A learning network is made up of all the places one goes to learn new things (Siemens, 2004). It has nodes and connections. This is a pictorial representation of my learning network:
As you can see, the components are digital. I learn very little face-to-face, unless you count teaching missteps, which can be quite educational indeed. I do use Skype, KakaoTalk (the Korean Skype), and Facebook to talk to peers all over the world, and I have a network of local teachers as well. Waygook.com is a website specifically for instructors in South Korea, and is very useful for me, along with websites for free pictures, and online and local workshops. Blogs are useful, but terrific time-wasters, and should be used when I actually have free time, which is generally over school breaks. This is when I do my actual instructional design, so this is a nice plus. I use Digg Reader for my RSS feeds to get updated blogs in one place for me to review. Peer-reviewed papers are not just for those attending an educational program; they are very useful to keep up with the latest research in my fields–education, adult education, teaching English as a second or other language (TESOL), and curriculum and online educational design. I use video to educate myself on a daily basis, with YouTube and TED Talks. I love to stretch my mind in this way. If you’ve never seen them, try the CrashCourse videos on YouTube. They are highly educational, and also teach instructors a great deal about what and how to teach.
Here are some questions my instructional design professor suggested I answer for this blog:
- How has your network changed the way you learn?
My network makes learning more complete for me. If there is something I don’t understand or is complex, I watch a video or TED Talk. With a complicated step-by-step process, a how-to video is called for; I find those on YouTube.
- Which digital tools best facilitate learning for you?
I use peer-reviewed papers, blogs, video (YouTube and TED Talks), and peer communication tools like Skype, Facebook, and Kakaotalk. I generally start with the papers and blogs, and move out to video and peer communication. I am stunned by the amount of information out there…and the amount of useless, time-wasting information out there. I target what I learn (such as articles in peer-reviewed journals), which websites and blogs to trust (those that have a list of references are quite helpful), and have a network of instructor friends around the world I can speak to. One of them is in Thailand writing her master’s thesis, many are in China and Japan, one moved to Istanbul…and I can contact all of them online.
- How do you gain new knowledge when you have questions?
I start with peer-reviewed papers, then go to video and blogs to further understand the subject matter. I then discuss my findings with my teacher friends all over the globe, in a blog or via Skype or Kakaotalk. I have had fellow teachers see new avenues of inquiry or points I was missing countless times, so I never leave real people out of the learning process.
- In what ways does your personal learning network support or refute the central tenets of connectivism?
First, let’s discuss connectivism, then how my personal learning network supports its tenets. The technology used to connect others plays a part in connectivism. Technology becomes an extension of the brain (Prenksy, 2013), and nodes (teachers, videos, blogs, peer-reviewed papers) can be used to extend knowledge out into the world. Learning occurs when the learner has used the node to gather, assimilate, and possibly use new information. Memory is the network itself, remembering far more than individual humans can possibly remember (Siemens, 2004). Technology becomes a part of memory itself (Prensky, 2013). Humans also remember what they have learned, but they choose to remember what is interesting or useful to them. Transfer occurs when the learner figures out what nodes are needed to learn, usually from a variety of sources (peer-reviewed papers, blogs, wikis, videos, podcasts, and the like). Then, the student assesses the information on the nodes for value, and uses only what has value or interest (Prensky, 2013; Siemens, 2004). One must be careful about one’s sources; wikis and blogs are not necessarily accurate. Part of the problem is wading through the information to get to what is really useful.
My personal learning works exactly this way. I seek information from what I believe to be reliable sources. I assimilate that information, often going off on tangents to find out more information about what interests me about the subject. I then read blogs, including comments–one can find some fascinating dialogues there. I may leave a comment, or write in my own blog. I talk to my “teacher network”, and get feedback on what works or doesn’t work in their classrooms or in their real lives. Ideas are like Silly Putty, the claylike moldable children’s toy. No matter how much research has been done about this supposedly great idea, you must mold the idea into something that is useful for you, at this time, in your real classroom. My personal learning network gives me lots of Silly Putty to mold into things I can actually use in my real life. If I can’t use it, then the idea is not going to help me, and I need to seek more feedback, or to find a new idea that does work. The good news is, people are always coming up with and testing new ideas, and the Internet allows the free flow of information so that I may find these ideas quickly and easily. I am a better professor because of this information.
Prensky, M. (March 2013). Our Brains Extended. Technology-Rich Learning 70(6), 22-27.
Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Elearnspace.com. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm