Extend: Cultivate a PLN

A personal learning network, although often emergent and continually developing, doesn’t just happen. It requires cultivation. To begin your thinking on how to cultivate your PLN, read Howard Rheingold’s Advice on Building a PLN.

Howard Rheingold states that to cultivate a network you must explore, search, follow, tune, respond, inquire, engage and feed the network

Other tips for cultivating your PLN

  • Find a professional group that aligns with your professional interests. Start by reviewing Twitter EdChat calendar and Inside Higher Ed’s Twitter Directory. Find the virtual places that feel most comfortable and sustainable for you.
  • Go where your people are, be strategic, and take your cues from people in your network. For example, if you notice at a conference that several presenters are posting their Twitter account names, then Twitter is likely the place where others will be found. Or perhaps the common gathering place for your discipline is something other than Twitter, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram. We’d love to be a part of your PLN. Here’s a Twitter list of our accounts for you to choose from.
  • Strengthen your connections. Comment on and share the work of others, and contribute your own work or ideas. Gather and follow the people and organizations that push you to extend your thinking and move out of your comfort zone. That is key to creating a sustainable PLN—one that will help you develop and feel inspired.
  • Limit your ‘follows’ to topics you are passionate about. 
  • Cull your follows once in a while to refocus your stream.
  • Consider the identity that you are creating within the network. In a post about “Becoming  a Conencted Educator”  Mary Wever (@WeverWorld), Director of Certificate Programs for Michigan State University’s MA in Educational Technology suggests that you:

Consider the professional identity you want to project on social media and in your PLN. What you post, share, or like online becomes part of your identity in a way. Some people feel more or less comfortable with using their personal accounts for professional activities, and vice versa. It is a good idea to think about what you envision your PLN to be like before diving into it. 

  • Always use “netiquette”; acknowledge the contributions of others.
  • Think before you share, consistent with the identity you are projecting .

Beware of filter bubbles

The term “filter bubbles” was coined by Eli Parser. Read the Wikipedia article about Filter Bubbles  or take a look at his TED Talk, Beware of Online Filter Bubbles (TED2011) perhaps even more relevant now, six years later.

People inside of bubbles - trying to figure out a way to get our of them.

It is important to follow and connect with a variety of people and organizations. Because you will choose who you want to follow—usually like-minded individuals—social media can give you an unbalanced view. It’s important to include people you don’t agree with. Doing so will make your PLN more diverse and will challenge your thinking.

In their book The Power of Pull: How Smart Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, by John Haagel, John Brown, and Lang Davison stress the importance of reaching outside your usual areas of interest and expertise. Doing so will stretch you and help you avoid the insularity that can come from too much time spent in your own milieu, with only those who share your own particular interests.

Building your PLN

There are many tools and social media platforms that you might use to build your PLN. Leveraging the affordances of digital technologies means that the tools and activities you can engage with and use to build your learning network can take on vastly different forms. You might share something you’ve authored within your network and get feedback on what you’ve done from a variety of perspectives. Or you might be inspired by a provocative blog post that someone else in your network has posted. Or you might put out a call for collaborators on a new project, or join a group discussion, or remix someone else’s work as a way of extending their ideas—and the conversation about it. While digital technologies aren’t required for these learning activities to happen, they enable you to engage with them in novel and more expansive ways.

You might seek out specific venues where you can build your PLN, like conferences, or you might join social media groups related to your discipline to get started. Twitter is particularly valuable for building a personal learning network, as noted by Dr. Alec Couros and Dr. George Veletsianos.

a group of people brainstorming about how to map a PLN. Search, Annotate, Browse, Create and share in a network.

Extend Activity

Arrow extending from page
  • Add your name to the “I Was Here” list to connect with other Extenders.
  • Write a blog post on the topic “Extending your PLN,” and tweet the link to it to @ontarioextend with the hashtag #oextend.  Include some specific activities that you can engage in to cultivate and expand your PLN.
ENGAGE: Personal Learning Networks
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