The P in PLE

Contentions are the by-product of dualistic thinking: "I can't be both" and "there's no two ways about it". Resolutions are the result of holistic thinking: "It takes both" and "They are two sides of one coin". Personal learning environments are not a contentious issue, but the dichotomous thinking about them is. Every positional stance looks valuable, reasonable and insightful to me. What do I know?

We all appear to be on guard against pointless learning environments. Like learning organizations, teams and knowledge management, PLE's can be co-opted. This is most likely in those cultures that thrive on acronyms: LMS, ADDIE, KM, CLO and PLE. It's done for show without substance. The enterprises are tall with layers of hierarchy, thick with restrictive policies, and fat with bureaucratic controls. As I proposed in PLE's in context, A personal learning environment would appear "out of control" in this context -- like a license to surf, shop and socialize online during company time.

Professional learning environments are possible in enterprises that are flat with delegated authority, expansive with distributed power to solve problems and thin with imposed controls. Individuals are vested with the responsibility to learn from strategic setbacks, empathize with customers, create better solutions and cooperate with diverse constituencies. This calls for learning from colleagues, rivals, journalists, industry analysts, suppliers and consultants. It involves making sense of new information, contradictory stances and opposing viewpoints. The learning is shared within the enterprise and is useful beyond the tenure of the professional who brought it into the community. These PLE's are appropriately inside the firewall.

Personal learning environments belong outside the firewall. They contribute to the professional development of the individual. In terms that Stephen Downes uses: they are outside the walled garden, free of group norms and immersed in an authentic ecological network. These PLE's do not depend on the culture of the employer. They succeed by the emergent community of links, subscribers and conversations on the outside.

Paradoxical learning environments defy dualistic thinking. They only make sense as vanishing distinctions. They serve both personal and professional interests. They may bridge across the firewall without compromising the integrity of either side's content. They make valuable connections between an individual professional development and improvements in the employer's practices. They realize the best of both professional and personal learning environments without getting co-opted, compromised or corrupted. They come about when all four P's in PLE are understood and accepted.

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  1. Well said, Tom. Moving from pointless to paradoxical seems like a meaningful objective for our field.

  2. Ahhh. . . now we're getting somewhere. . . :-)

    I think this is a really interesting way to look at things. What is most important to me is that we can't get to the paradoxical environment without the personal. My ongoing concern has been that there will be a co-opting of the personal by the professional (as has happened with so much of what began as personal in life). The challenge will be to maintain semi-permeable boundaries between the personal and the professional, rather than boundaries that are either too rigid or too open.

    That's where I'm beginning to like the term "personal learning ecology". Metaphorically, I tend to think of people as individual cells who must know when to let in the good stuff and when to fight the disease that may be trying to enter into our space. Of course, as humans that's our challenge in all interactions.

    Thanks for this, Tom. It gives me some greater clarity in my own thinking.

  3. Thanks Harold!

    Thanks Michele! I agree with you that we cannot get to the paradoxical without the personal. The Results Oriented Work Environment you've been sharing with us seems like a perfect example of paradox. Where most workplaces use the dichotomy of "time on and off the clock" or "at work or not", ROWE makes a case for "it's always both".

    So the problem, in my mind, with professional learning about customers, products, rivals, etc, is that it's dichotomous, "no personal learning on company time" and "no private data that goes with you when you're a turnover statistic". Thus is squelches the creative and serendipitous experiences I've been calling "fortunate learning". So Stephen and you are right when oppose all those "inside the garden wall" situations.

    Every firewall has two sides and a place for every kind of endeavor somewhere nearby.


  4. Tom, Harold and Michele,

    Thanks for encouraging the move away from absolutes (either-or) and fear-based language and towards possibilities (yet another 'P' word I see) and paradox.

    I'm now feeling better about rejoining the conversation.


  5. You should start selling T-shirts, with "Every firewall has two sides" - I love it :-)

  6. Ray
    Perhaps this is a Portent of a Productive and Passionate Play with Possibilities that emerge from Paradoxes :-)
    Perhaps we can even blow the whistle when one of us is using dichotomous thinking, Positional stances and Problematic outlooks.

    Thanks for T-shirt idea. I could sell them with a reissue of Judy Collins singing "Both Sides Now" :-)


  7. Tom - somehow I had missed this post before. Luckily Harold pointed me to it.

    I'm struggling a bit to parse through the implications of this from a pragmatic standpoint. Does personal mean that you can't try to help people create a PLE (or as I'm starting to call them PWLE)?

  8. Tony: Thanks for your question. My next post may answer your question to some extent. I'm thinking it's fine to help people create a PLE if the P means "professional" and it's inside the firewall, or if the P mean paradoxical and is both inside/outside the firewall. I expect the help would be collaborative, like communities of practice and wikis.

    Stephen and Michele are making it clear that empowerment, freedom, self direction and "truly personal learning" are put in jeopardy by "help from inside the firewall". The good intentions to ease the set-up of a new PLE would be regarded as interference, conformity pressure, imposition of group norms, excessive uniformity, and intolerance of idiosyncrasies.

    I suspect that hypervigilance about interference is the result to too much top-down, centralized, command&control work experiences. But it also makes good sense to be "intolerant of interference" in terms of the psychology of self-motivation, creativity and spontaneous initiatives. Extrinsic rewards and requirements undermine those contributions.


  9. Thanks for all the help and thoughtful comments. And, yes, I am trying to interfere - I hope it's in a good way. Certainly, some interference is required right now.

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