Thursday, November 15, 2007

Personal Learning Networks as Systems

There certainly are a wide array of tools out there that help us to communicate and collaborate with others. And there are certainly lots of educators out there looking to communicate and collaborate with each other via those tools. How many new tools have you discovered over the last year, month, week? How many of those tools have you integrated into your personal practice? How many blogs do you read? How many of the ideas from those blogs have you integrated into your own thinking?

The tools and the people that we connect with because of those tools become a part of our personal learning network. They all interact together in some way - and I suppose that makes them a system. So, to continue this line of thinking tonight, I'm referencing back to Classroom Instruction That Works. I'm looking at the thinking skills in Chapter 9 about generating and testing hypotheses - specifically the section about systems analysis. So, in doing a systems analysis, we need to understand the purpose of the system, the parts of the system and the function of each part. We also need to figure out how each part affects others.

Starting with this then: the purpose of the personal learning network (our system) is to support our own personal professional development and our continued learning. The system consists of a number of parts: people first of all and the thought and ideas that they generate as a result of all of their experiences, tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, multimedia, and communication tools. How does each part affect the others? As we share our thoughts and ideas via the tools, we continually examine points of view and either reject them or integrate them into our continued thinking or personal and professional practice. As we work with new tools we also either reject them or integrate them into our practices. For example, some of us look at Twitter and immediately integrate it while others reject it as not being of value to their own learning network.

Now, we take a part of that system and think (hypothesize) about how a change to that part might affect the rest of the system. Right now, this system consists of some trusted "authorities" that have been evaluated based on my personal learning needs. If any of my trusted sources are missing, I might hypothesize that the depth of my learning could be greatly affected both negatively and positively I suppose - I would either miss that point of view or be ready to move on to new ideas. This system also consists of tools. Many edubloggers have already been analyzing the changes to their learning networks with the addition of Twitter while others have been examining the affects of using other tools such as So we hypothesize how each tool that we encounter might affect the rest of our already existing system.

Considering a personal learning network as a system puts a different light on it for me. But it also makes me consider how this concept is presented to others who don't yet have this "system" in their own professional practice. We can present our audiences with lots of information about how great it is to have a learning network and how powerful the tools are that help us to develop and maintain that network. However, our biggest challenge is to provide professional development opportunities that immerse our audiences in the information that they need then help them to think their way out - make comparisons among the many different types of tools, construct arguments about the value of one tool over another tool. Without the thinking, it's just information. Period. With the use of thinking skills, we can avoid the effects of "drive by training" and have a more positive affect on the learning of our educator audiences.

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