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Personal learning networks: the power and the glory #xplrpln

An open online seminar, “Exploring Personal Learning Networks” started this week, and I’ve been looking forward to participating ever since I was alerted to it by, yes, you guessed it, my personal learning network (PLN).

This week is introduction/orientation week and it’s been suggested that participants relate something of their stories, either, what does having a PLN mean (that is, if you’ve already got one) and how has it changed the way you learn and practice in your professional field, or if you don’t already have a PLN, maybe, what’s the attraction?

Any way, I think I can safely say that I’ve got a PLN but, most likely it’s the same for a lot of people, it started to take shape before I knew what was actually developing. I first came across the term PLN whilst researching the use of Twitter for teaching and learning in higher education. I can remember reading one paper in which two ‘early adopters’ mentioned that they used Twitter to connect to their personal learning network (PLN). Although I registered the term, I guess I largely equated it at the time with a rail network, or some other piece of infrastructure. Akin to plumbing, probably. But then, as I began to use Twitter and to comment on blog posts and participate in discussion forums, I started to realize that I wasn’t just gathering useful information but I was actually getting to know something of real people. Avatars and headshots were coming alive as peepholes opened up relating snippets about work projects, world views,  conferences, commutes, pet hates and various passions etc. It’s this kind of interaction that builds trust, which in turn opens up opportunities for mutual learning and mutual benefit.

Agreed, engaging in this way and developing a PLN has really opened up my learning and created possibilities that I couldn’t possibly have had otherwise.

At first, my PLN developed by just observing how others interact online, but the really crucial factor has been my participation in a number of connectivist style MOOCs and the connections that these environments have enabled, connections that continue beyond the event to keep a sense of community and create chances for future collaboration. At this point I’ll direct you to Sheila MacNeill’s blog, “after the mooc has gone – the real collaboration and connectivism begins” so you can piece together the story for yourself.

Now, seeing as my personal learning network developed ‘organically’, what I’m interested to explore for this seminar is how others can best be supported to develop personal learning networks of their own and, seeing as I developed my personal learning network outside of any organizational context, how personal learning networks figure from their point of view.

But, before I leave this post, I’d just like to add that introduction/orientation week of Exploring Personal Learning Networks entreats us to try something new: share goals, experiment with new tools or reach out to people we don’t really know very well and maybe share our thoughts about a topic of interest. Well, in line with the anaology that cMOOCs are “like being in a pub“, I’d like to reach out to @JeffMerrill and @MattGuyan who, I notice from his #xplrpln tweets and Twitter bio, is a Pale Ale drinker to say “cheers, here’s to a successful PLN seminar”.

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Underlying the development of a PLN is the need for individual learners to be able to have the capacity for self-direction, which requires a higher level of learning maturity— – See more at:

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  1. Hi Helen! Was good to participate with you in the #xplrpln chat just now, great post on the realisation and development of your PLN. It’s interesting you mention Matt Guyan – Matt was a previous work colleague of mine, and funnily enough we probably interact more online now via blogs, twitter, LinkedIn and participation in common events like this than we did when we worked together! (although I have to say, there was only a relatively brief period where we worked together.

    I do find it interesting how social tools can enable the development of your PLN though.

  2. Great post Helen!
    That’s a tasty looking pint of Guinness you have there! I can relate to your experience of growing your PLN, it sounds like a similar experience to me.
    Tanya is right, while we didn’t work together for very long, our connection has grown and strengthened online – which is great!

    • Thanks for reading and sharing Helen! Has been great meeting you too and really look forward to learning more and exploring ideas with you.

  3. Helen – I like this idea of coming up with metaphors for our PLNs. So if not a rail network then what? I’m thinking on this.

    • Hi Keeley – when I referred to a rail network, what I was trying to convey was the the impression of infrastructure, just tracks and rolling stock, as opposed to the joys to be found in the journeys and the connections you can make with a PLN.

      I haven’t really got a metaphor that accurately conveys what I now think of as a personal learning network, but seeing as you’ve prompted me to think about it, the image taking shape comes from Harry Potter (of all things) – it’s like riding a flying broomstick and switching between a cocktail party and a library or lecture theater – fun, social interaction and intellectual stimulation that knows no boundaries 🙂

      …but hang on a minute, that metaphor seems to blow the idea of networks out of the water somewhat, seems more like a rhizomatic take on the phenomena.

      Ooh, and it was such a simple little question about metaphors too.

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