Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thing 50. Personal Learning Networks (PLN)

Twitter, RSS Feeds, email, web conferencing, social networking… Oh my! Developing and maintaining professional connections through a personal learning network in our fast-paced, virtual world may often seem like a daunting task! The key is to focus on the role these and other Web 2.0 tools can play in our professional lives. Instead of having to rely solely on face-to-face communication, telephone calls or conferences, it’s now possible to meet and discuss professional topics with our colleagues from the (relative) comfort of our desks! When it comes down to it, in many ways we can actually SAVE time and money by conducting the majority of our professional development interests online. So, let’s hunker down and focus on what we mean by a “Personal Learning Network” (PLN).

What are PLNs?
A Personal Learning Network or PLN can be defined as a collection of resources (whether human or virtual) that provide learning and developmental opportunities. In the past, Personal Learning Network typically referred to the people, goals, and connections that made learning a possibility. Take a look at David Warlick’s article on the beginning of Personal Learning Networks and the Stephen Downes blog post “Origins of the Term ‘Personal Learning Network". Buffy Hamilton has created a great video highlighing the professional use of PLNs by librarians across the country.

Increasingly, the focus for PLNs is harnessing the power of Web 2.0 tools. With tools like RSS, Nings, & Twitter, our PLNs are expanding beyond immediate personal interactions to encompass the communities of library and technology people online. We can connect and converse with friends and colleagues from around the world with a click of the mouse. It’s really amazing when you think about the possibilities!

With this increased accessibility and communication, the key is … keeping the information we create, send, and receive current, accurate, and useful. Of course, what’s important to one person can be meaningless to another. So, it’s really up to you to determine who you will “invite” into your PLN. It’s yours, so take it and run with it!

Developing your PLN
Regardless of how long you’ve been working in libraries, it’s safe to say that there’s always something new to learn. Every day there’s a new tool, gadget, widget, feed, etc. being released. Admittedly, some have the same basic function or purpose, while others are entirely new and unique. So, the question remains, how will you keep yourself informed and on top of new trends?

I bet many of you may be thinking “With my PLN!” Remember, a PLN can consist of both face-to-face interactions, as well as through online communication. We have to be actively engaged in both, and allow them to feed off each other. For example, perhaps our colleague down the hall is an expert in creating and hosting webinars; so, we should absolutely look to them for guidance when we’re creating a webinar of our own. With our current budget woes, going to face-to-face workshops is often not possible. However, it’s still important to keep learning and to produce our best work possible. By digging a little deeper, and doing our research, we will uncover scads of information in addition to our co-worker’s guidance and expertise.

So, if we have some face-to-face connections already developed, what are some online communications that we can include in our PLN? Start by thinking about the Web 2.0 tools you’re already using. Nings, wikis, blogs, podcasts, RSS Feeds, Voice Thread, video/web streaming, Flickr, Twitter—these are all social networking tools that allow for sharing, networking, and collaboration between friends and colleagues. If you’re already using them, they’re already a part of your PLN. How convenient is that?! Next, think about tools that you haven’t used or those you wouldn’t initially consider as part of your PLN. A social bookmarking site, like Delicious, is a great example. While traditionally Delicious isn’t used to converse with people, you CAN use it to explore a mentor or colleague’s bookmarks. This would be a convenient way of identifying new and useful websites to explore.

If you want to expand your PLN, here are some places to start:
There are hundreds more. Be warned; it is easy, as you know, to be overwhelmed with information!

Can you identify your PLN? Try thinking about all of the key players in your PLN; it’s amazing, isn’t it?! Do you find that the key players in your PLN are online? If so, you’re in luck!! Thing 51 is all about organizing our online influences. 

Do you have an online resource you want to tell the world about (or at least your librarian colleagues)? List them in the comments area below!

By Kate Bessey & Patricia Post, CMLE
Image Credit: Cobannon

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