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PLN: Your Personal Learning Network Made Easy

What is a PLN?

If I had to define what a ‘Personal Learning Network’ is, I would keep it simple and broad:

n. – the entire collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information, usually online.

Personal Learning Networks, or PLNs, have been around forever.  Originally, they were your family and friends, maybe other educators you worked with, but as the internet and web 2.0 tools have become nearly ubiquitous, PLNs can include tons of different communities – social networking sites like Facebook, blogs, Twitter, wikis, social bookmarking tools, LinkedIn, and so many more.  Basically, anyone that you interact with is apart of your PLN, whether they are social contacts, professional peers, or experts in their field.   Most of the ‘learning’ takes place on-line now, because it is simple to find and connect with others with similar interests from around the world.

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PLNs have immense value!

So, why bother thinking about your PLN?  Whether you’re a full-time mom, a full-time teacher, or a full-time student, your PLN can be extremely interesting and helpful.  The beauty of people communicating online is the ease of finding and sharing information and – if you ask for it – the group feedback that you get on ideas and projects.

Here are some ways that educators are using their PLNs:
–    Professional development – learn from content-area specialists
–    Locate resources for your classroom, such as free websites and software
–    Get lesson plan ideas from master teachers
–    Learn about new technology and how to integrate it into your teaching
–    Find collaborative solutions
–    Find interesting links to education news

Students can also reap the benefits of tapping into their PLNs.  Here is a wonderful video called “The Networked Student” that shows how on-line networking can enhance students’ 21st century skills.

When you have a large group of people combing through vast amounts of information and collectively identifying the most useful, entertaining, or valuable parts, it only makes sense to tap into this collective knowledge!

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Build Your Own PLN

If you’re interested in expanding your PLN, here’s a directory of some of the best web 2.0 tools:

Category Value Examples and Guides
Social Networking Keeping up with personal, more social contacts like friends, family, and former students Facebook, Myspace
Microblogging Populated with educators from around the world who share best practices and resources in short bursts Twitter, My guide to Twitter, Plurk, Utterli
Professional Profiles Find other professionals and experts in your field LinkedIn, Brightfuse
Wikis Community-monitored sites that can function as websites or for group organization and projects Wikispaces, pbwiki, wetpaint
Blogs Great sources of information such as classroom best practices as well as personal opinions; Blogs monitor the heartbeat of new trends in education and the commenting back and forth leads to many great ideas and relationships WordPress, (check out my ‘Blogroll’ to the right – they’re my favorites), Blogger, Typepad, Alltop – top blog headlines by subject, Technorati – a blog search engine
RSS Reader RSS means “Real Simple Syndication” – an RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with many of your favorite blogs, all in once place
(see this video ‘RSS in Plain English’)
Netvibes, (My Netvibes), PageFlakes, Google Reader
Nings Communities of people interested in similar topics, with forums and messaging Classroom 2.0, Future of Education, Ning
Social Bookmarking Share bookmarks with others, see what others are bookmarking; you can join groups and get email updates on new bookmarks Diigo, Diigo Groups, Delicious
Webinars Live, on-line presentations or conferences, with real-time chat, hosted by experts on specific topics; Great way to learn about new things and to meet new people Classroom 2.0 Live!, EdTechTalk Live, Elluminate – host your own!, Dim Dim
Backchanneling of conferences When there are neat (and expensive) conferences that you can’t attend, follow conversations and links about the highlights Twitter search – use acronyms like ‘NECC’ or ‘SXSWi’

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What to Expect – Stages of PLN Adoption

There are certain stages that most people seem to go through when building their PLN before settling into a comfortable niche.  It may take a little time, but you’ll eventually find that a rich PLN can elevate both your personal and professional life to new heights.

If you’d like to connect with me, click here.

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