Creating Personal Learning Networks

As Instructional Designers and educators we are expected to be knowledgeable of the latest trends that can inform and enhance learning as well as our professional growth. We are also expected to know what web tools are useful and what new ones are on the horizon; but it is not always possible given time constraints and other obligations to keep up with tools and techniques. It is times like this that the creation and utilization of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) can be beneficial.

A well crafted PLN is available to you seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It consists of all of the resource sites, tools and discussion groups that assist you in keeping abreast of your discipline and the tools that can assist with teaching and learning.  With this resource pool you can participate in scheduled chats on Twitter, write and comment on blogs, and join websites that offer discussion forums and other resources. Not only will you gain valuable pedagogical knowledge, you will be able to build a strong, diverse professional network.

PLNs are primarily about learning. You can find many like-minded connections, but you can also find some who really challenge your thinking. In an age with so much information a PLN can assist in filtering important content and directing you toward good new articles, blogs and other resources. You can also lean a great deal about what others professionals do all day,what other positions entail, and what challenges others face in their roles.

The following are some ideas and associated Web 2.0 tools that can be used to build and/or extend your Personal Learning Network.

Actively make ties. it is not enough to just follow and read through resources, rich, informative networks require connections through commenting, assisting with questions and engaging in conversations.  Many professionals use social media as a passive way to assess people they would like to add to their PLNs. Analyze the quality of posts and points of view to determine if the individual would make a good addition to your network.  Some ways to do this are to:

  • Start a Twitter account. There are a large number of educators on Twitter that are connecting and learning from one another, while building some global relationships that can be invaluable in your professional growth and development, as well as to those that you support. The learning through this medium is real, the ideas are powerful yet simple, and the connection to resources and people are infinite.
  • Read blogs. By reading blogs you will find tools and techniques to add to your toolkit and may develop some ideas that you may want to write about. Creating weekly blog posts that share some of the great online articles that you have discovered is an easy way to start sharing some of the interesting things that you are reading, and easy way to start writing, and an opportunity to spark discussion with peers and the global community.
  • Create a LinkedIn account. Create and post a professional bio with links to resources in your PLN. Then search for members that have backgrounds and/or positions that complement your interest and groups that complement your interests, and connect with them.

Share techniques, research, presentations and documents. Use blogs and wikis, or tools link Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn to share materials with your learning network.

  • Write a blog. Now that you have access to some interesting thoughts through Twitter, blogs and other social media tools, how will you share this with peers? Many find that sharing links through email is a great way to start aggregating resources for peers, but many others are annoyed by all the messages that email can generate.  Creating a blog allows you to share information with peers without having to forward resources and links through email or “snail mail”. Although there are plenty of blogging platforms out there, I would suggest using WordPress. -- you can go to http://wordpress.com to set up a free account.
  • Share resources through Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and other social networking tools.  These tools allow you to push resources of interest out to individuals both within and outside of your network, and help you gain exposure to like minded individuals.

Crowdsource ideas. Involve your personal network in refining task, solving problems or performing social searches using tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and listservs. This technique can expose you to extended networks and provide a wealth of resources that may not be in your PLN in a short period of time.

Start conversations. Use social media tools to ask questions and spark conversations that encourage new thinking. Whether you are viewing the latest posts to social media channels in which you participate or conducting a Google search, be open to encountering ideas and new knowledge that you didn’t expect to find. Bits and pieces of information discovered online can take your thinking in new directions, and encourage you to ask, “How can I use this?” and “What does it mean to me?”

Find new blogs and resources to follow using social bookmarking. Social bookmarking tools can help you not only find great blogs and resources, but also assist you in connecting with other professionals to add to your network.

  • Collect, highlight and share resources found online with your PLN with others using tools like Diigo and DiigoBrowser, Zotero, delicious, Google Reader and Symballo.
    • Diigo and DiigoBrowser - are cloud based personal research devices that allow you to collect, annotate and share webpages, article and images through desktops, laptops and mobile devices.  The tools also allow site members to view collections that have been set to public by other Diigo members.
    • Zotero - is an easy to use research tool that can assist with gathering, organizing and analyzing online resources. If it is used in conjunction with the Paper Machines plugin you can analyze text and visualize your research.
    • delicious - allows for the collection and sharing of videos, images, tweets, blog posts and articles. The resource also allows site members to view collections of other members of the service.
    • Google Reader - is a tool for gathering, reading, and sharing blog and website collections using RSS feeds (requires a Google account).
    • Symballo or SymballoEDU - provides a visual way for you to link, organize, view and share online resources, sites and RSS feeds through a browser dashboard.

Always keep tuning PLN resources, dropping resources that don’t gain sufficiently high interest or post infrequently; adding new resources. That is the great thing about using social networking tools in a PLN: You can not only see what professional contacts are posting, but you often get exposed to the ideas of their resources as well. Look for interesting people you can add to your personal network. At the same time, cull those who seem to be posting to much extraneous information and not enough viable resources.