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PLNs- Fiction or Reality?

September 6, 2012

My Personal Learning Network

It was the first day of my so called “retirement.” I left the classroom in June after 31 years to pursue some new interests and build some new connections in my Personal Learning Network (PLN), and see where they lead. Ed Camp Toronto occurs at the end of the month so I offered to help out in any way I could (having a little spare time to offer!). Stephen Hurley, one of the organizers suggested I follow up on the Blog posts I have recently written around the theme of PLNs. I’m big on that, so away I went, expecting to find lots of really relevant research and Blog posts and links.

But that’s not what happened.

My first idea was to poll my Twitter based PLN for their ideas:

So far, I received a grand total of one (1) response!

I really appreciated that Jenny Ashby, who is from Australia, and a recent addition to my PLN, took the time to fire back a short, but meaningful response. We were both attendees at Unplugd12, an educational summit of international educators who are promoting the power of PLNs in professional development. But it’s a busy time of year. Perhaps many of my Twitter colleagues were making the transition from summer to classrooms. Jenny, being “downunder,” was well into the 3rd term of the Australian school calendar.

The Power of the PLN, she suggested, comes from the fact that progressive educators are not alone, out on a limb, experimenting with untried ideas. Ironic, since she was the only one who replied! But we are, after all, educators that share. Networked educators. Our ideas are bounced off colleagues in the next classroom, the next school, the next province, or the next country. Or in Jenny’s case, a far away country.

A number of well known academics have been curious about PLNs too, the most well known to the Canadian ed tech community being Dr. Alec Couros, professor of Educational Technology and Media at the University of Regina. As far back as 2008, Dr. Couros has been wondering about the research related to PLNs. He is currently organizing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on the topic of Educational Technology including the role of PLNs in open learning.

Will Richardson, well know educational technology blogger, published “Personal Learning Networks- Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education”  in 2011. It’s a must read. In it, Richardson describes how networks are changing the way we learn, and how to leverage connections to transform learners, learning, teaching, classrooms and schools.

But there is a dearth, it seems, of hard research on PLNs. But I can tell you from experience that I have learned a significant number of things from the people in my online connected world. What do you need to know about PLNs? What is it that you would like to learn from your network connections? From whom, in particular, can you best learn it? I chose Educational technology as my PLN focus a few years ago and so I started reading the Blogs and following the Twitter feeds of as many Ed Tech leaders I could find. Virtual colleagues are as important as real ones. What face to face opportunities exist to learn about your area of interest? Conferences? Meetings? EdCamp Toronto on September 29th, York University?

It’s up to you and your PLN. Bring your questions to EdCamp! And that question I started with…experience suggests it’s a powerful reality.

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