Information Services Today: Global Personal Learning Networks

April 24, 2015

Preparing a personal learning networks (PLNs) webinar and reading Jan Holmquist’s “Global Learning Networks” chapter in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction makes me realize how wonderfully expansive and rewarding our PLNs have become.

Information_Services_Today--CoverThe idea driving the creation of a personal learning network—the ever-changing informal group of people each of us personally and uniquely defines, forms, and turns to in our lifelong learning endeavors—appears to be timeless; I can’t imagine a period of our recorded or unrecorded history during which people didn’t learn from each other informally, beyond the confines of classrooms or other formal learning spaces. And yet, as Holmquist notes at the beginning of his chapter, changes in the technology we use are expanding the pool of potential PLN members from which we can draw tremendously: “The world keeps getting smaller. Technology has challenged the need for physical presence regarding how, when, and where learning, collaboration, and sharing information takes place” (p. 374).

PLNs, he continues, provide a tremendous set of benefits by offering us connections to colleagues with whom we can “interact and exchange information and resources; share knowledge, experiences, and ideas; and collect and create an informed guide to professional development opportunities and lifelong learning” (p. 377).

We don’t want or need to become too technical or academic in exploring what personal learning networks mean to us to fully appreciate how they operate and what they provide. They are flexible (because we continually modify them to meet our learning needs). They are responsive (because we define them, nurture them, and turn to them in our moments of need, not someone else’s). They can be collaborative (although there are times when we learn from members of our PLNs without directly contacting them, e.g., when we learn by reading a PLN colleague’s writing on a topic we’re exploring or drawing upon a list of resources curated by members of our PLNs). They thrive on our willingness to contribute to them rather than seeing them solely as one-way resources—something where we take but never give. They are as local or as global as we choose to make them, drawing upon colleagues we see face-to-face as well as colleagues with whom we might have only the most cursory of online interactions via social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ Communities, Scoop.it, and Storify. And as the name implies, personal learning networks are deeply and inevitably personal (both in the sense of being something that is centered on each of us, individually, and in the sense of being centered on persons)—and they change as our learning changes need, but also have a sense of continuity that reflects the continuities in our own learning interests and endeavors.

xplrpln_logoThere seems to be no definitive answer as to how small or large a PLN should be. The work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that there is a point (Dunbar’s number) beyond which members of any social group lose their ability to function effectively in social relationships, and I suspect that an overly large PLN eventually becomes ineffective in that valuable resources become overlooked because they are lost in the PLN crowd. The diversity of members and the variety of interests represented by those members, on the other hand, suggests that a PLN benefits from not being overly small or exclusive. And the resources from which we draw members seems to be limited only by our own imaginations: A cursory glance at my own PLN shows that it includes people with whom I’ve learned in formal academic settings, onsite workshops, and professional associations (e.g., the New Media Consortium, the American Library Association, and the Association for Talent Development); from people I’ve met in tweet chats (e.g., through #lrnchat); and from learning facilitators and learners in connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs)—including one (#xplrpln—”Exploring Personal Learning Networks”) focused on the creation and nurturing of PLNs. My PLN has also grown significantly by adding people whose published work—including work they publish on their blogs—provides learning opportunities for me. I’ve even realized that drawing upon an anthology such as Information Services Today can contribute to the development of a PLN; reading chapters written by and interacting with other contributors to the book has made me consciously include Michael Stephens and Kristin Fontichiaro, along with Jan Holmquist, in my own PLN.

If this inspires you to expand your personal learning network by adding Stephens, Fontichiaro, Holmquist, or other writers, and to expand your own ideas about where you can find additional members to strengthen your own PLN, then you’ve taken another step in recognizing how global and open our personal learning networks have become.

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”

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Information Services Today: Hyperlinked Libraries, Makerspaces, & Learning in a Collaborative World

April 17, 2015

Trainer-teacher-learners reading Michael Stephens’ “Hyperlinked Libraries” and Kristin Fontichiaro’s “Creation Culture and Makerspaces” chapters in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction will find inspiring reminders of how learning organizations are evolving to meet community needs.

Information_Services_Today--CoverIn fact, if we substitute the term “learning organization” for the word “library” in a set of observations Stephens offers at the top of the Hyperlinked Library page on his Tame the Web site, we have another first-rate manifesto for trainer-teacher-learners working within libraries as well as for those working in other settings: “The Library Plays. The Library Learns. The Library Tells Stories. The Library is Transparent. The Library is Participatory. The Library harnesses user-generated content. The Library makes Connections.” Stephens, furthermore, has provided a bridge from hyperlinked libraries to a concept of hyperlinked learning that carries us into themes trainer-teacher-learners are exploring worldwide; it encompasses learning models and tools including massive open online courses (MOOCs), a combination of formal and informal learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown’s A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, mobile learning (m-learning), connected learning; reflective learning, production-centered learning, personal learning networks, and flexible learning spaces.

Hyperlinked_Library_SiteHis description of hyperlinked libraries in Information Services Today offers us a straightforward point of departure: “Hyperlinked library services are born from the constant, positive, and purposeful adaptation to change that is based on thoughtful planning and grounded in the mission of libraries. Information professionals embracing the hyperlinked model practice careful trend spotting and apply the tenets of librarianship along with an informed understanding of emerging technologies’ societal and cultural impact. Information professionals communicate with patrons and potential users via open and transparent conversations using a wide variety of technologies across many platforms. The hyperlinked library model flourishes in both physical and virtual spaces by offering collections, activities, trainings, and events that actively transform spectators into participants. In participatory culture, everyone is in the business of advancing knowledge and increasing skill levels. The community is integrated into the structure of change and improvement” (p. 185).

Hyperlinked learning includes elements of much of what colleagues and I explore and document through our participation in the New Media Consortium Horizon Project: how we are incorporating technology into the learning process; how tech tools support and expand the collaborative opportunities we have within learning organizations and the communities they serve; and what we should and can do to keep our skill levels where they need to be to meet the needs of the organizations and learners we serve.

When we turn our attention to makerspaces within the framework of  hyperlinked learning, we easily see how makerspaces fit into our experiential (learn-by-doing) learning landscape and how much less vibrant that landscape would be without the creative, collaborative nature of what those spaces produce. They provide a huge and much-needed leap from lecture-based learning—where success is measured by quizzes and other ineffectual measures of long-term learning—into a world of learning that supports the development of the collaborative and creative skills so many people promote as workplace essentials. They are engaging. Dynamic. And transformational. And they build upon some long-established traditions.

Fontichiaro_Makerspaces“Information organizations have a long tradition of supporting a community’s intellectual and personal interests through rich collections available for checkout and through interactive activities online and in the physical space,” Fontichiaro explains in the conclusion to her makerspace chapter. “By unifying the how collections of the information organization with the let’s-do energy of the community, information organizations can create maker learning communities and opportunities that delight, motivate, and inspire communities” (p. 198).

We don’t need to make this overly complex. It really comes down to some simple concepts:

  • Our approaches to learning and to designing/redesigning the spaces in which we learn, while grounded in well-established patterns and practices, offer intriguing possibilities for dynamic change at least partially made possible by the rapid rate of change in the technology we have.
  • Learning is not something with defined beginning and ending points; when supported effectively, it’s a fascinating, rewarding, meandering, lifelong endeavor comprised of informal as well as formal elements carrying us between a variety of learning organizations including academic institutions, workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs, museums, libraries and other information organizations, conferences, and onsite as well as online communities of learning.
  • We don’t have to subscribe solely to a single element of hyperlinked learning or what learning spaces—including makerspaces—contain. Remaining open to an evolving set of options serves us and our learners well.
  • The tools available to support training-teaching-learning are continuing to evolve in intriguing ways, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our learners to explore those tools as time allows so we can most effectively support the varied, lifelong learning needs successful participation in our workplaces and our communities requires.

We have, as so many of us have repeatedly observed, come to expect that learning will occur when and where we need it. Our greatest challenge is to find ways to embrace and meet that need through effective collaborations—without becoming overwhelmed by options.

N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


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