Showing a student how to create a Personal Learning network is one of the most important tools that an educators can offer.
A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is an informal network that consists of the learner and the people that provide the student with information and opportunities to grow. PLNs enable students to make connections that will enable them to learn material and acquire information that they might not have access to otherwise.
Students develop their PLNs informally through 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree connections. It's not necessary for the members of a student's PLN to know each other in person -- their ability to connect online offers all of the advantages of a connected network. In writing about 21st century PLNs Gordon Dryden and Jeannette Vos wrote "For the first time in history, we know now how to store virtually all humanity's most important information and make it available, almost instantly, in almost any form, to almost anyone on earth. We also know how to do that in great new ways so that people can interact with it , and learn from it."
A Personal Learning Network can consist of almost anyone in the learner's sphere including co-students, family members, friends on social media and knowledgeable individuals in the community (this includes the Internet community). Every student has a PLN -- the challenge is to guide the students to use the available resources which allow them to make the most effective use of these people.
How does an educator help a student create a PLN which can set the stage for the student's future learning success? Here are some points to help a teacher guide his students to engage in a PLN and use it to its full effectiveness:
· Teach the students some strategies for introducing themselves to an existing PLN or creating a new PLN in which all participants can feel comfortable in contributing to the discussions and asking for help wherever needed.
· Encourage students to make a habit of commenting constructively on other participants' contributions to a PLN.
· Develop strategies for dealing with disagreements in a PLN -- how do participants express their disagreement without offending other participants?
· Expand the PLN to include different platforms. If the PLN is based on a social media site, add periodic webinars or online conference calls to meet in different types of circumstances.
· Facilitate daily communication via social media posts, blogging, twitter conversations and daily summaries of new questions and material.
· Don't be afraid to split off into sub-groups for special interest projects and subjects. The larger group won't suffer and the smaller groups can thrive.