The revolution that began with the web in the mid 1990s has exploded with the advent of small, ubiquitously connected devices in every space and size. The kind of technological changes that took a lifetime in previous centuries has occurred in the span of a decade, and this rate of change is accelerating, not slowing down. With the turn of this new century, this digital revolution took another increasing pitch transforming thus the way we live and do business.
This digital trend has also challenged and disrupted some of the old and traditional instructional methods and learning strategies. New learning needs have emerged and with them comes to the surface a wide range of new learning styles. In a world awash in digitally accessible content, learning is no longer entrenched within the four walls of the class; the stream of knowledge is flowing out there in the virtual world , just a click away, and anybody can sip from it anytime, anywhere. More importantly, learning, in this new environment, is cultivated through social and global networks. Popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook (to mention but a few) have empowered learners with the needed tools to connect and network with teachers, tutors, and mentors from all around the globe.These new social technologies and networks open up a whole new world of important learning, one in which personal learning networks take the lion's share.
In their wonderful book"Personal Learning Networks: Using The Power of Connections to Transform education", Will and Bob talked about 7 benefits that are available to any school that embraces this shift toward a more globally networked learning culture for students and teachers. I like how they structured these benefits to decided to share them with you below.
1- Students are better prepared for life
Learning networks serve as a gateway to learning many of the skills students will need in life and work. As e-learning specialist Ellen Wagner says" Today we assess personal mastery of knowledge and skills with how well people can leverage their interconnected network of connections to resources, information, and subject matter specialists. Workplace success has shifted from individual accomplishments to teams , communities of practice, and collaboration".
2- Classrooms are more engaging
For students, this means being able to approach challenges from a different angle, accessing information and teachers that can enhance their understanding and meet their personal needs; For teachers, these same networks can connect them to discussions about engaging content, well-designed assessments, and effective instructional strategies.
3- Students are responsible for their own learning
Students learn how to learn in the Internet age by building their own networks and managing them over time. They can build these networks to meet the expectations of local curriculum and to learn about their interests outside of school.
4- Instruction is more individualized
Students who participate in these networks begin by sharing resources from around the world, but over time they personalize their networks with the information and people that help them the most. This means that instead of a generic textbook, students cultivate a text filled with resources that fit their learning styles.
5- Adults become better at their jobs and build problem-solving capacity
In a school that embraces learning networks, adults are actively learning all the time, enriching both their theoretical understanding of their profession and their practical day-to-day work. This kind of learning offers the opportunity to get feedback on potential solutions, and it raises school performance and student achievement by giving daily access to tested solutions from peers in the field,
6- Students are safer
In schools with instruction on learning networks, one of the first things students are taught is how to be safe online. Students learn how to limit the sharing of personal information and how to craft an age-appropriate personal profile that will not embarrass them later in life. They learn how to form appropriate relationships online that benefit their learning.
7- Schools save time and money
Everyone knows that one-shot professional development is expensive and ineffective. It is difficult to learn something in a single day or a few days and apply it without receiving reinforcement or support. Instead, learning networks substitute free resources from around the world and then embed a support for implementing the work. Most importantly, teachers take the ownership of their own professional development, seeking out the resources and people who can help them learn new tools, revise lesson plans, connect with other learners, and much more. Professional learning becomes an ongoing job-embedded process, one not dependent on in-service days or prep periods. Schools that use these tools also expand their time for professional development, since these networks become a part of teachers regular practice all year.