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Wk 3 - Entry points

Taking control of our own personal learning is a big task. Where and how does one start?

Discussion prompts for this week:

  • What has been your own personal evolution in terms of personal learning? What has worked and what has not? Where would you like to go in the future?
  • What are some entry points or ways to get started that you're interested in trying?
  • How are public online spaces for collaboration different from private ones? 
  • What keeps people from engaging in self-directed professional learning?
  • What ideas do you have for future groups like this on specific topics related to personal learning? (There's a space to discuss this here.)

Task Discussion

  • Paul Oh   March 27, 2012, 3:08 p.m.

    Prompt: What keeps people from engaging in self-directed professional learning?

    I'm intrigued by this question. Because we all engage in self-directed learning as adults. The explosion of Pinterest is just one example. One might argue about the rigor of what's "pinned" to boards in terms of learning. But clearly people search the web for information, share that information, remark on it, learn from it. So why not in education?

    I think Karen was right on the mark in an earlier discussion thread when she said she believes there's a culture in education generally that devalues self-directed learning. I think the educational infrastructure is also set up to devalue self-directed learning by both teachers and students. Recently, I attended the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning conference in San Francisco where the focus was on recent research that falls under the heading of "Connected Learning" (see more about Connected Learning principles here).

    I would say that one interesting aspect of Connected Learning principles, which Connie Yowell talks about in the video at the bottom of the page linked above, is the idea that the learner has been squeezed out of the educational calculus, with its focus on outcomes. I think, essentially, that what we're witnessing today - regarding why people shy away from self-directed professional learning - is the result so many years and even decades later of the birth of the standards-based movement. Which in the end is less about the individual student and more about outcomes.

    To end on a hopeful note, I think p2puEDU - despite the apparent lack of consistent participant engagement - and social media networks of educators and intiatives like DML which is bringing like-minded educational groups together, like my own National Writing Project, are slowly changing the conversation AND the landscape. In the meantime, I know I need to take it upon myself to introduce as many of our colleagues as I can to self-directed learning opportunities like p2pU. And to make those invitations into these spaces as personal as possible. Because who doesn't like an invitation?

  • Fred Haas   March 25, 2012, 11:07 a.m.

    As i reflect on my evolution as a learner, I am amazed at how consistent it has been. As I already professed, I am a learning junkie. It has been that way ever since I can remember. I have always been more motivated to pursue my own interests and learn deeply about all kinds of things in an informal way. I mention it all the time, but the reason I became a teacher was because of the opportunities to work in a field where learning was at the center of all activity. Now I might now submit that I was perhaps a little naive to think that academia and schools are all about learning, but for me that is the only thing that really matters. For me, it is where the jazz is.

    Consequently, all of the online, open, free learning avenues have been a kind of boon for me, personally. At the same time, they have become the worst kind of distraction, although I am not sure I like the way that reads. I am relentlessly drawn to all of these newfound opportunities, so much so that I always struggle to remain focused on priorities and things that must be done. I suspect that it always will be for me. All I know, is that I don't know how to turn off that heart-sick desire to learn new things all the time. Couple that with my broad interests makes me think the struggle will always be a constant.

    I think one of the main things that keeps teachers from engaging in more informal and self-directed professional learning has to do with the strong conservative, institutional inertia of schools and academia. The institution of education perpetuates itself through a system of accreditation. Much of the deeply rich learning that can be had in spaces and efforts like this one are still not generally recognized by employing educational institutions.

    Since my wages are essentially determined by my years of experience and graduate credits accrued from other recognized institutions, I am bound to traverse more traditional paths if I want to increase my pay. I generally take two to three traditionally served courses a year with credits awarded from some university, in addition to all of the other personally-directed or self-selected experiences like this one. Yet, I have to admit that I give priority to the path that grants the credits, even if I think it is less valuable as a learner, because I need to keep playing the game and gathering credits to increase my paycheck.

    All of my informal experiences have to take a back seat. This is in part why I fell into the background with this P2PU effort over the last week or so. Sadly, this means missing some really exciting synchronous opportunities or failing to completely finish the informal opportunities. I tell myself that I will go back later, knowing that may or may not actually happen. Regardless, I keep on investigating and seeking out new and interesting opportunities. I just perpetually return to the all-you-can-eat buffet of learning, eating to my fill, waiting, and then looking for more.

    In a sense I suffer from a kind of learning omnivore's dilemma, I devour as many opportunities as I can, but I struggle to maintain a steady output of sharing and reflection. I feel like I am relentlessly  trying to find a routine of writing and sharing but recognizing that my efforts almost always fail. I may do alright for a short time, but eventually fall off the writing and sharing wagon, much to my own chagrin. Considering that I cannot solve my own problem I am not sure I have a lot of potential solutions on a wider scale just yet.

  • Liz Renshaw   March 25, 2012, 8:44 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Fred Haas   March 25, 2012, 11:07 a.m.

    I, for one, a really pleased that you were able to return to this space and write this post. You have an exceptional way with words and this post is going into my ' treasure box' for constant reference.

    If you feel you are suffering from a kind of learning ominvore's dilemma you are not alone, at the learning buffet that is around, I am continuially at risk of overeating to the extend that my head is likely to soon explode. Could it be that a support group needs to be formed for people like us..... or is that P2Pu? :)

    I, too, have been engaged in formal learning, over the years and have accrued many academic qualifications but none have provided the learning,sense of excitement and passion in me that open learning provides. It's sad that we need to keep returning to these unsatisfactory courses to keep our political/pay masters at bay!

     Thanks for this post, a real highlight for me!!  


  • Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   March 31, 2012, 3:24 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Fred Haas   March 25, 2012, 11:07 a.m.

    I have such a similar perspective and experience.  So well-described. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.

  • Joe Dillon   April 1, 2012, 3:04 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Fred Haas   March 25, 2012, 11:07 a.m.

     Now I might submit that I was perhaps a little naive to think that academia and schools are all about learning, but for me that is the only thing that really matters.

    This is something I think about, too. One of the big appeals of becoming a language arts teacher was that I  would be able to make reading and writing an integral part of my professional life. They certainly are, but I also find that not all teachers are passionate about reading to learn and writing to support their writing instruction. 


  • karen   March 21, 2012, 4:12 p.m.

    My own personal evolution in learning has moved from formal to informal opportunities. In the past, I would have been much more likely to take a class or read a book, much more likely to consult an "expert."

    Now, I think I am more likely to ask peers, to survey a broader range of information sources, and to jump in and learn by doing.

    There are some new (non-education, mostly) areas that I'd like to plunge into. When I think about more formals ways to pursue them (university classes, etc.), I realize that the main advantages of formal learning for me are a credential of some sort, not really deeper learning for myself.

    I wonder if this is experience is widely shared and if so, what it will mean for the future of education and learning.

  • Joe Dillon   March 18, 2012, 1:48 p.m.

    Some thoughts about personal learning and notes on my "evolution."

    At the same time I studied in my teaching certification program, I learned to ride a unicycle. I reflected often while reading and learning about pedagogy that school had always come easy to me. On the other hand, I was a struggling unicycle student. It took 3 hours for me to first learn to ride a few feet. The friend who loaned me his uni and encouraged me to learn reported that he’d ridden a couple blocks within minutes of first trying. I was determined to learn in spite of my apparent ineptitude. Thinking back to this struggle and the kind of help and practice I needed to meet a learning goal helps me know myself as a learner. Good students sometimes aren’t reflective enough to teach well. I like to remember my struggles.

    I welcomed an instructional coach into my classroom regularly in my first year of teaching and developed an affinity for sharing my work. Though some of my peers didn’t like coaching, noting the additional workload it added, I welcomed the opportunity to share my work and get feedback, even when it kept me working late. That’s definitely part of my evolution as a learner.

    After leading a workshop for the Denver Writing Project during my summer institute, I was invited to lead the same session 8 or so times for different audiences in the two years that followed. Working as a teacher consultant for the DWP helped me learn as a professional developer and sparked a passion for working with teachers. Each time I lead a new group of teachers through the same workshop, I worried less about me and more about the conversations and reflections of the participants. While sharing my practice has always helped me as a learner, my experience with the writing project helped me work with the safety net of a receptive audience of passionate teachers and helped me explore sharing my practice as a way to support others in their learning.

    Write to learn:
    The writing project also got me writing again with a purpose. Although I published humor essay in a little known journal, I wrote mostly to develop the habit of writing. I wrote on a schedule and cheated on my schedule. I filled composition books and piled them in a small plastic tub in my basement. The ritual and routine worked for me and helped me gain insight as a teacher of writing and made me someone who habitually writes to learn.

    If you asked me when I began to learn online, until recently I would have said I became hooked while reading and posting on That’s not where I started, though. Reading Will Richardson’s book, Personal Learning Networks, I realized that I began earlier than that. Richardson argues that for teachers to understand the potential of online, networked learning, they have to learn about topics they are passionate about in online environments. Learners have to see the benefits of connecting to a large, diverse network. As an example, he cites the forum, a virtual space for a community of practice that needs to discuss online because so few people unicycle that face to face communities are hard to come by. Richardson’s book reminded me I learned first online at I can search the site today and find that I posted years ago, 55 times to the same forums Richardson cites. Needing a place to go with questions, reflections and proclamations about riding unicycles, I lurked, then posted and interacted. When I think now about helping others see the potential of online learning, I know that what I learned on helped me navigate and effectively use, which helps me navigate a MOOC or a P2PU course today.    

  • Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   March 31, 2012, 3:41 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Joe Dillon   March 18, 2012, 1:48 p.m.

    I keep noticing the write-to-learn idea returning in many of our conversations.  Writing reflection has been so important in my own personal learning.  I am back to wondering whether some sort of shared synthesis document--summaries of personal reflections--would be useful in a P2PU learning environment.

  • Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   March 17, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

    Wow, such great thinking Jonas and Liz.  So much to ponder. Where to go from here.

    It sounds like you, Jonas, are on a path to creating a type of rubric.  It reminds me of a rubric for teachers I created a while back that I called teaching in one dimension versus teaching in 4 dimensions.  I wonder if I could play with it and turn it into a learning rather than a teaching rubric.  I will share it once I remember where I put it.

    Liz, you and I are probably on a similar point in PL. I am out there, thinking aloud, trying to pull together what I am thinking about and planning for the future.I want to develop a plan for that from this dialogue and only this moment is the processing coming together in my mind.

    Thanks to you both for the sharing.

  • Liz Renshaw   March 17, 2012, 2:34 a.m.

    What keeps people from engaging in self-directed professional learning? A few bullet points on this Q..

    • Finding SDPL that meets their immediate, work related learning needs that is short, sharp, simple and free.
    • Shifting from the belief that it is the organisations responsibility to provide professional development for them in worktime, paid for, of limited duration and offering a certificate of attendance to believing in learner/teacher agency in professional learning.
    • some organisations are constantly changing the mandatory qualification needed to teach in a specific area, this means that teachers are tied up upgrading their mandatory qualifications each 3-5 years.this builds a culture of resentment, anger and minimal participation in any learning beyond the COMPULSORY Training.
    • Managers who lack vision, are not professional learners themselves and are focused on the maintaining control of diminishing resources bases rather than looking for talented innovative teacher 

     That's enough from me, as I am sure others can add to this list....................................... 

  • karen   March 21, 2012, 4:02 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Liz Renshaw   March 17, 2012, 2:34 a.m.

    Good points, Liz. There are several things here that I hadn't focused on before, especially the availability of opportunities that meet "immediate, work related learning needs."

    When I ask people what keeps them from doing this, the top answers I get are TIME and MONEY (extrinsic terms of lack of stipends to attend mostly).

    I think the answers go deeper than that, though. I suspect that the lack of a culture in education that supports, encourages, or even expects self-directed personal learning in a big part of it.

  • Paul Oh   March 27, 2012, 2:45 p.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   March 21, 2012, 4:02 p.m.

    I very much agree with your observations, Karen, that there is a "lack of a culture in education that supports, encourages, or even expects self-directed personal learning." I would add that there's a lack of infrastructure for this in education, as well.

  • Liz Renshaw   March 17, 2012, 2:24 a.m.

    What are some entry points or ways to get started that you're interested in trying?

    For me, as a self directed learner - I engage in a range of pl activities that meet my emergent needs. When I look for an entry point I look for 'just in time ' learning, open source, network based,and focusing on a specific skills set or learning area. As I build a PLE and shift in my approach to managing my own PL, I am also following people around and seeing what they are engaging in for their PL...

    I dont have a specific PL plan at the moment - as I am at the stage of immersing myself in the field and looking at the horizon to see where I would like to journey next ....

     So far:

    1. P2Pu is a really great entry point. Short courses - good experience, intensive, engaging and participatory.

    2. Other open courses like Change 11 mooc, Digital Story Telling..... good entry point but learners need to feel comfortable as self directed learners.

    3. Courses like Moodlebites a more commercial options but designed by experts, modelling good practice, and gives a certiificate....good value for money.

    4. Online tutorials, Youtube, Teacher tube, etc great for picking up specific skills easily.


  • Liz Renshaw   March 17, 2012, 1:50 a.m.

    An interesting slideshow which looks at some broadbased metacognitive strategies and their linkage to specific digital skills. Metacognitive Startegies through PLE 


  • Jonas Backelin   March 15, 2012, 4:09 p.m.

     I will soon edit this post and connect with my personal experience....

    As you seen from previos posts I'm trying to find a framework or rubric that support self-evaluation of personal learning.

    This report "Thriving in the 21st century: the report of the LLiDA project (Learning Literacies for the Digital Age): Competency frameworks" has an interesting section:

    Top-level terms, framing ideas

    Component competences, capabilities, literacies

    Practices – what competent learners do

    Digital practices – what competent digitally enabled learners do

    Learning to learn, metacognition


    Reflection Strategic planning Self-evaluation, self-analysis Organisation (time etc)

    Manage time and study commitments Balance learning and life Know where and how to access support Construct strategies for learning, articulate goals Reflect on own learning and progression

    Use digital tools to manage time and commitments Use digital networks and online resources to fit learning into life Access support online including learning communities Diagnose learning needs Choose appropriate learning tools. Use digital tools to record and reflect on progress

  • Liz Renshaw   March 12, 2012, 9:18 p.m.

    My learning journey was very traditional up until about 1985 when the Grad Dip in Adult Basic Education was introduced. It was based on self directed learning and was one of the very early courses in Australia to adopt this model. It was absolutely mindblowing moving from structured, prescriptive, closed teacher centred learning to a new way of learning that was learner centred, negotiated, and slightly open ( at least ajar). I recall it was like residing in a very foreign land... people really struggled with the shift in perspective and it caused much personal and professional angst. 

    Since this experience, I have travelled to all sorts of places in' learning land' looking for a 'course' that offered a similiar experience. I have tranversed the university and vocational educational sector, and private companies collecting bits of paper along the way, but then I landed in MOOC land it has been like a home coming. As a learner I thrive best in learning spaces that are autonomous, filled with diversity of opinion, and filled with people who share similiar interests.

    What are your experiences?