An employee’s Personal Learning Space lies at the heart of MWL – not a LMS

Updated: 18 February 2018

There is a lot of talk about how the workplace is changing; it is certainly a very different place from even 10 years ago. We hear about how the emerging Gig Economy means there is no longer a job for life, and how digitization is effecting the workplace in many different ways, which Microsoft summarises very well as follows (my emboldening).

“The exponential growth of digital connectivity, devices and information is driving profound changes in the way we work, all around all the world. In order to survive in this world, companies need to rethink everything from culture to tools and environments.”

Rethinking everything includes rethinking the way that we enable and support learning in an organisation. The world of business is moving very fast nowadays so it is becoming increasingly difficult for a L&D department to keep their people up to date, and as people are moving in and out of jobs there is a need to think about how L&D can support a contingent workforce.

It is therefore becoming clear that what is needed are employees who take responsibility for driving their own continuous development, that is employees who think about what skills they need to develop, both now and in the future. In fact, for forward-looking organisations, continuous learning lies at the very centre of their company culture. And there are now some companies who recruit for “learnability” – the desire and ability to constantly learn new things. In fact a key pillar of Google’s recruitment strategy is to hire “learning animals”.

From my own research I can see that the learning habits of individuals who exhibit high learnability are already changing. They no longer rely on being trained by their company or taking online courses to move forward, but rather they recognise that they learn in many different ways for and at work. This might come from their daily work experiences, from interactions with their customers or colleagues or from their manager or even working with a coach or mentor. But it also might come from interactions with people in their professional networks and online communities (from thought leaders to practitioners), from participation in professional events (both in person and online), from receiving a continual drip feed of knowledge in the form of blogs, articles and other news, as well as accessing and making use of a wide variety of resources on the Web. I call this new way of learning for and at work – Modern Professional Learning.

What is more, Modern Professional Learning happens both inside and outside the organisation, through both planned and unplanned activities, and is both a conscious and sub-conscious process. It is partly organised by L&D, partly by managers, and partly self-organised.

L&D’s role in the modern workplace is therefore to support all these ways of learning – ie, not just provide courses and resources, but also support manager-led learning so that individuals get the most out of their daily work and share their experiences with their work teams and groups, as well as empower employee-led learning in order to nurture learnability and help individuals set their own professional goals, organise their own resources, document their progress and share their experiences within their organisation “bringing the outside in”. I call this Modern Workplace Learning (or MWL)

For L&D MWL therefore means doing things differently and doing different things – the practicalities of which I talk about in my new book, Modern Workplace Learning 2018

But what about the technology that underpins learning in the modern workplace? Currently the prime technology that is in place is the LMS which is used to track employee (online) training. But in the modern workplace, it really isn’t appropriate to use the LMS to try and track everything everyone learns in the organisation. In fact trying to do so is neither practicable nor feasible. What is far more appropriate is a new approach where an employee organises and manages his or her own learning, and where the manager measures success – not in terms of “learning activity” (whether it be attendance on training, completion of courses, or posts and comments in social platforms) but in terms of changes in job, team or business performance.

This is where PebblePad comes in as it offers the individual the ability to set up a privately controlled Personal Learning Space, and provides a set of templates to support their learning in a number of ways, e.g. a SMART Action Plan for setting professional goals, and a structured reflection template for recording and reflecting on experiences (wherever and however they take place – in the classroom, online, in the office, in a conference, or elsewhere). These templates also mean that individuals can then spend more time thinking about what happened and what they learned, rather than how to craft a coherent reflection or record on a blank page.

There also a mobile app, Pebble Pocket which makes it very easy for individuals to use the templates or take photos or videos, on the go, to record their experiences or provide visual evidence of new performance.

Furthermore, every asset that an individual creates is, by default, private to them, but they can, if they wish, share anything with one or more people privately or publicly (on the Web). The individual can also decide whether viewers can leave comments or feedback on their resources.

Whilst an individual might adopt PebblePad for their own personal use, there is a strong case for an organisational implementation. In which case a company might create an institutional space (ATLAS) where workspaces can be set up (by both L&D and managers), where content can be pushed down to employees , and where individuals might (more formally) submit their assets for feedback, peer review or validation, e.g. for performance review, promotion or professional accreditation. Another space (Flourish) might also be set up to support coaching and mentoring in the organisation.

Using PebblePad to provide a new organizational framework for workplace learning brings a number of advantages.

1 – It would send a clear message about the importance of continuous learning to the business.

2 – It would put the individual’s Personal Learning Space firmly at the heart of organisational learning and would also help to ensure that learning is integrated from beyond the workplace.

3 – It would move the focus away from tracking “learning activity” (by L&D) to tracking real performance changes (by managers).

All this is game-changing – and that’s not a term I use lightly or very often – both for the organisation and for the individual. Since the individual’s Personal Learning Space is portable and can be detached from one organisation and re-attached to another, this means everyone wins. An individual can continue to build on their professional learning as he/she moves from job to job, and the organisation can benefit from the wealth of experience new and current employees bring to the table.

PebblePad is not a new product; it has been in use in some of the world’s best universities for over 12 years now, and the Founders are themselves experienced learning professionals. But now it is also being used in organisations who recognise the need for a new technology framework to underpin the multitude of ways employees learn in the modern workplace.

You can find out all about PebblePad at

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Jane Hart

Jane Hart helps organisations and learning professionals modernise their approaches to workplace learning - through public workshops and bespoke consultancy. She is the Editor of the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine, and is the author of a number of books including Modern Workplace Learning 2018 as well as the resource for individuals How to become a Modern Professional Learner. Jane was the 2018 recipient of the ATD Distinguished Contribution to Talent Development award. You can contact Jane at

8 Replies to “An employee’s Personal Learning Space lies at the heart of MWL – not a LMS”

  1. Thanks Jane for a great article.
    Our company struggles with the information that needs to stay inside the firewall and proprietary and that which is outside. So much is being written about “curation” of learning content, to make it easy to find the right information out on the internet. We working on xAPI and Learning Records Stores to help us bridge those two worlds and look forward to more thoughts.

    1. Thanks for your comment Bob. For me, a LRS is still a centrally-controlled platform, and one which is unlikely to “record” everything everyone learns anyway. Also in my view, content curation doesn’t only have to be a L&D-led activity. However, I do understand that there are many organisations out there who still feel the need to control it all, but I work with organisations who want to move away from the old “command and control” model to the “enable and support” model.

      1. Hi Jane, what are the main challenges that organisations face when they move from the old model to the new one. thank you

        1. Main challenge is changing mindsets. Most organisations have a very traditional mindset that workplace learning = training which is organised and managed by L&D in a LMS. This approach means that both managers and individuals need to understand that they have as much responsiblity for their own learning. In my book I talk about how to work with managers and individuals to build this new mindset.

      2. Hi Jane: LRSs don’t have to be centrally controlled. There are many open source options. LRSs at their core collect, store and provide access to learning experience data that is formatted according to the xAPI standard. They validate statement completeness (a level of data validity that will be helpful) and provide a parking lot for the data so that it can be accessed.

        I agree that many organizations will try to control xAPI data (and all other data they perceive as “theirs”. That’s the nature of non-modern organizations. The xAPI community looking at issues around who actually owns the data (the learner, the organization or both). This is a crucial matter as we create more data from learning experiences, but it is really no different that the same issue for other types of Big Data.

        1. Dave, thanks for your comment, My point is that individuals now need to organise and manage their own learning. This shouldn’t be done centrally (in any type of system) (a) because it is an impossible task, an organisation can’t possible collect everything everyone learns as it happens in so many different contexts (and a lot of it is subconscious), which means that (b) the data that is collected (which is actually Little Data in most organisational systems) is incomplete, and therefore should not be used for decision-making. An individual’s Personal Learning Space (or Personal Learning Management System) is more appropriate for organising and managing “learning activity”. But the end goal is actually performance change/improvement – rather than the learning itself – however that is achieved.

  2. Another great article Jane. Just reading my Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017. Thank you for your continued inspiration in our field.

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