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8 Ways To Build Your Personal Learning Network With Twitter, Google Plus, And More

The following is excerpted from The Edupunks' Guide, a free ebook by Fast Company senior writer Anya Kamenetz. You can download the PDF here and a plain-text ereader version here. For more on edupunk, watch the DIY U video here.

Lifelong learning is a must for any career. But in the long run, no one learns alone. We all need people to bounce ideas off, answer questions, and help when we get stuck, and to give you ideas about what to learn next. Your "Personal Learning Network" or PLN is the group of people who feed your learning head. In a true PLN, you’re a contributor, not just a consumer.

Amanda Agnello, a student in an online master’s in teaching program, used a combination of school, Twitter and conferences to build her PLN. @psuklinkie is her Twitter handle.

"I got active on Twitter and that changed my whole experience," says Amanda. "I started following the hashtag #ntchat (New Teacher Chat). In my [online] program I felt isolated and a little bit up a tree, but my Twitter PLN really gave me a lot of support. I was able to bounce ideas off them and get a lot of intellectual recognition—'That’s such a great idea! wow!' I kept telling my classmates: get on Twitter and it will change your life!"

To visualize your PLN, draw a diagram that looks like a dandelion head. You, the learner, are at the center. The seeds around you are the people in your life who contribute to your learning. Here are some places to find them.

  • Family and friends
  • Real-life classmates & teachers,past and present
  • Twitter
  • Google Reader, Delicious, Digg, Diigo, or Reddit or another social bookmarking service.
  • Facebook or Google+. Most of your Facebook friends probably don’t belong in your personal learning network, but you may have a few who consistently post links that connect with your interests, or start interesting intellectual debates. That’s who we’re talking about here.
  • Experts whose classes you watch on open courseware sites, whose books you read, blogs or YouTube channels you follow, or whose ideas you connect with in another way.
  • Conferences, meetups, bookstore events, or other face to face events.
  • Special interest online forums like StackOverflow, for programmers, Vimeo for filmmakers, and many more.

Once you get going you might be able to list hundreds of people who belong in your personal learning network. Some may be close friends, and others you’ll never meet. If you’re following a personal learning plan and living the life of an edupunk, it’s a good idea to create a dedicated online place where your personal learning network can live. I use both Google Reader and Twitter. In both places, I share and comment on links daily, and I follow people who share my interests in the future of education, green technology, and other topics.

[Image: Flickr user ricardo266]