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A Simple Comprehensive Guide on The use of Personal Learning Networks in Education

Personal Learning Networks, or PLNs, have been around for a long time. Originally they were your family, relatives and friends, or probably other educators and fellow teachers you work with in the same institution, but now and thanks to the development of web technologies and wireless connections, the concept of PLNs has been expanded to engulf people you have never met before in real world. Much of the learning nowadays takes place online and via a network of interconnected relations.





PLNs are  basically based on the concept of  a learning community. Teachers who are passionate about developing their learning experiences recognize the value of sharing their knowledge and expertise with others. They constantly seek out other learning venues that could be experts in their field or other professionals with whom they can exchange information.They, in short, become a part and parcel of a learning community of like-minded people. PLNs have a great importance f not only in education but in our overall professional development and that is why I deem it crucial to write a simple and comprehensive guide for teachers to review and hopefully share with their students.



Outline :



  • What is a PLN ?
  • Why PLNs in Education ?
  • Benefits of PLNs in Education
  • How can Teachers Use PLNs ?
  • Ways Students Can Use PLNs
  • Ways to Build your PLNs
  • Ways I Personally Use PLNs
  • Some Platforms to Start your PLNs
  • PLNs Video Tutorials
  • Webliography



What is a PLN ?


A Personal Learning Network ( PLN ) is a way, a process, a network of interrelated connections you make for the purposes of discovering, collaborating and sharing ideas and resources. These connections are created based on your learning needs and can be made with like-minded people from all around the world. There are several web technologies and platforms that facilitate and nurture these connections, which we are going to explore below.


Why PLNs in education ?



So, why bother thinking about creating a PLN ? Well probably this is the question you are turning over in your mind now particularly if you are not yet a PLN member ; but the answer is manifold and here are some ideas to that can help in clearing away the  cloud:

PLNs are very easy to set up and most web technologies provide guidelines and tutorials on how to start one
PLNs make it very easy for you to communicate online with like-interested people from all around the globe
They let you can instantly  and easily search for, find, and share information with colleagues and friends
PLNs enable you to grow professionally and discover new and inspirational ways of teaching and learning
They can help you learn from the expertise of other experienced players in your field
They broaden your network of connections and help you get to know other cultures
They help you make professional connections and friendships around the wolrd
PLNs give you access to a wide range of rich  resources shared by different people
PLNs delete geographic borders and remove physical barriers and make collaboration and corroboration way easier.
PLNs help you become a life long learner and empower you with a strong confidence and  motivation to keep on learning.




Benefits of PLNs in Education



Here is a list of some of the pluses of PLNs in education as featured in Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education :


  • Students are better prepared for life and work in the 21st century
  • Classrooms are more engaging
  • Students are responsible for their own learning
  • Instruction is more individualized
  • adults become better at their jobs and build problem-solving capacity
  • Students are safer
  • Schools save time and money.



How can Teachers use PLNs ?



Here are some of the ideas to help you leverage the power of PLNs in your classroom :


  • PLNs can help teachers sift through all the data to identify the information that will be most useful to their students
  • Teachers use them to locate resources for their classroom such as websites, links, docs and many more
  • Get lesson plan ideas from experienced teachers
  • Share interesting successful stories of students from other countries to motive your students
  • Create communities of practice where students from different classes meet to discuss their learning
  • Teachers can get tips of how to integrate technology into their teaching from PLNs
  • Teachers can help their students set up their blogs and show them how to use RSS Feeds
  • Create and share educational wikis with students and give them the driver's seat in leading them
  • Teachers can connect with other teachers and seek out help in classroom issues they face






Ways students can use PLNs



Here is a list of ideas about how students can start up using PLNs


  • Students use PLNs to connect with other students from different places,can be locally, nationally or even internationally, but of course under the guidance and supervision of a teacher.
  • Students can use blogs to  post about their learning experiences
  • Students can use PLNs to share educational resources with each other like links, videos, PDFs, and many more
  • They can use them to seek help with assignments and classroom projects they are working on
  • They can use them for learning foreign languages via connecting with native speakers
  • They can use them to compare their learning progress with others and make improvements
  • They can use them to keep track of the latest and hottest trends in learning by using RSS subscriptions
  • They can also use them to peer teach each other and for collaboration




Ways to begin building your PLN



Taking for granted that you all know how to manipulate a computer with and internt access, you can then :

Look for professional netwroks that interest you and try joining some.( luckily you don't have to look for them they have come to you just scroll down to see a list of some of the most important ones online. )

2- Set up an account in an RSS Feed reader ( Google Reader is my favourite ) and get the bookmarklet to your browser toolbar.

3- Pick educational blogs and websites that interest you and subscribe to their RSS feed. Most of the websites and blogs feature a red RSS icon which when clicked on it enables you to suscribe to their feed and stay updated about their content.

4- I would suggest that you use Chrome browser ( this is just a personal suggestion and not a professional one ) because it has great features and multiple extensions to help you organize and curate your web content. Try to install some of  these educational extensions to start with.

5- Try to display on your browser homepage the websites you visit everyday.

6-Be productive and start participating in discussions and forum threads about education and teaching. Write comments,befriend other educators and share Twitter and Facebook links with them.

7- Make sure you allot a specific amoutn of time to spend on your PLNs and try to stick to it to keep your " PLNing " healthy and educational.





Ways I personally use PLNs

Let me stop 'preaching' for bit and share with you how I do it myself :

1- When I log on, which is after the time for my master studies is over, the first thing I do is to check my calendar for the urgent tasks scheduled for that day , I said only emergent because if there is none or when I finsih working on them I procced with the everyday things I do online :

 2- I check my mail, read emails and write replies.

2- Answer comments on my postings in some of the websites listed below

3- Check my RSS feed for new articles from blogs and website I am subscribed to. By the way I am subscribed to more than 200 websites which makes it very hard for me to check all their updates. I do not recommend that you subscribe to many websites like I did because you will never keep up unless you are a blogger and want a constant flow of resources to write about,

4- I check my Twitter and also check some of the educational hashtags I follow and sometimes chat there for a while.

6- Cheeck my bookmarks

7- Check my Facebook to see updates of my friends and relatives

6- Interact with my Facebook fan page users and offer help to those asking for it when I can.

8- I check my blog and aswer readers comments and write new posts

Those 8 steps are a mere sample of how I proceed with my PLNs, Of course there are many other things I do online but for the purposes of this post let us just content ourselves with those 8 ideas. Oh I forget to mention that I watch four to five videos of the Canadian comedy show " Just for Laughs and Gas " on YouTube, it makes my mind relax and draw a wide smile on my face that helps me sleep sound lol.


Some  PLNs platforms to start with

Here is a list of some important websites to start with when developing you PLN:

1- Ning

Ning is a treasure trove of some of the best educational websites where teachers can get to know other educators in the field and share learning and teaching resources, technology tools to use in education, and many more. Check out this list of the groups I belong to in Ning and hopefully see you there onboard.


2-LinkedIn


This is a professional network which is ideal for teachers and educators. I have been using it for a couple of years now and I am just loving it more and more. I belong to several great groups connecting with educators from all around the world. Check out the list of these awesome  groups to join.


3- Diigo :


Diigo is also another website I use for PLN purposes. I use its bookmarklet tool on my browser to curate and bookmark web content and I also belong to several awesome groups of like-mined educators where we share resources and links. Check out these great groups to join on Diigo.


4- Twitter


I think all of you have twitter accounts and might be using it to connect with other educators but you can also check these twitter hashtags to keep updated about the latest tweets in education. There are also some Twitter tools you need to be using a s a teacher check them out here. Don't forget to check these 15 educational hashtags for teachers


5-Facebook


Well, to use Facebook as a PLN you need to be strong enough to fight off those cravings of needless socialinsing. Always keep in your mind that your are there not to chat or play games but to connect and discuss with educators and teachers. You can devote some time for personal use of Facebook later on. Check out this comprehensive guide on the use of Facebook in education to learn more.


6- Blogging


If you have a blog then that's great. Keep posting good articles to share with your fellow teachers and educators and try to read and subscribe to their blogs. Be productive and when critising , you should always be constructive and never be mean to others especially when leaving comments on their pages. Check out this comprehensive guide on the use of blogging in education to learn more.


7-Pinterest


Pinterest is a social bookmarking site just like Diigo but it is visually focused. I have written a very simple guide on how teachers can use Pinterest in education. Check out the comprehensive guide on the use of Pinterest in education to learn more.


8-Aggregators


Aggregators are  RSS feed readers. There are quite many out there by my favourite one is Google Reader. Use one of such aggregators   to subscribe to other blogs and websites and keep updated about their latest postings.


9- Use Note Taking Tools


There are many free web tools that can allow you to take notes and share with your PLNs. I suggest that you try some tools from The Best Free Note Taking Tools for Educators.


10-Be organizational


Belonging to a PLN and being an effective and productive participant in its discussions means you need to have a higher sense of organization and collaboration. Always make sure to organize the things you want to share in your PLNs into sticky notes with source of content and probably author attached to them. This gives authority to your contribution and a touch of professioanlism. Try this list of some of The Best Sticky Notes for Teachers to select some tools to start with.



PLN Video Tutorials :

Here is a set of some of the best video tutorials  that will help you learn how to set up a PLN and benefit from it in your teaching and learning. Enjoy:


1- Importance of PLN






2- Networked Students






3- Personal Learning Network for Educators








4- Personal Learning Networks and Personal Learning Environment symposium



Webliography:


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