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EduMOOC; Personal Online Learning Networks

I think, in the sixth week at EduMOOC, we touched the core of online learning - the Personal Online Learning Networks.

We can find that every thing in this universe transmit some kind of information and It is eternal. Again every living being has some facility to receive and store information that are vital to their existence. But in the human context, owe to  the genetic peculiarity, human beings collect all sort of information, whether it is vital to their existence or not, and build knowledge by connecting this information sequentially and logically. This knowledge building process happens in every minds. Therefore the easiest way to acquire knowledge is connecting with people. In the distant past, man traveled by foot many months in search of knowledgeable people to acquire knowledge as well as knowledgeable people traveled a lot in search of learners. Therefore the hypothesis is that man cannot goes on without acquiring as well as sharing knowledge.

In the history, man has always tried and most often succeeded in finding out innovative methods for acquiring and sharing knowledge. Open Distance Learning and the use of ICT in ODL are the continuation of such innovations. I consider Social Networking Platforms are also a part of this developments, because the very existence of social networking platforms is  heavily indebted to man’s genetic trait to collect and share information. Perhaps it might be that trait which prompt us to use the term ‘Personal Learning Networks’.
Personal Learning Networks consist of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a Personal Learning Environment. An important part of this concept is the theory of connectivism developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge. The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person. Connectivism was introduced as a theory of learning based on the premise that knowledge exists in the world rather than in the head of an individual. (From Wikipedia)

In this era of ICT, Personal Learning Networks are online networks facilitated mostly by social networking platforms like facebook, twitter, google+, other email and chat platforms, social bookmarking, blogs etc. All this together create the Personal Online Learning Network environment. Now, how one can effectively make use of these networking facilities to address  his/her learning needs? Will Richardson, the author of the highly ranked and read edublog Weblogg-ed, has rightly pointed out in the short introductory video talk on the weekly topic page  that the important success factors of online learning are building personal learning network, flourishing with in the network and finding trusted sources.

Whether you are an online learner or a conventional class-room learner, with some planning you can make use of Personal Learning Networks for your studies. For this, as pointed out above, you have to create a network. How is it possible? One commonly used method is joining the network of known experts in your subjects of study and watch the updates of your new friend as well as the friends of the new friend. It will give you opportunity to select connections from among the friends of your friend. Thus you can keep on building your network. In your network you will be able to seek additional or supportive information for your studies, you can actively participate in debate or discussions on the topics of your studies, and many more.

Said that, it does not mean that Personal Learning Networks are useful only to learners, it is equally useful for the teachers to interact with learners and interactions between teachers, interactions between institutions etc. Teachers can supplement their lectures with supplementary notes on the social networks. Similarly teachers can answer more learner queries on the network than the same in the class rooms. They can also facilitate online seminars and encourage student blogs instead of handwritten assignments. Nowaday, it is not a new thing, many teachers and institutions have  already recognized the potential of PLNs and started to make use of it. For instance, a report titled "Learning 2.0: The Impact of Web 2.0 Innovations on Education and Training in Europe" brought  out by the Joint Research Centre of European Commission in 2009 identifies, after studying 250 cases, following five general approaches in deploying social computing tools in primary, secondary, vocational and higher education in Europe.

  1. Opening up to Society: Many educational institutions appropriate social computing as a means of facilitating access to information by current and prospective students, making institutional processes more transparent and facilitating the distribution of educational material. 
  2. Embracing Diversity: In a number of cases,social computing applications are used as a means of integrating learning into a wider community, reaching out to virtually meet people from other age-groups and socio-cultural backgrounds, linking to experts, researchers or practitioners in a certain field of study and thus opening up alternative channels for gaining knowledge and enhancing skills.
  3. Networking: In many cases, social computing applications are primarily conceived of as communication tools among students or teachers and between students and teachers.
  4. Achieving: Learning 2.0 approaches can be used as a means to increase academic achievement.
  5. Learning: In many cases, social computing tools are used to implement pedagogical strategies intended to support, facilitate, enhance and improve learning processes.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) calls the learners who require and use above facilities as “New Millennium Learners” , that is,  the generation of young people born after 1982. When the PLNs of these new millennium learners link one another we will  get an enabling environment for an Online ODL ecosystem.

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