bond with your high school class like no other. The teen years are some of the most formative for setting the final hard wiring of your brain and emotions. For my generation the Challenger Explosion along with the OJ scandal were two of the events that helped make us who we are–skeptical, distrusting of organizations, realists. For Millennials, September 11, 2001 is permanently etched in their memories. Granted 9/11 impacted us all, but imagine experiencing 9/11 as a child or teenager. Imagine never knowing what it is like to fly without full body scans and pat downs. Imagine never knowing a world without terrorism on our home soil. We’ve seen many Millennials search for faith, maintain strong connections to family, and think less about “me” and more about community. My Unitarian Universalist minister was a senior in high school when 9/11 happened. She notes that the events of that year played heavily in her decision to choose a path of spirituality and in helping others.

One can’t talk about generations without some stereotyping of the generations. I invite you to look at this with an open mind, realizing that not all people fit their generational profiles, and to look at this information as a way to open doors and come to a deeper understanding of our fellow coworkers, library users, and fellow man.

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If you are interested in having this training for your library, contact Russell Palmer at Lyrasis at russell.palmer@lyrasis.org or at 404.892.0943 x4916. This session works exceptionally well in a live, online format.