Personal Learning, not Professional Development

I'm always amazed by the persistence of the idea of Professional Development. In the corporate world personal and professional development often appear as two separate things. Even teachers and academics talk of professional development as if work and life are two standalone environments.

Most professional development or career planning also tend to solely on formal learning events as "solutions" to development problems. There is little visibility into the valuable social and and informal learning that takes place every day.  

Now is the time to do away with Pro D and move towards a more holistic approach: Personal Learning Plans

If you want try out for yourself or some work testers,  I create a draft reflection and conversation guide as a Google Doc. I'd appreciate any comments or edits. I hope it helps people learn how to do new things more easily.

Remember, this is not a set-in-stone process. It is don't have to be clear on everything. Come back to the guide once a day or once a month when you feel like reconnecting or getting clearer on your path.


I took a first go at introducing Personal Learning Plans a year ago. But the concepts were too different, too alien, for anything more than a modest success. This year, I'm trying again and I know I'll have much more success after a year of talking about and initiating support for social and informal learning. Essentially, I've been a Learning Concierge.

Personal Learning Plans support all forms of learning - peer to peer, coaching, mentoring, communities of practice, individual, team-based, and formal - because they are learner-created. They support learning for work, career and your wider life if you choose. When done well they also build an aptitude for greater self-directed learning, as they highlight the social and informal learning that everyone already does. If (like me) you are a fan of Marliee Adam's work, personal learning plan help foster a Learner Mindset.

For my organization, I adapted an idea from Geoff Walker's post from the excellent Peeragogy Project. There are four parts to my personal learning plan format:

  • Part 1: Reflect on past enjoyable learning experiences

  • Part 2: Build your personal learning goals

  • Part 3: Map and enlist your personal learning network

  • Part 4: Create your success and sharing plan. 

I find Part 4 the most interesting and most challenging for people. It requires you share your learning experiences (whether content or reflections) with others. In other words, your PKM abilities are a measure of success. It requires Learning Out Loud.

What's in it for Learning and Development/HR?

Data. Sharing. Change. Fun for you.

By investing the time and resources to enable employees to generate personal learning plans, you get great data as to what people are really learning. No ADDIE needs assessments are required as you, or others, can help individuals find the learning support they need. You may be setting up a mentor program one day and researching project management courses the next. It makes your job exciting and far more valuable as you are able to get data and also support social and informal learning.

Also, the requirement to share represents a change in "assessment" techniques. Knowledge by itself is nebulous. Discussion and dissection makes knowledge useful. By requiring sharing, without stipulating any set method, your organization benefits from increased openness.