The underlying concept of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is nothing new: all learners should develop a useful network of knowledge sources they trust. Some of us look towards The New York Times, and some of us trust The Wall Street Journal, two periodicals that have dominated the 20th century. We all know the friends, colleagues and family members we can approach if we have one particular problem or another.
How we create PLNs has greatly altered with the advent of social media. Instead of solely looking towards official sources of knowledge, whether those deemed specialists by our employers or those deemed experts by mass society, we have begun to develop PLNs that are much, much more personalized, and, in turn, much, much more useful. We connect with knowledgeable sources on Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook, and we unearth blogs and other interest-driven communities to solve our problems.
If you break your laptop’s screen, you know you can find a website that teaches you how to repair it yourself. If you’d like to explore a new recipe, you know a series of sites that may help you out (truthfully, this meal made my Sunday evening). You also know who you can talk to if you’re quickly looking to expand your network, should you have a new project at work or school, or should you explore a new hobby, as well.
Even if you don’t know anyone in your personal network, know there are online communities out there that will help you solve and grow. For instance, check out this site entirely based on helping folks hack hammocks to make them even more useful for camping. How awesome is that?
These online social spaces are becoming increasingly complex and increasingly academic. In inquiry-based learning environments, we strive to help all learners, from students to faculty and parents, establish and expand their learning networks. Library helps first graders identify and select books based on peer recommendations and Caldecott Medals. Older Day Schoolers and our Upper Schoolers become acquainted with our various databases. When requested, adults receive a variety of resources to help classes, meetings, or personal endeavors (these days, my favorite for meetings is GoGameStorm.com).
More and more, we hope to point community members to the the peer groups that will help them further their learnings. Whether you’re interested in the Nicaraguan Civil War or the mythical cow tunnels of New York City, there’s a group for you to pursue those interests, and library will help find such connections that will help you most.