Saturday, July 3, 2010

Developing Your Personal Learning Network or PLN

One of the best things about learning something new is getting to to know other people. People with similar interests and ideas abound and they are out there in the Edublogosphere. That's sort of what a Personal Learning Network is all about. A PLN is a social network which allows you to see what other colleagues, family or friends think, know or share about a particular topic.

Wikipedia defines a PLN as:

Personal Learning Networks consist of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a Personal Learning Environment. An important part of this concept is the theory of connectivism developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge.[1] The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person.

Obviously most of the interaction within any PLN is online using many different Social Networking applications. Some of the most popular are Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or one of the many Ning groups like The Educators Network or Classroom 2.0.

Twitter is a Microblogging application which lets you say what you want in 140 characters or less. Twitter is quick and easy to learn and it is one application that many people use in addition to or instead of writing a blog. Twitter is one of my favorite applications to stay connected with my PLN.

So why would you want to develop a Personal Learning Network? Remember the old adage that "2 Heads Are Better Than 1"? This is truly the case when you have an active and sometimes dynamic PLN. You may have a PLN of hundreds of people that you follow that share their discoveries on a variety of topics that you may find interesting, worthwhile or educational.

Professional Development is probably the reason that I, and many that I follow, participate in an active PLN. Being able to see what other like-minded educators find interesting and either blog about or re-tweet on Twitter is as easy as looking at your Twitter application on your computer or mobile device such as an iPhone.

How do you get started with a new PLN?
Getting started is very easy. You are probably already reading a few blogs or following some people on Twitter. If you're not you should be? When you have time, look at your Twitter application and see what the recent post from those whom you are following have posted. Many times there will be an interesting link to another persons tweet, blog post or website. That's pretty easy right?

Do you have a Online Personal Learning Network?
If not, then I suggest the following:

  1. Develop your own Personal Learning Network

    1. Join twitter and find some peers to follow

    2. Read articles, blog posts

    3. Reflect on ideas through comments, changing strategies, comments in Newsletters

    4. Email, twitter to staff

    5. Google “Personal Learning Networks” + Administrators

    6. Encourage Staff to do the same
    Source: Parentella - Share What Happened at School Today
What should you expect from your PLN?
As I noted above, you should expect to see what others feel are interesting or worthwhile to tweet or post themselves. This is a great way to passively get started seeing what is coming across on Twitter that you might be interested in.

Many times it is something that you know absolutely nothing about or maybe it is something that may make you think "Hey, I have been wanting to learn more about that!" Personally, I like to read tweets that have an interesting or thought provoking statement followed by a link that I can choose to follow and read more, if I want to.

How can you participate in a PLN?
As you can see, you can sit on the sidelines and just see what everyone else is saying. However, can you do more? Of course you can. One of the easiest ways for you to participate is for you to Re-Rweet an interesting Twitter Tweet that one of your Tweeps (Twitter Peeps) has Tweeted! It really is as easy as this, nothing more. This allows those people that follow you to see that you felt that this was interesting enough for you to share with your followers.

Do you have a a responsibility to give back to your PLN?
No! Absolutely not! But it's more fun, interactive and worthwhile, in my opinion if you do. Now I am probably the world's worst for sitting on the sidelines and taking a whole lot more from my PLN than I give back. During a normal school day, as a teacher, I really don't have the time to compose a blog post or a thoughtful comment to what I have read, but I do think you should do more.

Making a comment, albeit a short one, lets a blogger know that you came, saw and either liked or didn't like what they said.

Re-tweeting on Twitter does the same thing. It shows the person you thought enough of their tweet to share it with others.

After you get comfortable with your PLN you might consider writing you own blog on a topic of your choosing. You never know where it might lead you, but it's an adventure you should embark upon!

Expose yourself. This is where it can get a little scary, because the next steps require you to begin to expose yourself and your thinking. You can do a tremendous amount of learning without going any further, but there is so much more available if you share your ideas with the people who are now following you. Begin by tweeting the links to tools and sites that you find in your daily work as an educator. If you read a good article, copy the link and send it out. If you use a tool effectively, tweet about it. "Used Wallwisher with 8th grade today. Loved it." You will develop the habit of including your PLN in your thinking. The wonderful part about having only 140 characters is that there isn't much room to make a fool of yourself. And if you do, as I have, it passes quickly and no one remembers.
Hadley Ferguson - ISTE Feature - Join The Flock

A PLN for Educators - The Edublogosphere
Darren Draper in his blog Drape's Takes wrote What is the Edublogosphere in an August 2008 post that I came across while researching this post. This is what he says:

The Wikipedia community provides a decent enough definition of the term blogosphere:
Blogosphere is a collective term encompassing all blogs and their interconnections. It is the perception that blogs exist together as a connected community (or as a collection of connected communities) or as a social network.
That said, I still can't wrap my head around this one:
  • What is the “edublogosphere”?

I realize that the answer to this question may appear obvious on the surface, but deep within lies a beast yet to be fully discovered. These few questions illustrate what I mean.
  • Is the edublogosphere a social network?
  • Is the edublogosphere a social network for every member that hopes to participate?
  • Do members of the edublogosphere form a community or simply a network of learners? Perhaps the term community of practice is more fitting or even pseudo-community: a stage in which many of us may find ourselves?
  • Is the edublogosphere really a sub-division of the blogosphere itself or merely a concoction of those that claim to be a part of it?
  • Isn't every blog post educational in at least some sense?
  • How does one join the edublogosphere? Are there dues to be paid and other rites of passage? I don't remember formally joining but I'm pretty sure I'm a member of it.
  • Are members of the edublogopshere inherently friends or does the golden rule really not apply here?
As always, Darren has a great take on the Edublogosphere and other topics as well. He would be a good Edublogger to follow.
So why should Educators develop their own PLN
Well that is a pretty easy question to answer. Why not? Do you have the opportunity to meet with other educators from around your state, your country and even around the world on an ongoing basis? Well you do if you have a PLN! It's probably one of the easiest way for you to gain new ideas and insights that will help you in your class.

Does every teacher get the opportunity to attend every conference that they would like to? Of course not. Due to cuts in available funding in all aspects of education, travel budgets and far off conferences are difficult to justify to some administrators.

Sue Waters writes in her post about A Twitterholic's guide to Tweets, Hashtags and All Things Twitter:

And for those of you who have heard of twitter and have dismissed it thinking ‘”Twitter is for people with too much time on their hands” — think again :)   Educators are connecting with each other on Twitter and using it like a big teachers lunch room that’s open 24/7 whenever they need help, assistance or just want to connect with others.

YouTube Video: Twitter in Plain English - Commoncraft Show

I am very fortunate to work for a wonderful school district and have a great CT&E Director, IT Director, Principal, and Superintendent that have given me the opportunity to pursue my passion for educational technology. (Here is my shameless plug to start my campaign to get them to send me to ISTE 2011 in Philly next year). I consider myself very blessed and fortunate to have been able to attend many state and international EdTech conferences such as TCEA and ISTE. This is where I have been able to make face-to-face connections to many of those people in my own PLN. As I write this post we just recently returned from ISTE 2010 in Denver, Colorado with 17,500 of my closest like-minded Adorkable Edugeeks!

Parentella writes about her impression of her PLN face-to-face meetings at ISTE 2010 in as well. What a great statement about why a PLN is worthwhile!

I am a parent. To watch all these amazing professionals be so entrenched in the Education of our children is heartwarming and inspiring. Plus, they are all so loving, giving, caring, that I walked away with both a Personal Learning Network and a Professional Learning Network.
I know that they will be there to help me, guide me, and discover solutions to problems by pointing me in the right direction. You can’t ask for more than that. I came back home just overwhelmed by all the love and support for our work. I am humbled by it and I will continue to strive to earn it.
Wow, what a powerful statement about her PLN.

So should you venture into the Edublogoshpere and start your own PLN. If you do, I promise you, you won't regret it!

Picture from Edubloggercon, Saturday, June 26, 2010. Yes I'm in there with other Edubloggers.

What's my line?...Er PLN - John Peters blog post
Developing Your Own PLN - My Wikispace page
 A Twitterholic's guide to Tweets, Hashtags and All Things Twitter - Sue Waters
6 Resources For Using Twitter In Education - Dr. Leigh Zeitz
Twitter Handbook For Teachers - Thomas Lasic
Building a PLN for Education -Special Education MangoMon Blog
10 Ways You Can Use Twitter Lists - Sarah Evans
Kevin Honeycutt's Interview with Cyndi Danner-Kuhn, Why Build A PLN - Quicktime Movie
Sitting Next To The Smart Kids - Upside Down Education
PLN: Another Definition - Parentella
5 Reasons why Educators should network - Converge Magazine
5 Rules for Professional Social Networking Success - Mashable Business by Dan Klamm
How Has Your Professional Learning Network Changed You? -The Power of Educational Technology by Liz B. Davis
Developing Your Personal Learning Network - Literacy is Priceless Blog
What is the Edublogosphere - Drape's Takes by Darren Draper
Join the FLock - ISTE Website - by Hadley Ferguson

Kevin Honeycutt & Cindi Kuhn - Why Build a PLN


Brad Flickinger said...

This past February I decided to take the plunge into building my own PLN, and it was just like you said...

At first I just followed a few blogs and nings, then after a few weeks I started to contribute and then a few months later I found myself blogging -- something I never thought I would ever do. John, I could be happier about what I did -- I feel connected to a community of peers that inspire me to be a better teacher. In addition, I do not feel alone with the frustrations that come with my profession, it is always great to know that someone else out there is in your same shoes.

John Peters said...


Thanks for your great comment. I too feel connected to my PLN. Getting to make the face-to-face connections to those in my PLN is my #1 Take-Away from ISTE 2010!

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