Table of contents for Personal Learning Environments
This is going to be a bit long, but processing is one of the most critical steps in building and maintaining your PLE. Processing is when you start to make sense of your bookmarks, clips, and notes (and is where I have a bad habit of falling down on the job. Don’t be me! *laugh*)
By the time you start processing your hoard, you’ve spent a lot of time on your PLE already. You’ve built useful information streams. You’ve culled out things in those information streams that caught your attention for whatever reason. Now, you have to spend time sorting through those bits of information collected on a gut reaction to figure out what’s really important, useful, or interesting. (This is where it’s really useful to have a good information management flow and stable storage solutions.)
When you sit down to review the bookmarks, clips, and notes you’ve set aside for a further look, you need to think about a few things.
1. Do I remember why I saved this? Is this honestly something useful or interesting to me?
If you can’t answer that first question, let that be your lesson and remember to annotate in the future. And delete it. In shame.
If you can answer the first question, then move on to the second. If you’re taking in a lot of information on a daily basis (and the rumor is that most of us are), then you have to ask yourself at this point whether or not you’ve already stored this information, or have you seen it before. Is there anything here that adds to what you already knew? Is there something surprising here you want to remember? Is a process being explained that you want to learn how to do? If you can answer any of these questions with a, “Yes”, then you have to file the information where you’ll be able to find it again when you need it.
2. How can this information help me?
This is the fun question. Processing is the first really deep look you’re taking at the information you saved, and so it should be the first time you really think about what that information means to you and for you. This is where you ask yourself, “How does this fit into my work and my future plans? Does this inspire me in any way?” and then you put it where it belongs. In my case, I sort things out between themed folders on Instapaper, notebooks on Evernote, and tasks on GQueues depending on what the content is and where it fits in my life. Some of what I’ve set aside is better suited to social media, and it gets posted. Anything that doesn’t fit into one of those four buckets is clearly not something I should hold on to, and it gets deleted.
3. How am I going to find this again?
What’s the point of saving and sifting through all of this information if you can’t find it when you want or need it, right? Organizing bookmarks, clips, and notes is a matter of personal tastes. We all think and process differently. So, you’re going to have to experiment with tools and workflows to figure out what works best for you.
I will share that what works best for me is a thoughtfully planned out series of categories and tags. (I’ve spent the past couple of years really working out my taxonomy structure.) And I use the same set of categories and tags across Evernote, Instapaper, and Gqueues. So if I need everything I have on pedagogy, I can go to all three and find information that has spoken to me about pedagogy. If I need to remember a decision I made about a story world, I look up that tag in Evernote and GQueues and have that information.
This is where your work in the PLE gets real, as they say. As you process your gathered material, you make decisions about what’s important to you and it helps you start focusing your work or research. It’s as much a planning tool as it is an organization tool.
If the Recording phase was where you started to funnel information out of your information stream, then the Processing phase is where you start panning for gold in that creek.