One of the NDSU Ag Communication - Web Services goals I outlined in my last post, Sharing Our Goals, was to increase the use of online personal learning networks for workplace learning by 25%.
I think that goal is an important part in changing the way we have been looking at online networks and social media. We have been too focused on how we can leverage online networks to deliver our same messages in the much the same way we always have, instead of focusing how online networks are changing the way the world communicates, creates and learns. One way to shift our focus is to stop managing social media and to start participating in it. Building online personal learning networks is a great place to start.
Your personal learning network or PLN is made up of the people and resources you connect with and gain knowledge from. Years ago a personal learning network probably consisted of a newspaper or two, a handful of magazines, books, friends, colleagues and maybe public television or radio. Today the possibilities for making learning connections are considerably broader.
My own PLN starts with Twitter. The connections I have made with people around the world, inside and outside of land-grant universities, are an incredibly diverse source of knowledge. Following people on Twitter with the specific intent of learning from them is a great way to start moving your PLN online.
Blogs are another key element in an online PLN. There are blogs that contain quality information on just about any subject, but it can be a challenge to find and keep up with them. One of the best ways to find blogs that fit within your own PLN, is to listen to your network. What blogs are being read and tweeted by the people you follow on Twitter? What blogs are being mentioned in the blogs you already read?
Once you find blogs to add to your PLN, how do you keep up with them? The answer is "feeds." Feeds (RSS, XML and ATOM are all types of feeds. RSS is most common.) allow you to subscribe to updates from a website or blog. Instead of visiting that blog each day to see if there has been a new post, new posts are delivered to you through the tool you use to read your feeds. There are a number of tools you can use to read feeds including Microsoft Outlook, some web browsers and feed readers like Google Reader and FeedDemon. Here's a great primer of using feeds (video). It's from 2007, so it doesn't include some of the options for reading feeds, but it covers the topic really well.
Online PLNs can reach far beyond blogs and Twitter to encompass other online networks, open education resources, online video and more. You need to start by focusing on how you can use online networks to learn and, eventually, on how you can contribute to the learning happening in online networks.