Year for Productivity Session 22: Revisiting PLNs

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My post on September 2nd only scratched the surface of the mammoth topic of Learning Networks and why they are important to academics and librarians.  In particular, since I published that post, I have come across several resources that explore the concept and help participants to identify and grow their own networks.

One of the most significant discoveries was that there is currently a five week program occurring which the developers (Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott of Northwestern University’s Master’s in Learning and Organizational Change Program) are calling an Open Online Seminar.  Entitled Exploring Personal Learning Networks , the program’s structure alone is a prime example of network building.  There is a website, a twitter channel (#xplrpln), a Scoopit curation , a Google+ Community, a compilation of all the individual blogs that participants are creating with their reflections and insights as well as archived video chats from Google Hangout.  I was just one week too late to actually sign up for the seminar, but with all the resources they are providing, I feel I’m getting a good deal of the benefit regardless.  If exploring the concept and practical implementations of PLNs is of interest, I highly suggest you check out some of Merrell & Scott’s program.

One of the first things several of the participants did was to try to illustrate their own PLNs as they exist at the moment.  Just beginning to think on this for myself brought into clear focus the wide variety of channels I use for information. It will take me some significant time to actually capture all the different feeds I get via email and my very under-read rss feeds.  I follow a number of blogs and many are written by individuals who are not librarians and not even always in the academic world. Google alerts are also a good way for me to find tidbits on topics of interest.  For example I have alerts on onenote and “personal knowledge management”.  Because Google searches such a wide sweep of the online landscape, I can often find new individuals talking about topics of interest to me via those alerts. I also can almost always get at least one interesting source from the American Libraries email newsblast and also from a similar email from the Chronicle of Higher Learning.

This exercise has also pointed out to me that the network of people with whom I actively exchange ideas is much smaller and less targeted than I would like.  Academicpkm.org  was one way that my co-bloggers and myself were trying to foster such a network around the topic of Personal Knowledge Management.

The importance of the interchange of information between members of a network  is one point that has been discussed frequently in the readings: A PLN is not just about curating knowledge.. it is about relationships between groups of people who share a common focus and who come together for the express purpose of furthering their own learning about that focus.  Your PLN is only as effective as you make it through developing meaningful connections with others that endure.

You don’t have a PLN, you say?  Start by looking at your workplace with fresh eyes.  Chatting with co-workers can help you find other people right in your own backyard that you can learn from, and also some you might be able to help as well. How about professional organizations?  Are you a member of any professional committees?  Committees are great places to find people that might become an important part of your network.  Listservs? Blogs you read?  Make a point to comment and talk with the bloggers you follow or to start develop professional relationships with others who have similar interests.

At this point, we should talk about the Echo Chamber syndrome that Steve Thomas discusses in his Carterette Series Seminar.  It is human nature to gravitate toward people who have similar views as ourselves.  If a network is made up only of people with the same experience or the same view, then the network will begin to sound like an Echo Chamber… where the same thoughts are simply echoed back to the group and no real learning is taking place.  It is important to have a wide variety of backgrounds, expertise level and viewpoints in your network. Sometimes it is only by hearing someone that has totally opposite views from ourselves that we can clarify in our own minds what our viewpoint will be.  Sometimes they might even change our stance and broaden our understanding.

Still looking for people with your interests?  Check out some of the popular curation sites: Paper.li, Scoop.It, and blog aggregators.  Look for pre-existing networks on your topics that you might join.  Google+ is one place you can look for communities that are already in progress.  Twitter is another source.  Search by topic or hashtag.  For the topic of plns, for example, there is a #pln hashtag as well as a #edtechchat just to get you started.  See who is posting interesting links and follow them. Steven Thomas gave us a great list of his favorite pln twitter contacts.  Check the Resources section for a link.

A personal learning network is a living thing.  It morphs, it grows, it contracts at times , it might even change direction.  The center is the only constant and that is YOU.

 

For Further Exploration and Insight:

1. Try sketching out your PLN as it exists right now. Group individuals by the major topic of learning that they contribute to your PLN. Where are your strengths? Where are the holes? Keep these in mind as you go through your day and look for additions to your network.

2. A number of readings cite Twitter and Twitter channels as central to individual PLNs. Are you a Twitter user? What hashtags have you identified as belonging to networks of interest? Are you a lurker or a participant? Explore Twitter for a few individuals who are posting tweets in an area you want to explore and tweet them back! Start a conversation and then keep the connection going!

Selected Resources:

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