Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

The Learner as Orchestrator of Personal Learning Network

In modern working life, professionals need to perform flexibly and independently in ever–changing environments (Castells, 2000). To be able to do this effectively, they depend on various lifelong learning skills, among others autonomous and self–directed learning. As they are partly supported in their learning by interaction with their peers, an essential life–long learning skill they need to develop, is the ability to find and to connect with relevant others, i.e., professional networking (Johnson, 2008; Nardi, et al., 2000).

This open publication from proposed a useful concept model :

This article aims to understand how professionals determine the networking actions they undertake. In other words, how does the support offered by different ties in a professional’s personal learning network change and evolve with the intentional actions of the professional? We present a model describing the act of personal professional networking for creating a personal learning network based on the results of a literature study of academic and informal resources and two empirical studies. After briefly presenting the research method, we will discuss the factors that influence the decisions professional learners take while building and navigating a personal learning network. This then results in a description of the Personal Learning Network model and related technology needs. Finally, we will discuss some directions for further research.


The paper identified :

Three stages of the networking process with factors influencing decisions

Nine Factors influencing choices in building, maintaining and activating personal learning networks

Three–layered personal learning network model 

Technologies included in PLNs offer basic to advanced functionalities (such as search, access to content, user–made content classification, personal knowledge creation and presentation and communication with peers and others), which learners can employ, change and adapt to suit their learning needs (Attwell, et al., 2009). These tools allow learners to structure and manage the complex environment of people and content around themselves according to their own personal preferences.

Currently, technological solutions exist supporting different aspects of the networking model. In the skill layer, existing technologies for social network management on social networking platforms focus on:

  • enhancing communication with people in the network (e–mail; communication functionality on networking platform; privacy management to determine specific contacts);
  • remaining “in touch” with known people in the network: informal information pull to remain connected with others in the network;
  • positioning an individual in the network; and,
  • finding hidden people and expertise in the network: basic user search functionality (name, profile characteristics); advanced functionality, e.g., recommendation of peers (Guy, et al., 2009; Sie, et al., 2011), identification of relevant people to help with a particular learning problem (Fetter, et al., 2010; Van Rosmalen, 2008).

Although these functionalities fulfill the general stages of networking, technology does not yet support the deeper understanding of networking practice. For example, the distinction between strong, weak and very weak ties with respect to content of the relationship is not always visible in online social networking sites. The technology therefore offers minimal support in developing ties in a meaningful way. Also at the level of networking activity, technology provides common platforms where people can connect (general social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Hyves and Twitter; domain–specific social networking sites, such as UNESCO–UNEVOC eForum and the Zunia network; event–specific social networking sites such as platforms for online conferences, workshops and webinars). Face–to–face events are also increasingly supported by Web–based technologies, to enable people to make more valuable weak ties on a longer term (see for example, the “Follow the Sun — Learning Futures Festival Online 2011” initiative (Follow the Sun, 2011)).

A personal learning network model, including the technological support for the different aspects of networking, is illustrated in Figure 3.

personal learning network

PLN is so important for our life-long learning, read the full paper here, use the model to reflect on how you connect with people, communities and resources to keep learning.


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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