Full disclosure: I had not heard of a Personal Learning Network until I started SPU’s Digital Education leadership course in the Fall of 2019. But now, after some research about PLNs, I am inspired.
I personally have not established an intentional PLN – which means I waste a lot of time foraging for information and trying to remember the contact information for the person who could best support me at the time.
But that doesn’t mean I do not have a PLN, I do, and so do you. Just think of all the people, websites, twitter and other social networking sites you follow for advice, guidance, and ideas.
In their paper, Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills to optimally use them, Rajagopol et al, suggest that someone who:
“intentionally builds, maintains and activates … contacts within [a] personal network for the purpose of improving [their] learning — and uses technology to support this activity — is creating a personal learning network”.
I am investigating the ISTE Student standard 1 which states:
ISTE standards for studentshttps://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
1. Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
And I am especially concentrating on student standard 1b:
1b. Students build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.
My initial thought regarding this standard is, if teachers are encouraged to build PLNs, then why are we not encouraging our students to do the same thing – after all, we are all learners in this journey. Is it possible to have students begin to develop a PLN from grade school, adding and shedding resources as they grow and develop as learners? Is there a digital tool that could accomplish this task? It would be like a ‘Keepsake Box’ of useful artifacts and other resources, that students can refer back to or use as a foundation for future work.
What if students were given the opportunity to establish the habit of building a network of relationships and resources which could help them grow in knowledge, skill and perspective? I especially like the idea of growing in perspective; it comes from a post by Bernard Bull (2013) I think this could encourage all students to understand themselves as learners, develop their autonomy and agency, give them a foundation to build on as they move through high school, college and beyond and help them see themselves as agents of change as they get invited and integrated into the PLN of others.
If you are interested in joining a PLN and have no idea where to start, ISTE has a valuable list of PLNs that teachers can join and take advantage of the breadth of information and skills available. Is there such a place for students?
A powerful PLN network, sharing practical guidance and accelerating good practice, advancing the field of edtech.
Since I had no idea, I asked Google, and found Dr. Bernard Bull’s Blog: https://etale.org/main/2013/11/22/helping-students-develop-personal-learning-networks/
Although the blog post is dated 2013, there is still information which I found to be useful, especially (scroll all the way down for this) practical tips for getting started in the classroom. His is one of the few websites that I found which focuses the PLN for school age students rather than university students or teachers. He states that “a student personal learning network is one that helps learners not only learn about a given topic, but also grow in their understanding of how to cultivate and make use of knowledge networks.” He explains that PLNs are “first about our relationships and connections with people and resources,” and the technology tools are used to “strengthen, lengthen, and make such connections.” PLNs are a place where students can intentionally document and reflect on how their network is empowering them to learn and how it is expanding their knowledge and perspective.
In a podcast hosted by Knowledge@Wharton addressing the future of work, Ravi Kumar states that one of the most valued attributes for the highly technological and digitized future workplace is to be a lifelong learner.
“Be prepared to continue to grow on [their] career path. The only way to do this is to be on this constant learning journey. If you want to stay relevant, you have to be on top of all that’s new around you, all the change around you, and act accordingly.”Want a job in the future? Be a student for life.
And in an OpEd piece in the Washington Examiner July 18, 2019, with the headline:
Ron painter suggests that “whether the new wave of employees arrives with a four-year degree or vocational training, one thing is certain: they will constantly need to be able to adapt, reskill, and upskill throughout their lifetime.
I consider myself a lifelong learner – but also feel as if I have lost the opportunity of developing an INTENTIONAL personal learning plan. I think I may have been more ready for my world of work, more focused and even more successful. When can students begin to develop their own PLN? Could we start nurturing the skill while still at school? Yes, we can.
Kayla Delzer is a 2nd grade teacher, and in her Tedx Talk, Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers and Learners and Students as Teachers, she passionately shares why its important for teachers to “release the power” and allow their students to have more control over their own learning, even in Grade two. She argues that students need to be put in ‘real world’, ‘authentic learning’ situations. I think that includes having PLNs.
But how can this be accomplished. To be honest, I don’t know if PLNs for students can be included into curriculum in the early grades. High School subjects that have to do with Career and Personal Planning might be a place to include PLNs. There may be something out there that I haven’t found – if so, please let me know, but for now I’ll dream. If I had to develop a unit for students called ‘My Personal learning Network’, what could I include? The answer to that is much bigger than this blog – and certainly something I’m excited to think about. For now, I’ll highlight a digital tool that could accomplish one of the tasks, which would be a map of a PLN.
Use MindMeister to create and manage your personal learning network.
I recommend the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Education blog Online Tools for Teaching and Learning They have a comprehensive list of digital tools to use in the classroom, including MindMeister. According to their website, Mindmeister is an online collaborative, knowledge-based mind mapping tool that students can use to understand and make connections between concepts, ideas, and information. Mind maps help users collect ideas and facts based on a given topic. Mindmeister has many applications beyond mind mapping, including creating to-do lists, project planning, designing timelines, and brainstorming.
And I’ll add another application … creating and managing your own PLN.
Mindmeister has a set of comprehensive video tutorials which are easy to follow. Students can customize their mindmap, use a template, add links, notes, and images. Mindmaps can be shared with others. They can also be exported as .doc or .pdf or .png. A mindmap can be edited and added to as new resources become available to your PLN.
Here is a screenshot of a map I made of my PLN. It does not have every detail of my PLN, it is merely an outline, the beginning of my PLN journey.
To this outline I can add links to websites I use often and twitter feeds I follow. I can add images, QR codes, and files. I could add contact information for all the people I have named. I’m most excited that I have made a start at collating my resources into an appealing and user-friendly workspace. Mindmeister is free for the first 3 mindmaps, after that it is a paid service. I liked it so much, I paid for it.
Bull, B. (2015, November 27). Helping Students Develop Personal Learning Networks. Retrieved from https://etale.org/main/2013/11/22/helping-students-develop-personal-learning-networks/
ISTE Standards for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
Kumar, R. (2019, July 2). How Lifelong Learning Can Prepare You for the Future of Work. Retrieved from https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/lifelong-learning-future-of-work/
Mindmeister. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://blogs.umass.edu/onlinetools/knowledge-centered-tools/mindmeister-2/
Mindmeister Help. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://support.mindmeister.com/hc/en-us/sections/200529257-Video-TutorialsOnline Tools. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://blogs.umass.edu/onlinetools/
Painter, R. (2019, July 18). Americans must embrace lifelong learning and training to thrive in the future of work. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/americans-must-embrace-lifelong-learning-and-training-to-thrive-in-the-future-of-work
Rajagopol. (n.d.). View of Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them: First Monday. Retrieved from https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3559/3131TEDxFargo. (n.d.). Reimagining classrooms: Teachers as learners, students as leaders .