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Monday, January 05, 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.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony

I'll kick off with a few ideas here. I may be out of my tree, but it is complex after all and we usually try to simplify things. That's what I will try to do here:

One idea is to somehow initiate a clear pathway to apply the learning delivered in, say, professional development programs to what is practiced by the learner. It is embraced in the so-called cognitive apprentice theory that masters of a skill often do not consider hidden processes involved in carrying out complex skills when they are teaching/instructing newcomers to an skill, idea or concept. The same can be said for the poor learners who are learning for themselves.

Situated professional development programs can be used as a solution to make this happen, instead of defining a prescription for particular technology competencies that learners must have and be able to use.

What I'm suggesting here is that, often, learners have difficulty learning raw content. This is for the simple reason that they may not be able to see exactly how raw know-how can be applied as it may have no relevance to them and so they don't learn.

Situated learning experiences that ground learning experiences in the learner’s own practice may well be more successful. A situated professional development technology program serves the needs of the learners’ specific technology within their own learning environment. There has been a lot of study in this field - I won't bore you with the details.


Whatever skill/knowledge/concept the learner has first learnt must be practiced soon as - the same day if possible. This means that any training that is given should take into account the opportunity that the learner has to practice the same day and try out their newly acquired skill. Mini projects that can be used by the learner after learning sessions always helps with this.

As well, Fridays are no-nos for training/learning simply because of this whole principle of learn and practice soon as. What you learn on a Friday you can say ta-ta to by the time Monday arrives - you rarely consolidate what you’ve learnt over the weekend! I recall some years ago getting computer training on the last days of the year! Forget it! I may as well have!


Learning to write little reminders when first shown something THEN to practice it immediately afterwards is paramount to putting what's learnt into use and maintaining it. This is what I'd put into the category of metacognition.

The mantra is learn and practice soon as.

Tool sets are personal

I agree with what you say about this to some extent, but if the learner doesn't understand what a tool does, or how to best use it, the tool’s not going to work for the learner. In this instance, I’d say there’s an important difference between a personal tool that works for a learner and one that doesn’t really fit the learner because they don’t know how to use it properly.

No excuses

I agree with what you say here too. Being an educator, I put what you say in the category of education which deals with concepts and ideas rather than training and practice. Knowledge of a special (useful) tool that is used to do a specific job is, as far as I’m concerned, knowledge of and understanding a concept.

I’ll take knowing where to find the ‘attach and email’ function in Word 2007 as an example to show the distinction between training, practice and concept.

The know-how to use the ‘attach and email’ function in Word 2007 comes with a bit of training and practice (t & p) and the end result is swifter and less cumbersome than other methods. But the ‘concept’ that a newly created Word document can be attached immediately to an email, and that the email application is invoked automatically while this process is being brought into effect is more than mere t & p. The learner who has never met this idea is very unlikely to think of looking for the function on any new version of a computer application in order to use it. Thankfully in most instances the concept comes with t & p but not always.

It’s not all just learning how to. My feeling is that there are at least 3 tiers of competency in any set of related skills:

1 concept - such as Send to Mail Recipient as Attachment (just get your head round the idea)

2 knowledge that a function exists on the application/program used (t but also needs concept),

3 knowing how to use it on a specific application/program (t & p and concept).


I apologise for the length of this comment. It's really a post, but there it is Tony. Call it a Ken Allan post/comment.

Catchya later

Tony Karrer said...

Ken - great comment / post :)

Some thoughts -

1. I agree that all of this needs to be done in the context of people's day-to-day lives. The good news is that a lot of the core methods and tools are common across different concept worker's day-to-day, but you are absolutely right that it needs to be situated within the context of their work. Part of the reason that I believe strongly in the need for top-down at the start.

2. Practice - I completely agree with this - and it represents one of the bigger challenges. I like the idea of teaching this over the course of time, but even then it's often the case that you don't feel the need to apply the particular approach immediately. Some yes, but some come up later and having it trigger the performance can be challenging. This is certainly one of the harder aspects.

3. I like your three tiers. And you are exactly right that the challenge is getting folks into the use mode.

This has made me go look back and see what else can be done to enhance use.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post Tony (and subpost/comment Jen).

It really has me thinking, because this is a massive personal peeve of mine in the workplace.

I am (hopefully) going to be driving some considered change through our work environment this year with this context.

I look forward to more posts with avid interest.

Anonymous said...

What is your take on free software vs. paid?

E.g. Moodle vs. SharePoint