Personalised Learning through the PLN

I have been thinking a lot about the value of connections in a PLN and whether or not creating your PLN using a combination of openly networked platforms (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, G+ etc) enables a more ‘personalised’ experience.

Just what do you mean by open?

I realise that a social network such as Facebook is not necessarily the most ‘open’ of spaces. Having just watched the 4 Corners episode entitled Cracking the Code, it is front and centre of my mind that this is a space that is contested. Cracking the Code explores the way that Facebook has infiltrated our lives and appears to be taking an increasingly influential role in the decisions we make, as individuals and as a society – it is not a space without influence. However I mean ‘openly networked’ in that by using these tools, connections may be made with others from across the world, brought together by shared interest rather than by geographic or temporal limits. Socio-linguistic boundaries do remain; I am aware that I only interact with the English speaking part of the world, and for the most part, the ‘Western’ world also – however at this point in time, I am still able to connect more openly and widely with others than at any other point in history.

Why think this way?

These ruminations have been informed not just by my own reading, but also by my participation in the Digital Footprint MOOC being run by University of Edinburgh. It is also as a result of my experiences of sharing my request for research participants for my PhD study via a number of different social media channels, as well as my continued co-facilitation in the Open Networked Learning course. Each of these experiences has made clear to me that I have a well developed online network, that spans many different channels. Some members of my PLN pop up across different platforms, while other connections remain concentrated in one particular tool, however it sometimes feels as though I have more interaction with my online colleagues and mentors than I do with my family and friends here in my home town!



I have been developing this network for years now, and it has changed as I have. Moving as I have from classroom teaching, to school administration, teacher librarianship, system librarianship and now PhD student and sessional academic, while my interests have always hovered around similar areas, my needs have changed, and so too has my network. I reach out to different people at different times, depending upon what I need to learn, what I am currently working on, and what I feel that I can share with others. Being able to use different tools means that I can express my learning in different ways; sometimes I write a blog post, other times I create an infographic, or, when I’m exhausted or short on time, sometimes all I can manage is a retweet. I access learning in many different ways also – I’ve discovered fantastic research articles, enjoyed reading blog posts, participated in Facebook chats or Tweetmeets, asked questions (and had them answered by many different people, each with their own perspective). I’ve even (in my boldest moments) contacted the ‘expert’ directly – I’ve had interactions with Lawrence Lessig, Ettienne Wenger, and Mimi Ito. I don’t say this to brag or big note myself; but to remind myself that we live in amazing times – when just by asking, you can connect with global leaders in their field from your small home office on the other side of the world.

It’s personal!

This brings me back to the personalised nature of my network. I, along with everyone else, have my own story. I have travelled a career path specific to me. My interests, my learning needs and my curiosities, as well as my experiences, my knowledge and my understandings have been formed through this path, and by who I am. No one else shares this exact combination. Hence the way my PLN has developed. Some of my connections have come through serendipity. Some have come through a learning need. Some through shared experiences, or shared opinions. I would hazard a guess (and perhaps it will be more than a guess by the end of my research) that no PLN is identical. When I log onto Twitter, I see a different stream of tweets to anyone else. How much of this is due to my strategic development of my network, and how much is due to algorithmic calculations is yet to be established. However it is unique to me. Therefore, my PLN is personalised learning to a very high level.

Personal learning network by KayO28

It’s transdisciplinary!

For me, a very valuable part of this personalised learning experience is the transdisciplinary nature of my network. I do not have only teachers in my network, or only librarians. My one rule of thumb when deciding whether or not to include someone in my network is ‘are you here to learn?’. I do not want people in my network who are solely there to sell me things, or to joke around. Yes, members of my network do joke around – of course they do! and sometimes, they try to sell me stuff – maybe their book, a ticket to an event, an app. However if that is their sole purpose – and their presence does not contribute to learning in any way (either theirs or mine or the greater network), then no, I do not include them. This means that in my networks I have many different people from many different backgrounds, who share many different things; and it’s wonderful!

I discover new information every day – stuff I never knew I didn’t know, and would never think to ask! I encounter new ways of thinking, I see what people are doing in many different fields of endeavour, and when I need expert information across a wide range of topics, there may well be someone already in my network who can help me. To quote Marco Torres, “I have a lot of Yodas in my network”. I don’t hold as much information as possible in my head – I know where to go and who to speak with in order to find it when I need it (thanks George Siemens for giving me a name for this (it’s connectivism)).

Network Yodas by KayO28

It’s wonderful!

I am not sure that my PLN would be as wonderful if it only contained participants from education. or from librarianship. or just academics. No offense to these groups of people – they are wonderful! However, it is the rich mix, the serendipity, the wisdom of the crowd that I have gathered around me, that inspires me. I also feel as though I am not quite as trapped inside a filter bubble when I work across different platforms. I shudder when I hear that some individuals seek their news, their learning, their entire world view, only through Facebook. This, to me, is surrendering completely to the algorithm. I know that the algorithms are there, and I know that what I see across every platform is influenced by them; but at least I am poking my head out into many different spaces, talking to many different people, and considering many different ideas.

The PLN seems to me to be one way of truly personalising learning; it travels and grows with you. Why wouldn’t students begin to cultivate it while still at school? Why would we limit our network to one platform, or to one discipline?

How does your PLN help you to personalise your learning? Am I viewing this through rose coloured glasses? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

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