How to Learn in a Digital World: PLNs and EduMOOC 2011

By Jessica Balik

Shortcomings of Traditional Learning Environments

EduMooc panelist George Siemens is a researcher at Athabasca University who studies learning and digital technology. Siemens argues that traditional learning environments are suboptimal for a few reasons. First, instructors generally do not tailor their material to the unique circumstances and knowledge bases of individual students, and the impersonal delivery does not maximally encourage active and engaged learning. Furthermore, traditional classrooms developed in an earlier era, during which knowledge evolved more slowly than it does today. More than ever, today's learners must not only be knowledgeable, but they must also be able to learn independently of classroom instructors to keep up with our rapidly changing modern world.

Defining and Developing PLNs

In contrast to traditional classroom students, learners in PLNs decide how and what to learn using online technologies, such as blogs, RSS feeds and social media platforms. The people with whom a given learner interacts form that learner's PLN. Unlike traditional learning, PLNs offer no formal credit. But PLNs also have no fees, and they don't foist irrelevant or undesired information upon the learner. Additionally, since students create PLNs for themselves, they must actively participate in them. Learning to forge and to navigate these networks can help students become lifelong learners within our ever-changing world.

The eduMOOC panelists discussed how PLNs can be developed, and they emphasized that RSS feeds can form an effective outer layer for any PLN. They also noted that filtering devices are necessary for monitoring trends in social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. For example, Google Alerts are e-mail updates about any topic you might choose to monitor. Similarly, programs such as TweetBeep and HootSuite can help you to filter Twitter streams.

Of course, if you're interested in creating a PLN, you should not merely monitor, but also participate in social media networks that target topics that interest you. Here are five PLNs geared specifically towards education.

Classroom 2.0

Are you looking for a social network for people with interests in intersections between Web 2.0, Social Media and education? Classroom 2.0 is free, and features forums, webinars and more.

The Educator's PLN

This personal learning network was created by educators, for educators. It's a Ning site; Ning is a platform for creating online communities.

Music PLN

Here's a PLN for music educators, which features a blog, classifieds and other resources.

Reform Symposium

The Reform Symposium network supports a worldwide e-conference for educators. Although the conference is held over specific days, the virtual network formed around it is enduring.

Connected Principals

This PLN for school principals chiefly revolves around a blog, which is devoted to best practices in education.

If you're interested in how PLNs might be combined with traditional classroom settings, read our interview with Professor Corinne Weisgerber.

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