Building a network
Thirty years ago, networks developed for communication between people were adapted to communication between machines. Since then we’ve gone from transmitting data over a voice network to transmitting voice over a data network. Digital forms of information and communication are transforming what it means to work, study, research, and express oneself.
Your Personal Learning Network (PLN) includes all of the resources, people and organizations that you rely upon to help you continue learning, keep up to date on developments in your field & provide a sounding board when you need help with a thorny problem. Some people prefer to maintain a ‘professional’ learning network for work-related communication and collaboration, while maintaining a ‘personal’ learning network to communicate and share with family and friends. Others prefer to merge or integrate their professional and personal lives as a single ‘connected’ network. How you develop and maintain your PLN is based, in part, on your own personal preference and secondly, on the social networking expectations and policy of your organisation.
How to get started with your PLN?
The following video and readings present the theory and practice of establishing a PLN, and introduce you to a range of digital tools and platforms to help you connect with knowledge networking educators.
The best part about establishing a PLN is that it’s personal!
You make all the choices:
- What tools you use!
- Who you connect with!
- How you want to learn!
- When you want to learn!
It is really important that you use tools for your personal learning first, before using them with your students, so you gain greater understanding of how to use them effectively and to realize their importance for empowering personal learning.
UK Educator Steve Wheeler also emphasises The Importance of Being Networked, explaining :
‘one of the key reasons educators need a PLN is to keep in touch, to maintain dialogue with their community of practice. Never before have there been so many opportunities to make contact with educators world wide, many of whom have wonderful creative ideas to share’.
The shortform set of tips for building your PLN in the first instance includes:
Don’t just lurk – ENGAGE and PARTICIPATE.
- Start slowly and find mentor(s) to help you.
- Use the same username across tools.
- Share as much as you take. Share resources, successes, failures, other connections.
- Ask as much as you answer.
- Start Conversations.
- Try new TOOLS before you decide they’re not worth the time.
- Comment on other people’s blogs, photos, wikis, nings.
- Lifelong learning is the key!
If the PLN is a very new concept to you, the trick is to start small. Ask other people in your group, or with whom you have gone through a training programme, to participate in periodic discussions and share experiences with each other. You will find that most people are more than happy to help and are honoured to be asked to share their knowledge and wisdom.
“Connected learning is rooted in the active participation of students, instructors, advisors, and collaborators, offering the ability to connect courses, people, and resources to develop unique personalized learning pathways. This vision of education is of particular interest to those concerned with learner success and the growing role that collaboration plays in all facets of higher education.” 7 Things You Should Know About Connected Learning, EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, May 2013.
This form of connected learning is a work in progress, building on existing models, ongoing experimentation, and dialog with diverse stakeholders. It draws from social, ubiquitous, blended and personalized learning, delivered by new media, to help us remodel education to be in tune with today’s economic and political realities. Connected learning is not, however, distinguished by a particular technology or platform, but is inspired by educational values, learning principles, and design principles.
The entire PLN strategy depends on the use and understanding of social media in the formation of human networks. Understanding how tools such as blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, photo sharing, video sharing and microbblogging work, and how they can be used together, and how your students can utilize them is essential. Therefore, a professional who intentionally builds, maintains and activates strong, weak and very weak ties with contacts within a personal network for the purpose of improving learning — and uses technology to support this activity — is creating a personal learning network.
Teachers and researchers in any academic environment can actively undertake measures to make the best use of the learning opportunities in their layered personal learning networks. This is essential in the busy information ecosystems of our digital world, because the digital networks we are connected with are in fact conduits of both wanted and unwanted flows. The personal contacts within our extended, social media connected networks are there to help filter as well as enhance the very quality of the information that we are working with. There are three important phases involved in building, maintaining and activating these networks.
Consider and write: How important is connected learning to you? What does it currently involve for you ? (It’s OK to be a newbie!)
Check out the strategies at Becoming a connected educator: Building your PLN.
Consider what PhD student Kay has to say – and what personalised learning for you and your students can mean. Just how does your PLN help you to personalise your learning?
How do I create a professional network?
The Connected Learning Research Hub provides a set of Connected Learning Principles under creative commons licensing. http://connectedlearning.tv/connected-learning-principles which are very worthwhile.
Rajagopal, K., Joosten-ten Brinke, D., Van Bruggen, J., & Sloep, P. B. (2011). Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them. First Monday, 17(1).