Personal Learning Networks have taken up a great deal of my time of late, about the last two years. I have always had a PLN although it was never called that. The digital slant, of what before this, might have been called a group of study buddies, has caused a re-examination by educators on a global scale. Instead of being limited to a small group of educators comparing notes or lessons in a building, a PLN can now draw upon literally thousands of educators, worldwide, at any given time. Study buddies without the boundaries of time or space, very Star-Trekkie. Educators can even Skype anywhere in the world for the ultimate video connection. It is no flying car, but the video phone was predicted at the ’64 World’s Fair. I remember. I was there. Belgian Waffles were great.
The key to developing my Personal Learning Network had nothing to do with me being a digital Native, because I am not. My motivation to learn comes from somewhere within. I enjoy taking my own route to get to a goal that I set for myself. I think the term Lifelong Learner applies to me. The thing that makes the learning fun and easy for me is the technology. I am not always comfortable with it, but I do not fear it. I only say that because the reasons I am most often given by others for educators not embracing technology is that educators are fearful of it, or they are not comfortable with it.
Learning is not a passive activity. One cannot place a tape recorder (old tech term) under a pillow at night and wake up with the knowledge in the morning. I have personally researched this. Additionally, one can’t join a Personal Learning Network. If it is to be of value, it needs to be built by the individual who owns it. This requires a commitment of time, but not so much energy, except for the exercising of the mind. When one engages a Digital PLN, it will involve receiving a great deal of information in the form of links. Each link is a hot button. It is a click to: a website, a blog post, a video, an article, a webcast, a podcast, or a picture. I imagine without the technology, one would read books, Journals, articles, videotapes, DVR’s and talk to people face to face. That would be a very early 20th century PLN, but still doable today for a while longer anyway.
It takes a lifelong learner’s commitment to a PLN to reap the benefits and apply it to teaching. This should be no problem for educators because they all teach kids to be Lifelong Learners. If you don’t believe me ask a teacher. Better yet, look at the school’s Mission Statement; it probably addresses the school’s dedication to lifelong learning. The problem is that too often that only applies to the kids and not the staff. Lifelong learning is too much a case of do as I say, and not as I do. Too many educators subscribe to the theory that once the degree is secured, and the teaching license in hand, the goal is reached, and now the coasting begins. Maybe some courses to meet requirements will be taken. Certainly, courses for pay raises would be needed, but those are but small bumps in the road. I know, not everyone is like this. However, we are in a profession that is in a fishbowl and under attack. We cannot afford to have any individuals representing us with this mindset. These folks are not the majority but this minority has an ability to influence others to the dark side. We cannot have this jeopardizing our profession.
Most educators are collaborative and nurturing individuals. That is their strength. We use those qualities with our students. We need to apply them to our colleagues. All information does not stop evolving once we get our teaching job. We need to stay relevant. In a world with a technology rich environment it is fool hearty for educators to think they still have a choice about using technology as a tool in education. We are teaching kids who will be affected by more technology than we have today. They will have jobs that are not yet in existence. Their skills will require the use of technology.
Educators teach skills and encourage children to learn. A good teacher can do that without technology, but why? Technology is but a tool for educators and students to use. The skills remain the same no matter what the tool. Teachers do not need to be technology experts to allow students to use it to retrieve information, collaborate, create, and communicate. That is what will be required of them in their world. While educators debate and control technology as a tool, business and industry are embracing it. Technology continues to advance and many educators are not even familiar with what possibilities are available. If technology requires a new form of literacy, many of our educators are illiterate.
A PLN allows people to explore and collaborate on whatever it is they determine as a need to know. A PLN is not exclusive to educators. They can have: Boat builders connected to boat builders, doctors connected to doctors, educators connected to educators, learners connected to learners. People can choose their direction and go down that road as far as they need to go. A PLN enables a person to control her or his learning. A PLN is a digital tool for learning. We can use it to model the very thing that we strive to teach our students. A PLN is not learned, as much as experienced. A PLN enables us to continue our path to Lifelong Learning.