Five steps in developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN)

When I was younger, a personal learning network (PLN) used to be the conversations I would have with my friends when walking home from school. We’d chat about our lessons, what we had learned, our homework and so on, before arriving home and hitting the textbooks. Digital technologies have given learners today, however, far more options to help support learning that are available from both within the organisation and without.

But what about when the learner finally finishes their course and enters the big wide world?

Personal Learning Networks for the 21st century

Providing learners with authoritative sources of subject-related information via frameworks such as the virtual learning environment (VLE), institutional intranets and e-portfolios are a good starting point, but there will come a time when the learner leaves the organisation and will need to make decisions for themselves about their own learning journey.

That’s why empowering learners to become critical consumers when navigating the sea of digital information encountered on a daily basis is equally important too, if we are to help them on the path to lifelong learning. But very few of us take that path alone and this is where having a PLN can help.

The informal conversations that I had after school during my formative years still exist today, except that conversation very often takes place online. The increasing trend in mobile technologies and social media in order to encourage access to learning and facilitate communication between colleges and learners is already gathering pace and has been noted in the Ofsted survey, How Colleges Improve (2012, pp. 33-4).

PLN-1Learners have the potential to take part in discussion threads on a wide range of social media sites, get tips on new resources and links from peers on Twitter, or follow leading figures in their chosen subject via websites and blogs and receive the latest updates via RSS. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

But are we doing all we can to ensure learners know how to use these tools appropriately to support their learning?

Helping learners to establish good networking skills and the ability to collaborate effectively online is a key component to digital literacy and that’s why it’s essential that we encourage today’s learners to start building their own PLNs that will place them in good stead for the future

5 steps to building a Personal Learning Network

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are five steps you might like to explore with learners to help them get started:

1) Share your presentations, handouts and ideas for engaging learners using services like Slideshare, Tumblr, Edublogs, etc.

2) Crowdsource ideas for new ways of working by drawing on the experiences of your peers. Twitter in particular is a great way of finding out the latest information on any given subject and it’s easy to tap into the knowledge and experiences of a global audience by following hashtags on topics of interest.

3) Microblogging sites, such as Twitter, are great for their immediacy, but if you want to explore a subject in more depth or want to reflect on your own practise then it’s worth looking at blogs. It’s good practise to use a range of information sources in your research, and a key advantage to blogs over more formal printed texts is the currency of the information.

4) Developing an active and responsive PLN is all about getting the conversation going: ask questions, comment on blogs, share the good practice, whether it’s through Linked-In groups, Facebook pages, or Google Plus hangouts – don’t be bashful.

5) Organise and signpost the most useful and authoritative sources of information to your peers by using social bookmarking. Sites such as Delicious, Diigo and Pinterest all allow you to tag and share links across your PLN.

RSC support

The Jisc Regional Support Centres are putting together a series of resources on developing a positive digital presence and other key aspects of digital literacy to help inform staff development programmes.

If you’d like to find out more tweet the digital literacy working group @JISCRSCDigLit, contact your local Jisc Regional Support Centre or take a look at our support pages for Digital Literacy.


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