Personal learning plans (PLPs)

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A "personal learning" plan can include learning skills for the reference desk
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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, February 2018


See also ePortfolio | Human resources | Mentoring 2.0 | SMART Goals | Social media | Teaching library users

A personal learning plan is "...a structured and supported process undertaken by an individual to reflect upon their own learning,
performance and/or achievement and to plan for their personal, educational, and career development... "

A personal learning plan is a "realistic roadmap" (Massis, 2008) that information professionals can use for their own personal development in collaboration with their mentor, employer or supervisor. A PLP identifies the major learning outcomes and objectives that have been identified by an employee over a period of time, and how those goals are going to be achieved accordingly. The PLP should include a set of strategies that will be used to meet your objectives and the means by which you will provide evidence of your achievements. Personal learning plans (PLPs) ("personal development plans" or "personal learning portfolios") are used in a number of professions such as education, dentistry and medicine (see References). According to Malone (2008), PLPs are used to facilitate the development of knowledge, skills and abilities that employees need in order to be successful in their work. There seems to be a paucity of research on PLNs and their utility but various examples can be found in the library and information science literature.

At least one library administrator in the United States has written about PLPs. Massis (2010) states that the "...personal learning plan" offers [library] staff the opportunity of linking ...learning objectives with available resources that complement the learning style of the staff member ensure that one's continuing professional training and education needs can be met, the concept of utilizing multiple learning resources to support one's personal learning plan is imperative." Generally speaking, the literature discusses continuing education opportunities for librarians and identifies skills development as linked to annual performance reviews and the setting of annual goals and objectives.

For a detailed overview of writing a PLP for your work as a professional librarian, see Massis, 2008.

Synonyms used

  • ePortfolio; career achievements
  • individual learning plan
  • learning plan
  • lifelong learning plan (LLP)
  • performance improvement plan
  • personal development plan
  • personal learning environment (PLE)
  • personal learning plans (PLPs)
  • personal learning portfolios
  • virtual learning environment (VLE)
  • virtual research environments (VREs)
  • Others?

What is the goal of the PLP?

The goal is of the PLP is to link it to lifelong learning goals and annual performance targets (Brown, Cooper & Ward, 2002). PLPs offer simple step-wise strategies to address what you want to learn and, within your organization, assist others in reaching their goals. PLPs, although not new to teachers or physicians, have received scant attention in librarianship. That said, PLPs help to direct learning accordingly and to encourage reflective practice, and should be viewed as a tool to help librarians reach their goals on an annual basis.

In summary, PLPs help you to understand:

  • what you need to learn (e.g., clearly articulated learning objective(s) or essential question(s) you face in your work)
  • why you need to learn new knowledge and identified skills
  • how you are going to learn these skills
  • how you will know when you have learned them
  • in what time frame you are going to learn
  • how your intentions link to past and future learning

PLPs are also known by other names such as learning agreements, learning contracts, personal development planning, personal auditing, personal action planning and learner profiling. A related concept is documenting your learning using an ePortfolio, a term which many scholars and researchers are using to share their research interests and their pedagogies. (Here is an example of a personal learning plan).

Principles of PLPs

Essentially, the principles that help you to identify and achieve your professional goals are similar for the PLP:

  • your autonomy as a practitioner helps you to find ways to meet your goals
  • while there is integration of theory and practice in your work, your responsibility is to apply theory to practice
  • your motivation to learn is enhanced by a learning plan with clearly-stated objectives
  • planned learning is open to change in PLPs, and should adjust as your needs and circumstances change throughout the year

One aspect linking the various approaches to personal learning plans is the use of mentors (or colleague) to support you in your learning and professional development.

Personal learning environment (PLEs)

The idea of an actual place or environment for your personal learning looms rather large in the field of education. There are many definitions of a personal learning environment but Stephen Downes says that a PLE is "...a personal learning centre, where content is reused and remixed according to the student's own needs and interests. It becomes, indeed, not a single application, but a collection of interoperating applications — an environment rather than a system. (Downes, 2005, E-learning 2.0, E-learn Magazine). Graham Atwell looks at PLEs as a tool to support online learning, and says a PLE "... recognises the role of the individual in organising their own learning. Moreover, the pressures for a PLE are based on the idea that learning will take place in different contexts and situations and will not be provided by a single learning provider..." Linked to this idea is the recognition of the importance of informal learning in the daily lives of professional librarians (Giustini, 2009). (See also Integrated PLEs.)

Personal learning networks (PLNs)

A PLN can be defined as a collection of resources (whether human or virtual) that provide learning and developmental opportunities. In the past, a PLN referred to the people, goals and connections that made learning possible; see David Warlick’s article and Stephen Downes blog post “Origins of the Term ‘Personal Learning Network'. Buffy Hamilton has created a great video highlighting the professional use of PLNs by librarians in several sectors of our profession.

Social media PLPs

The following are examples of web 2.0 programs:

23 Things is a self-directed course aimed at introducing you to a range of tools that could help your personal and professional development as a librarian or information professional. Each week, a librarian writes about a tool from a list of 23 things and invites you to try it out and/or reflect on how it might help you in your professional development. Some tasks are practical things for you to try and some are less immediate in value.

This is the original 23 things program developed for the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) which has become a staff training model for many library systems. Designed by PLCMC's technology director, Helene Blowers, and based on Abram’s 43 Things I (or You) Might Want To Do This Year, the program presents 23 activities to develop your information technology skills and awareness. These include instructions on blogging, using Flickr and photo mashups, online image generators, LibraryThing, RSS feeds, tagging, folksonomies, wikis, online applications, podcasts, and AV production. See Learning 2.0 for the program and links to other libraries using the program.

This is an eight-week program designed for a fictitious university library as an assignment by three students at the University of British Columbia’s School of Library Archival and Information Studies in Fall 2009. Though aimed at academic libraries, the plan would be useful in public libraries as well. The modules include instruction and practice on blogs, micro-blogging, instant messaging, media sharing, social bookmarking/cataloging, social networking, and wikis.


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