The growth of any craft depends on shared practice and honest dialogue among the people who do it. We grow by private trial and error, to be sure -- but our willingness to try, and fail, as individuals is severely limited when we are not supported by a community that encourages such risks.
~ Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach, p. 144
I have always been aware of the benefits of developing a professional learning network (PLN); seeking the advice of colleagues and mentors, knowing that there is much to be learned from the collective wisdom of others. When I first started teaching I may not have referred to this collection of people as my PLN, but in fact that is what they had become. Over time, with advances in technology, it became easier to bring my network with me, after all my former colleagues were only an email away, but once the Internet became such an easily accessible virtual space, my PLN began to take on a life of its own, growing at a rapid, and at times, uncontrolled pace.
Prior to reading David Warlick’s article, Grow Your Professional Learning Network, I would have described my PLN as consisting of my colleagues (present and former), some Twitter contacts and the blogs I subscribe to and read regularly. I have now become more aware that my own PLN was in fact a conglomerate of three different and distinct networks. The diagram below illustrates the make-up of my current PLN. Inspired by Warlick’s model, I wanted to apply this organizational structure to my own learning groups, trying to better understand how they fit in my PLN as a whole.
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This exercise required me to think more critically about my PLN and I have a much better understanding of the types of learning activities I’m involved in and how these relate to each other. Prior to this reflection, my PLN was a vague collection of people and groups that were maintained in a haphazard manner. I now see the value of organizing my network. I now have a greater appreciation as to why I have had some difficulty in keeping up, feeling a bit over-whelmed by the sheer volume of information coming to me through my contacts. With a better understanding of the different types of PLNs and their ‘avenues of cultivation’ (Warlick, 13) I feel I am better equipped to manage my network. This has been a definite area of improvement to my PLN. I no longer feel the need to maintain all of my connections with the same level of intensity. For example, I used to spend a great deal of time keeping up with the blogs, wikis and nings I followed, reading and leaving comments as often as I could. Now I realize that it would be more beneficial for me to spend the time developing relationships with people I feel are vital to my learning network, whether they are current colleagues or people I know only through Twitter or as the author of a favourite blog. I will no longer devote as much time to my ‘dynamically maintained asynchronous connections’ as I do my ‘personally and socially maintained semi-asynchronous connections’ as I realize there is not the same need (Warlick, 13-14).
With this better understanding of PLNs and their potential impact on my own learning, I would like to now purposefully cultivate my connections to better meet my needs. Thinking about how I can use a network to connect, communicate and collaborate with others about areas of particular interest will help me attain a greater focus (Novak). I plan to introduce Diigo as a tool to help with this refinement of my PLN. I also believe my PLN will be more effective with some weeding, removing those connections that no longer suit my learning needs. While I will always maintain relationships and participate in various community groups (both virtual and face-to-face) I will not necessarily include everything in my professional learning network. I think as my purpose becomes more clearly articulated, the more effective my professional network will become.
Warlick, David. “Grow Your Professional Learning Network: New Technologies Can Keep You Connected and Help You Manage Information Overload”. Learning & Leading with Technology March/April 2009. 18 February, 2012.
Novak, Bev. “If you don’t have a PLN, you don’t know what you’re missing”. Connections: a newsletter for school librarians. Issue 80. Education Services Australia. 18 February, 2012.