Book Review: Personal Learning Networks by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli

personallearningnetworks_2Personal Learning Networks – Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education is by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli.  It was a Bronze medal winner for Education Book of the Year in 2011.  Will Richardson (http://willrichardson.com/) is also the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2010).  Rob Mancabelli (www.mancabelli.com) is the co-founder of BrightBytes, an organization that uses technology to improve student learning outcomes.

If you are an educator, you will be interested in this entire book, as it is in large geared toward implementing PLNs as a learning tool in the K-12 classroom with the goal of creating “globally connected classrooms”.   Of particular interest would be the number of examples of real world educators who are already applying these concepts in their classrooms. The authors carefully develop a clear framework of how an educator can create a networked classroom, how to then expand this networking concept to the entire school and how to address the common issues of school policies, money, politics, technical support, and dealing with those individuals who are resistant to change.

I review the book here, however, because I also think it has several chapters that could be of interest to individuals just getting started with their own PLN.  In particular, Chapter 1 focuses on how learning has changed in today’s globally connected world and Chapter 2 discusses how to create your own PLN.  The authors identify five specific online tools that they suggest as cornerstones to any PLN: Twitter, Diigo, your RSS reader of choice, Blogger and Facebook.

Twitter is a great source for links to other content.  The authors suggest that “the best way to begin attracting connections is to provide value on a fairly consistent basis.” This holds true for any of the social networking tools. They discuss using @ to alert other tweeters of items that you think might interest them and also to utilize hashtags # to categorize tweets.  While not mentioned by the authors, there are several sites (www.hashtags.org, www.Twazzup.com, and www.twubs.com to name only a few of the most popular) that categorize hashtags and help users find any existing hashtags for their topics of interest.  Finding already active hashtags on your topic can be a great jumpstart to locating others who share your area of interest.

The authors give a brief description of how to begin using each of their five tools and suggest that the networks from the different tools will begin to blend over time.   Personally, I would focus on the use of one tool at a time; the output might require the majority of the time you have allotted for these learning pursuits.  After an initial evaluation period, use of the new tool will likely stabilize (or even prove less helpful than you hoped) and then additional tools from the authors’ list can be explored.  The authors also do not dwell on how the information you begin collecting should be organized or curated for yourself.  This is also an important piece of the puzzle that should be considered before you get started. If you have been following our blog for a while, you have been introduced to several different tools that might help in this regard.

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