Ten years ago, I looked forward to a few weeks of summer vacation for more than one reason. Yes, I would have some time for R&R, but I would also be able to make significant progress through the stack of sixty magazines, books, and journals I wanted to catch up on. During the school year,


Image by The Daring Librarian via Flickr

I read about one piece from this stack for every three that were added, so it is easy to see why the stack was at sixty by the summer. And yes, vacation locations were usually accessible by car so the carton carrying the stack would fit neatly into the trunk. Of course, there was some family tension when a beach chair or cooler had to stay behind to make room for the carton with the stack.

Over the past ten years, I have slowly built a virtual and personal learning network, although at the outset it didn’t really have a name. The effort became more pronounced six years ago when I shifted roles from information technology to instructional technology. I felt that my learning curve would be steeper, and I needed access to as many people and other resources as possible. At the time, I was not aware of building a personal learning network (PLN); instead I viewed my plan as simply subscribing to email lists so i would have a forum to ask questions and float ideas. As web services and social networks evolved, however, it appears I was building a PLN, and that has been confirmed in the new book, Personal Learning Networks by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli. Let it be known, however, that I still consider the most valuable sources of information the personal relationships I have with colleagues like Rob and many others. But unlike ten years ago, when it was possible to make a list of those who were the most knowledgeable in my field, today that list would be too long and I could not keep up with phone calls and meetings to each and every person. Enter today’s PLN, made up of hundreds of electronic resources, with more information than one could ever hope to read and digest. Now my stacks are virtual rather than physical.

I thought it would be of interest to catalog and profile my PLN, just to ascertain whether it is typical or unusual. Be forewarned, I tend to overshoot on every task, so my PLN may be more than most people, including myself, need:

Joel’s PLN

  • 3 Books simultaneously either in print or on my Kindle (1 for Technology PD, 1 for History PD, and 1 wildcard)
  • 7 Print Publications (all could be read online, but I still cling to the past)
  • 3 Publication summaries via email
  • The New York Times Digital Edition
  • 11 Email lists
  • 48 RSS feeds (I currently have 748 unread feeds)
  • 8 blogs (6 that I subscribe to, 2 that are mine including this one)
  • 2 wikis that I maintain
  • 9 Nings that I have joined
  • Twitter (I follow 38; 36 follow me)
  • Facebook  (104 friends, but limited use for PD thus far)
  • LinkedIn (181 connections, 16 groups)
  • 3 Curriculum sharing sites
  • New attempts to use FlipBook, NetVibes, and Yammer
Even if I were retired, I would not have enough time to read and react to everything I receive; the Richardson/Mancabelli book suggests some strategies for keeping up in the final chapter. What I do know, and the authors point this out repeatedly, is that there is little information or answers to questions that elude me when I need something. Now you’re probably wondering how I sort the information that I do see (I estimate that I review less than 5% of what I receive on a daily basis, but it is 5% more than I would otherwise — the glass is half-full). Anything I deem to be useful or important for current or future use is filed in Evernote, a note-taking app that grabs almost anything in any format and is accessible on all of my devices. I also have an app to handle articles I am attracted to, but don’t have time to read. I run Read It Later on my iPad, and one tap of a button stores these articles so i can return and read them at my leisure (again, a discipline is required to keep this list from continuously growing).
I would encourage you to take the plunge into PLNs, regardless of your occupation and situation, for two reasons. First, you will learn in the manner of 21st century people. With PLNs, we will become learning machines, capable of knowing the answers, having our ideas influenced, and contributing to the world of knowledge and ideas on behalf of our peers. Second, we will better understand how our students learn today and why we have to incorporate that pedagogy into our classrooms. Personal Learning Networks provides both the rationale and a prescription for making the transition (the authors call it a transformation). There are many ways to proceed, but the key is for the adults, specifically teachers, to incorporate this type of learning into his or her own style first, so we can model it for our students. That is one of my goals for this year: to introduce virtual stacks to my students so they can develop their own PLN, and then use that PLN for a class project before the end of the year. I’ll let you know how it goes.
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