Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Nurturing Our Personal Learning Networks

September 29, 2014

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.

ccourses_logoThe 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.

oclmooc_logoWhat 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.  


Blogging, Connecting, and Learning

October 14, 2013

Looking for wonderful examples of connectivity in action leads us directly to “Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy,” written and posted by Alison Seaman for the Hybrid Pedagogy digital journal/blog in January 2013—particularly if we’re celebrating Connected Educator Month and immersed in the five-week Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) MOOC (massive open online course) that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program.

xplrpln_logoSeaman’s wonderful example of how a well-written blog posting can engagingly serve as a valuable learning object—the piece is among the recommended readings during the second week of Exploring Personal Learning Networks—not only carries us through a first-rate exploration of what personal learning networks (PLNs) are and how they function to our benefit, but also extends our own personal learning networks if we care to follow the numerous well-chosen links to other writers’ work on the subject.

Even reading nothing more than the first paragraph of the piece leaves us with the recognition that our personal learning network is expanding in very rewarding ways and our role as connected educators working at trainer-teacher-learners is similarly growing. Seaman herself becomes part of that PLN if she wasn’t already there. Then, by following the link to Nathan Jurgenson’s Cyborgology blog article about digital dualism (the questionable practice of seeing our onsite and online personalities as different rather than seamlessly interwoven), we add Jurgenson, the blog he and PJ Rey created, and Rey into the mix.

While the potential connections to be forged through Seaman’s links are numerous, one that is particularly rewarding introduces us to global networker Shelley Terrell. It has the added benefit of calling attention to its writer (Howard Rheingold) if we’re not already familiar with his work, and it brings the topic back to human scale through Rheingold’s description of how Terrell refers to PLNs as “‘passionate learning networks’ and defines simply as ‘the people you choose to connect with and learn from.’”

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoWe don’t need to dissect the entire article paragraph by paragraph and link by link to see the value of exploring these online resources and increasing our PLN via connections on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ (particularly its communities, including—in the context of connected educators and personal learning networks—#xplrlrn and #etmooc), and the MOOCs in which we encounter these wonderful learning partners. But we can step back a bit, recognize the interactions that are already in place between the potentially new PLN resources (several of us have shared virtual space in #etmooc, #xplrlrn, and #lrnchat—a weekly online tweet chat for those involved in training-teaching-learning), and marvel at the real lesson to be absorbed here: our online interactions in personal learning networks continue to stretch our most rudimentary ideas of what it means to “meet” someone for the first time. (Does it have to be face-to-face, or are we already reaching the point in which interacting via a Google+ Hangout, Adobe Connect, or other more sophisticated forms of telepresence provide that initial all-important meeting? Does it have to be that traditional in-the-moment synchronous experience, or can it be via a much more protracted exchange that starts with someone posting an idea that we come across days, weeks, months, or even years later; respond to; then find ourselves engaged in online exchanges that remain alive in a very extended moment via our online means of communication?)

These are the sort of contemporary, mind-twisting, landscape-changing questions and challenges we can explore through our ever-expanding and resource-rich PLNs, drawing upon the people and the resources at our physical and virtual fingertips.

Reading James Paul Gee’s The Anti-Education Era, leads us to an interesting extension of how we and our resources interact to produce something positive that might otherwise not have come our way:

“The genius of human beings was and is the invention and use of tools to make themselves smarter. It is misleading to talk about human intelligence and think only of unaided humans. Humans are tool users. The real unit of analysis for intelligence ought often to be human + tool. If you want to know how much a human can lift, pair them with a forklift. If you want to know how much information they can store, pair them with a computer. If you want to know how far they can see, pair them with a telescope” (p. 122).

And, to continue his thought: If you want to know how much they know, connect them with a vibrant and vital personal learning network and then see where that takes them—and the rest of  us.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of posts about Connected Educator Month and the second  in a series of reflections inspired by #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


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