Thoughts on Personal Learning Networks

In my few short days as an active member of the educational blogging network, I've been (somewhat) involved in some stimulating conversations regarding the idea of using Personal Learning Networks in the classroom.

I first encountered the idea from a post last week by Clay Burell on his blog, Beyond School. Essentially the idea is for educators to create and utilize their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) to enhance the learning experience by bringing in experts into the classroom (i.e. via Skype) for as he puts it "quick in, quick out" sessions. Ideally teachers would also model and help students create their own PLNs in their individual areas of interest.

Better than this, Clay has begun to actively implement his plan. Utilizing his twitterverse (people following him on Twitter), he has had a few international discussions via Skype (see here and here) with fellow educators on his ideas. He has also begun to work with his students to utilize Twitter and Skype to construct their own PLNs. I applaud him for blazing the trail. My hope is his work will be the first step in convincing school administrators and tech directors to allow student access to networking tools. Currently, students at my school do not have this access.

The idea of students building and utilizing a personal learning network greatly appeals to me. As a teacher, one of my goals is to help students become citizens that contribute positively to their communities. Setting up a PLN allows students to take their learning beyond school walls. It can help them to individualize and specialize their learning in a meaningful way that would be nearly impossible in a traditional classroom. As someone who is more interested in helping students become resilient life-long learners as opposed to regurgitators of irrelevant knowledge, I can't help but get excited about these new possibilities. Perhaps Ewan McIntosh said it best (via Intrepid Teacher, via The Economist):

"It’s more about helping learners become more world-aware, more communicative, learning from each other, understanding first hand what makes the world go around."

More and more questions seem to arise the more I think about this:

  • What would this learning format look like in a school?
  • Can this type of learning be measurable?
    • Should it be even be measured?
  • Will students "buy-in" to the idea?
  • How can I convince the district to unblock Twitter for a basically untested use of technology?
  • Is promoting the use of Twitter and Skype in the classroom essentially marketing these products to students? Is that ethical?

I am excited about the prospects. I am jealous of those in situations with access to these tools. I feel experimentation with these networking tools in the classroom is necessary, even if the outcomes aren't as expected.

A few other bloggers have added their thoughts on the same thread: