Posts Tagged ‘personal learning network’

“Unlearning.” That word by itself kinda hurts my brain. Isn’t that the opposite of what we want? Don’t we want to grow? Isn’t the way to grow to expand, to intake, to gain? Well, yeah, of course, buuuuuut…

A lot of people, educators and learners alike, live by the doctrine of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

That’s a problem.

Bindaas Madhavi Photo CC-by Bindaas Madhavi


Will Richardson’s article about “unlearning” mostly deals with throwing out old misconceptions or outdated methods of thinking, particularly in classroom settings. Verbatim, Richardson claims “it’s simply learning to see things differently or to at least be open to it.” I’m going to kick this section off with the last of Richardson’s claims, and say that the most important thing that needs “unlearned” is that real change can happen just by thinking it into practice. This is not a thing. Action needs to happen for change to happen.

Unlearning simply means re-evaluating old concepts, and being open to new ones. In education, this is probably the most vital piece of advice that can be given. Too many times I was at the mercy of teachers who utilized tired-out techniques they learned in school, and were unwilling to budge in any way, shape, or form. Each person learns differently. Each person has different passions. In order to harness all of this potential, flexibility needs to be a key factor.

This semester, I’ve unlearned quite a few things. I’ve unlearned that no one is making a charge to reform education. I’ve unlearned that social media is useless for anything besides cat videos. I’ve unlearned that blog posts are useless, because there are people somewhere out there paying attention. I still have a ways to go, though. I need to unlearn that most authority figures are pompous assholes who have no intelligence or empathy. I need to unlearn some of my cynicism and be a little more willing to believe in the good in humanity. I’ll get back to you when this happens.

Don’t hold your breath.

Thomas Hawk Photo CC-by Thomas Hawk


In George Couros’s look into the mind of an innovator, he writes himself a mission statement:
“I am an innovative educator and I will continue to ask “what is best for learners”.  With this empathetic approach, I will create and design learning experiences with that question as a starting point.”

As an educator, Couros wants to focus on new ideas. He wants to focus on open-mindedness, much like Richardson, and above all else, he wants to focus on what’s best for learners. For educators, this involves quite a bit of humility and searching.

It means acknowledging that even if you are an expert in your field, you don’t know everything there is to know. It means acknowledging students as people and accepting the fact that they have things to teach you as well. It means figuring out how to work with each individual learning style, and doing your best to realize that teaching a group en-mass using the same technique is a busted-ass idea from the get-go. Couros understands that these things mean going out on a limb, upsetting an established status quo and taking risks for a reward that involves maximizing learning output for students.

Couros also heavily endorses technology as a medium for learning. He claims innovators can do their best by connecting to others globally, gathering , comparing, and discussing ideas from all perspectives. That being said, Couros also claims we no longer need to throw the title of “digital” on everything: literacy, storytelling, learning, etc. It’s now all implied. Learning is changing. It all ties back together in the fact that we need to “unlearn” the traditions of old in favor of innovating. As I said, learning is changing.

I’m not sure I’ve done much in the way of innovation this semester. If anything, I’ve played it close to the chest and stuck with what I know. Same routines, same attitudes, same techniques.. because they work. And because I’m afraid of change. Soon I won’t have the crutch of academia as an excuse anymore, and we’ll see what kind of innovator I really am.




One glaring issue with the Internet is the complete and total lack of quality control. It’s a true double edged sword: we’re allowed to express ourselves in almost any way we see fit, connect with any and everyone about infinite potential topics. That being said, that also leaves infinite potential for the toxic. The boundless range of the Internet is how we get trolls, keyboard critics, and spammers.

So how do we combat this? How do we keep the riff-raff out of our newly built networks?

Turns out, there are a few ways.

Scott McLeod Photo CC – by Scott McLeod

Step by Step

It’s a multi-step process. You’ve got to explore, search, follow, fine-tune, and feed.

When building your own network, post-exploration, there’s going to be a big sudden influx of information taken in. It’ll get overwhelming, and it’s going to need some filtering.

A common method of finding people to add to a PLN (personal learning network) is a Google search, but that’s definitely narrowing one’s scope. Certain classmates (*cough* tristen *cough*)  had the genius / obvious idea I overlooked of searching for particular hashtags on Twitter, finding posters that were interesting, and checking to see if they would be the right fit for their PLN. I did not do that thing.

I did, however, network off of followers I did find. I followed a lot of suggestion lists after following new people, leading me to discover a lot of my new followers also follow each other. This network is already established, and I’m the new blood in it. This is where one of my biggest issues is with maintaining my PLN: feeding.

I’m a sponge. Sedentary by nature, and always intaking. I take in what those around me have to say – I absorb, and I gather. I collect my thoughts in a vault in my brain and lock them away in case I may need them one day. When I’m in the ring with successful publishers, literary agents, and authors, my brain goes “pfffffft, these people don’t need my input!” I feel as though my input will go unappreciated, my questions will go scoffed at (or ignored altogether!), and there is no feeding done. That’s an issue, because what you get out of a network is what you put into it.

Andy Morffew Photo CC-by Andy Morffew, also feeding

Quality Control

This is why fine tuning is an extremely crucial step in the PLN process. Let me put it this way: as I said, I followed tons of writers, agents, editors, publishers, etc. and attracted the attention of a few writing pages.

One page I followed claimed to be for writers, but upon inspection, contained only shallow, empty quotes like “Today’s writing isn’t going to do itself” once every few days. No articles from experts were shared, no publishers listed, nothing. Just these weak inspirational posts and some fans raving about how good the page was.

The page messaged me offering me a job as a writer. Sketchy, eh? I did some digging and found out it was one of those “get paid by companies for your opinion” scams. Yikes.

How can you ensure that your questions go answered and your opinions go considered? Evaluate your network. What types of people are you following? Certain classmates accidentally followed a few Erotica authors in their attempts to build a writing network. It’s easy to plow through and mash the “follow” button, expecting vast riches of information. Doing that is an easy way to get vast amounts of absolute crap.

Make sure those in your network share your interests, or at the very least, your passion. Make sure they’re educated on what they’re interested in, or at the very least, eager to learn. A self-proclaimed “expert” can have merit – but if they’re toe to toe with a professional in a field, it’d probably be safer to bet on the professional. This is not a sports movie, the underdog here is not the winning bet.

As I’ve always said, don’t narrow your scope. Try to explore all facets of your network. I chose writing, therefore I sought out those in the industry, those in the indie scene, and all levels of possible professions. And I still didn’t even begin to cover all that I could.

Sherl Edwards Photo CC-by Sherl Edwards – and also my doctrine 

In and Out

Of course, none of this means a damn thing if you don’t put the effort in. Here’s another big problem with my personal motivations: making time. As much as I can try and deny it, senioritis is creeping into my bones.

A network isn’t a one-way street. It’s a constant flow of feedback from all components, and if you aren’t one of the sources of feedback, you’re deadening the network. Taking in with no giving out is called leeching. With proper quality control of your sources and your information, it ensures that when you do decide to feed your PLN, you will have something worth sharing.

The bottom line of PLN maintenance is effort, and knowledge. If you educate yourself and fight ignorance in your field of study, you’ll have questions worth asking and points worth making. If you put the effort in to share these things with others, you will become a focal point in the network. Don’t wait for time, make the time. Clearly, I need work in this department.


If there’s one thing my time in education has taught me, it’s that regardless of what you plan on doing with your life, there’s one underlying goal to shoot for that will nearly almost guarantee your success.

Like it or not, no matter how good you are, it’s only partially what you do – it’s a lot of who you know!

networkingPhoto CC-by bflshadow, and I can’t imagine the nightmare of cords


Last January, I took a trip to Anaheim, California to attend the annual NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants), a convention where over 100,000 performers, merchants, vendors, executives, and every other facet of the music business industry go to peddle their wares. The convention consisted of a lot of panels from successful record executives, audio engineers, and other people who’ve carved a successful path in life.

There were two common elements in each of these panels. #1: Market yourself, what can you do to make someone else money? #2: Get to know everyone. This is the important bit. You never know who you’re going to run into, and you never know if that person will be your foot in the door. I had the guts to head right up to the President of NAMM, Joe Lamond, and ask him for a business card. A few weeks later, he had read my entire portfolio online. Needless to say, I was equal parts excited as well as surprised.

No matter your skills, no matter your ability, they’ll do you no good (in a professional environment, that is) if no one notices. How better to get people to notice you than to increase your surface area of people known?

anne davis Photo CC-by Anne Davis, didn’t bother checking the validity of this quote. But damn, it looks inspirational.

Personalization + Networks = Learning 

In what is potentially the worst instance of “using a word to define itself” ever, Wikipedia’s definition of a PLN (personal learning network) is “A personal learning network is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment.”

…Well. That’s literally useless. Let me take a crack at it:

A personal learning network is a series of connections you create with others based on a common interest or profession, primarily Internet or social media-driven. There is perhaps no better way to learn about a subject than seeking out those who have found success in that field. This is another instance of the power of the Internet being used for good: with the right Facebook groups or Twitter feeds, your access to information is literally limitless. 

I resolved to make my PLN about writing. I would love to be a professional novelist or short story writer. The issue here is that to me, that doesn’t seem very realistic. I think what’ll wind up happening is I’ll be a columnist for a newspaper or a website, and moonlight as a horror author. Which would also be awesome. No matter which facet of my would-be profession I approach, the theme of writing remains constant, so that’s where I decided to look.

If you didn’t laugh, we can’t be friends.

A few things I learned about building PLNs:

  • Quantity > Quality
    • At least when it comes to social media resources like Twitter feeds, you want reliable information over numbers. Information is good. Good information is great.
  • Participation is Key
    • A network means a series of exchanges. You’re doing your network no good if you aren’t giving your own ideas and asking your own questions. Active participation will do a lot more in the way of you learning.
  • All Angles
    • Think of all facets of whatever subject you’ve chosen for your network. Part of my network consists of finding publishers, authors, editors, magazines, columnists – don’t narrow your scope.

Since I determined to make my PLN about writing, I Googled “Best twitter feeds to follow for writers,” and found a handy list of literary feeds that gave me a great head-start. Maintaining and building a network takes determination, but 24/7 access to varying levels of expertise, experience, ideas, and stories is literally priceless. Besides, who knows? What if someone in your network is a future employer or job reference of yours? The bottom line is that you’ve got to want to learn. Show everyone what you can do, don’t be embarrassed, don’t be shy, and don’t be humble. You belong here. Act like it.