Enterprises that love PLE's

When Peter Senge introduced the practice of learning organizations in his book, The Fifth Discipline, he encountered a lot of lipservice from his consulting clients. Plenty of organizations wanted to be seen as actively learning, while they did not want to commit the resources. Learning results in significant changes and that's considered a de-stabilizing threat to enterprises stuck in their ways.

It's occurred to me (while reading Tony Karrer's and Michele Martin's posts) that PLE's are less vulnerable to lipservice. An enterprise would only commit to "inside the firewall" PLE's if it wanted the learning that comes from them. I doubt there is much glamour or window dressing to having PLE's throughout an organization. Why would the detached constituencies (stockholders, foundations or voters) be impressed with an enterprise unleashing a tide of highly individualized learning?

Scobel and Israel's Naked Conversations, suggested there was much "high visibility" and "good press" garnered from transparent corporate blogs. That positive attention comes from blogging customers and industry journalists who are also writing about the company. PLE's could earn some of this same respect, credibility and exposure. PLE's could also use their tags and subscriptions to be more transparent. However, customers and journalists are a different constituency than the shareholders who jump for joy at budget cutbacks, downsizing and upturns in efficiency metrics -- when quarterly earnings growth is flat.

There is a kind of enterprise that would value PLE's for internal use. These enterprises would naturally commit to "inside the firewall" PLE's wholeheartedly. They would have successes with bottom-up innovations and changes in strategy. They would value the employees who are close to the customers and full of "bad news" about products, follow-through, changes, etc. These enterprises would commit considerable resources to responding to complaints, problem solving breakdowns and changing procedures that malfunction.

Enterprises that love PLE's would frequently debrief the lower ranking members for their insights, perspectives and advice. They would occasionally cannibalize their own products, abandon past successes and dismantle their own departments. Being this fluid and open to transformation would require the far reaches of the organization learning as much as possible every day from every relevant source. PLE's would make perfect sense and get used intensely.

Clearly this is a different use of PLE's than those outside the firewall, for free rangers, and for learning from everything of personal interest.


  1. > Clearly this is a different use of PLE's than those outside the firewall, for free rangers, and for learning from everything of personal interest.

    And they are not, therefore, PLEs.

    A PLE that is 'inside the enterprise' is a contradiction in terms.

  2. Hi Tom--I have to agree with Stephen here. What is the most engaging to me about PLEs is that they put power into the hands of individuals, rather than corporations--back to your earlier empowerment post. In an era of incredible career mobility (both voluntary and involuntary), I see PLEs as a major tool for individuals to use to control the extent to which they are impacted by the decisions of organizations that are only concerned with shareholders. We are at a point in human history where individuals have an opportunity to wrest back from corporations some of the power that was taken from them. I see PLES as a tool toward that end.

  3. Tom, it seems to me that companies who value learning seek out the types of people who create their own PLEs rather then trying to create a standardized version for them behind the firewall. Google comes to mind here.

  4. Stephen, Michele and Mark
    Thanks for your comments that have moved our conversation forward.


  5. Hi all

    I'm extraordinarily biased because my company, Education Exchange, provides a learning management solution used by people in the financial services industry.

    Surely one solution (oddly enough ours :-) is for a PLE/Education Portfolio owned by the learner with functions allowing individuals to access, view and engage with a range of content.

    'Content' in the case of our clients include training provided by employers, professional associations and perhaps product suppliers, shared calendars allowing each individual to nominate preferences as the kind of training they need, the places they would go to attend training, perhaps the companies they would like to deal with (or not)

    This in turn can generate notifications to the learner, based on their preferences advising them of opportunities that meet their criteria

    Also necessary is a means to share data with other organisations such as (using the financial services industry as an example) professional associations, training organisations, employers and product providers.

    It also requires a means for the learner to accept updates to their PLE, made by people providing training, so the student has a verified training record, verified qualifications and ce points/hours or other measurement.

    This provides learners with an asset and reduces the amount of work they need to do to provide information to these organisations.

    In the Financial Services industry this is often a regulatory requirement. Individual have to provide the information to multiple sources to demonstrate they meet regulatory, business and professional education requirements.

    A PLE provides a means to record this data once and share it with 'interested parties'

    This model also satisfies the corporate world because they have a means to recruit staff and manage ongoing developments needs, deliver structure curriculum based on job profiles.

    The model provides opportunities to suppliers of training either by working with the corporate/professional associations or dealing with Education Exchange if they want to make their material available.

    Catches? - I'm sure there are many. The ones I come across are

    1. We provide this model as a hosted solution which some people have philosophical and, in some cases, good business reasons to avoid.

    2. Some organisations don't like to share :-) and would prefer the student to be 'owned'

    3. Robust privacy and permissions need to be owned by the learner, with the ability to delegate some of these functions to a corporate. (And grab them back when they need to)

    4. Rules to allow organisations to retain data they place in the users PLE

    5. The model requires people to adhere to some standards to ensure data can be exchanged properly.

    Of course these issues are only present in the financial services industry and have no application anywhere else.


    James Ryan
    Education Exchange

  6. I understand that PLE stands for Personal Learning Environment. An organization can provide a "learning environment" within the firewall for employees to learn. It it is indeed used by employees to learn, the inside the firewall learning environment becomes part of the employee's PLE. I am not sure how corporates can provide PLE. At best it can attempt to encourage employees to recognize their own PLEs and try to provide them with learning environments that the employees will adopt in their PLEs.

  7. Manish
    Thanks for pondering this issue here. Several of us bloggers debated the possibility of PLE's inside the firewall last summer. The whole section in this blog on PLE's may help clarify this issue in your mind. My own IF PLE's become bulletproof captures lots of the dark side.