When learning turns in on itself, the results are magnificent—as is the case when we learn about personal learning networks (PLNs) by engaging with members of our personal learning networks, for example.
It’s something I’ve seen repeatedly in my own communities of learning, and it’s something I have explored and documented extensively through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrlrn) and other connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs). Those explorations are continuing through two MOOCs—the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc)—and it feels as if #ccourses hit a training-teaching-learning home run this evening with a live (and now archived) one-hour online session “Social Capital and PLNs: Discovering, Building, and Cultivating Networks of Learners.”
Social Capital and PLNs, the opening session in a two-week exploration of “Trust and Network Fluency” through the three-month #ccourses MOOC, brought together a dynamic panel of experts (Kira Baker-Doyle as moderator, with Cristina Cantrill, Meenoo Rami, Howard Rheingold, and Shelly Sanchez Terrell as participants). The tips and reminders were wonderful; the interactions with those panelists and with #ccourses learners via Twitter were engaging reminders that this is a community of learning that is quickly connecting numerous personal learning networks around the world. And each individual learner is a node within that ever-growing network of networks.
The session, early on, included a reminder that, for many teachers (and other learning facilitators, I would add), Twitter is a starting point in developing social capital. Just as Twitter can rapidly increase our contacts with valuable colleagues we might otherwise not encounter, our PLNs can serve as “social magnifiers,” Rheingold suggested. Bringing value to our online interactions is essential, he continued: when we give away things of value (e.g., shared resources and links to useful information), we draw upon a “reservoir of reciprocity,” contribute to the value of the PLNs, and strengthen our own positions as valuable members within those interwoven and incredibly extensive personal learning networks—as all of us participating saw time and time again during our hour together.
Acknowledging the reciprocity and uniqueness of social capital helps us better appreciate it, he continued: the more social capital we spend, the more we have.
This was obvious throughout the session. As we provided resources for each other, we gathered even more, including links to a Storify document containing Rheingold’s tweeted tips for developing PLNs at one point, for example, and to the Peeragogy handbook—a “collection of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work”—at another.
PLNs, we were reminded, are not just about learning; they provide emotional support and can be important resources that sustain us when we are beginning to feel overwhelmed, Terrell suggested. They also are among the resources we need to help our learners master—by helping those learners acquire the skills to effectively function within and use them; helping them understand that online social networks are not necessarily just for fun; and promoting the idea that good PLNs ask as much of their members as they offer.
Developing PLNs can include relatively simple steps: finding “your hashtag,” for example—the hashtag that brings someone together with other members of his or her learning community.
What helps those communities coalesce is the realization that making and building things together is an essential part of cementing relationships within communities—which suggests that for those of us creating teaching-training-learning opportunities through active participation in #ccourses, #oclmooc, and other first-rate learning opportunities, there is positive result of drawing ever closer to having even stronger learning communities and personal learning networks than we previously believed possible.
N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc. For a wonderful example of how PLNs develop, please see Howard Rheingold’s Digital Media Laboratory and Learning Research Hub article about Shelley Terrell—originally published online in October 2010.