Exploring My PLN – Blog Post #9

There is an ebb and flow in adding to my PLN.  Depending on a project or a research strand a certain topic may rise to the top of the reading list.  I took a look at my PLN and discovered some things about how I access information.

 Visual of My PLN


There was no scientific analysis of the data.  I was simply looking for trends and patterns.  I will admit that my access in Feedly has not been as frequent, as I have been reading more research.  As such, I probably should have included Mendeley.

Adding People, Organizations or Businesses

As I looked over the people, organizations and businesses I thought about how they came to be in my PLN.  Here are some stories….

Meeting Virtually

Several people I met virtually, in an online class, or a webinar.  I’ve added these people because I connected with them in a different virtual space, and although the class or meeting is over, I wanted to continue that connection.

Meeting in Person

Several people I met in person, often at conferences.  We shared our social media information and I continue to watch what they are sharing.

The Friend of a Friend of a Friend

Many of the people in my PLN I have never “met.”  Rather I saw a connection, or one of the people I already followed shared an insight from this person and I decided to add them directly to my PLN.

Meeting After the Fact

Joining an organization can strengthen connections you have already made virtually.  When I attended the AECT conference in Fall 2013, I discovered that the people I had found online and added to my PLN were also at this conference.  It confirmed to me that I had joined the right organization.

Do You Need to Constantly Build?

I would say no.  Even as I explored my PLN, I noticed that there are some feeds that don’t really grab my attention.  I discovered some dead RSS feeds that needed to be deleted.  There is no way to read absolutely everything, but if you take time to find people that share information you need or are interested in, it can help you continue to learn and grow as a professional.


Blog Post 7 – Choose Your Own Topic

I know, not a very interesting title, but it is the topic for Blog Post #7.  If you have been reading, you know that I am currently teaching a course (HRD4407/5507) on Technologies in Human Resource Development.  I have chosen to focus this course on the creation of a Professional Learning Network (PLN).  You could also call it a Personal Learning Network, Personal Learning Environment or a Personal Learning Ecology (as I did here).  I purposely selected the term “professional” to emphasize how social media can be used in a professional setting.

At the heart of a PLN is social media.   This is a broad term and most people simple equate social media as Facebook.  But there is more to this social media.  From an article in 2011, Heidi Coehn, a marketing professional gathered a variety of definitions of social media.  But for me it is about the connection between the individual and the tool.

A Brief, Very Brief History of the Internet

In the beginning there was information. The Internet was a place to find information, it still is a place to find information, but in the beginning only those who could write fancy code could put information on the Internet.  (This would be Web 1.0).

Then there was writing or creation for the masses.  Some incredible people made it possible to “write on the web” without knowing the fancy coding.  The Internet became a place where anyone could create and share information. (This would be Web 2.0).  You see lots of references in education to Web 2.0 tools.  There are still great tools available and more every day!

Then there was connecting. (And you guess it, this would be Web 3.0.  Although there are many who would argue that it is really still just Web 2.0, but that is another discussion.) Now, not only are people able to create and share, they can connect and broadcast.  The tools that were created allow people to follow others using tools like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

So the Internet has moved from a read-only resource to a mass creation and sharing to connecting and broadcasting. Which leads us to the emerging learning theory of connectivism.


In midst of these new tools for connecting, George Seimens presented a learning theory called connectivism, which is based on connecting (see the Web 3.0 connection).  The basic principles of connectivism are:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

(Seimens, 2004)

If you are interested in learning theories, you should go to http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm and read the article.  Better yet, make sure you are logged in to your Diigo account.  Then you can experience how social media tools can change the way we interact with information.  Throughout the article are highlights and comments from other Diigo users.  Not only can you read the article, but you can see what others feel are important based on the highlighting and you can see their thoughts and additional insights based on the notes they add.  And as you start reading the comments you realize they are all from the same time period – looks like a group, perhaps a class co-read this article.  You and I were not there for the discussions, but we do get to see some of the virtual learning footprint they left behind.

What Does Your Virtual Learning Footprint Look Like?

As you create and build a PLN, you are able to explore the virtual learning footprint of others.  As you create and comment and share your learning you too are creating a virtual learning footprint.  Does this matter?  Well, if you’d like to know how that one person you admire achieved and grew, perhaps they left a virtual learning footprint you can explore and learn from.  As you move forward always working towards that next goal, do you ever stop and reflect on how far you have come?  If you have left a virtual learning footprint you can look back and see.  Or you can be reminded of why you are in school, again, or why you took that second job when you didn’t really need the money.  These can be powerful reflective moments that help keep you on track.



Seimens, G. (2004) Connectivisim: A learning theory for the digital age. Retreived from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

LinkedInGroups, Twitter: Finding Cool Stuff

As we, my students in HRD 4407 / 5507 and I continue to grow our PLN, the task at hand is first to find a group on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn Groups

Joining a group on LinkedIn allows you to see what others are sharing in the group on LinkedIn.  You can see what topics and especially who people in your group are following on blogs, twitter and other social media.

Two groups I have joined on LinkedIn are the Instructional Designers Group and the Moodlers Group.  Instructional Design is the area of my doctoral degree and there are so many different areas of employment for instructional designers.  This is a large group (67, 519 members as of 6/4/2014).  I do not expect to connect with or “get to know” all of them, but I do like what people in this group share.  As I was looking up the group to link in this blog post the article below was shared – which I thought was appropriate considering Michell’s blog post on identity, privacy and social networking

A tale of two doctoral students: Social media tools and hybridised identities

The Moodlers Group is much smaller with 1,788 members, but as Moodle support is a large part of my job, I thought it would be valuable to connect with others using Moodle.  This group tends to have discussions on best practices in implementing and supporting Moodle.


The second task is to find someone new to follow on twitter and then to look at who s/he is following.  I enjoy seeing who those I want to learn from are learning from.  There are some amazing learning paths and connections as you explore who is following whom in social media.

I happened to be looking up a book by Douglas Rushkoff – Program or Be Programed.  I really needed to find it on Amazon and place an order, but being lazy and since the Google search page was open I simply searched the title of the book, knowing there would be an Amazon link in the results list.  At the top was Douglas Rushkoff’s website, and it occurred to me that this would be a good person to explore his website and possible blog.

On the book page, at the bottom I found easily identifiable social media links.



So, I click on the twitter icon, logged in to my twitter account and “followed” Douglas Rushkoff.

Once on the page below, I can see that there are more than 27,900 people following him, but he only follows 317 people.  I can also see that he recently gave an “astoundingly refreshing keynote” at the BEA2014 conference, based on the first tweet listed.

There are also some suggestions of people Twitter thinks are simliar to Douglas Rushkoff and recommends that I follow them too.




But the second step of this task was to see who he is following, who are these 317 people.  In the six people that showed up first, there is an artist, a book publishing professional, an optimist, a software artist, the office of creative research and the 18th chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.  As Douglas Rushkoff is a “media theorist,” it does not surprise me that terms like “artist,” “publishing,” and “creative” come up in the descriptions.  Of these, I too added the Office for Creative Research to those I am following.



There are so many ways to find people to add to your PLN, follow the paths, search with key words and explore the profiles.  Add to your own profile, the keywords, phrases, descriptions and ideas that best represent who you are and who you want to become.


Selecting a Wiki Tool

In selecting any technology it is important to understand first what you want to be able to do.  I will admit there are some cool tools I run across and then wonder how I could implement them in a learning context.  But I have found that having an objective in mind before hand allows me to sort and filter and evaluate the usefulness of the tool.

In designing the summer section of HRD 4407 / 5507 – Technologies in Human Resource Develoment I needed to revise some of the assignments in the course due to the lack of availability of some of the technologies (See The Constant Change of Technology or The Death of SlideRocket).  I’ve written about searching for tech tools for eLearning (see Finding the Best Tools for eLearning) and that is the process I followed as I selected the various tools for this course.

Selecting Appropriate Technology for eLearning

Learner Analysis

The first information I sought was about the students who would be in this course.  This would be a combined undergraduate / graduate course.  Those enrolled as undergraduates would be  at the end of their program while the graduates would just be at the beginning of their degree.  While the name of the course is looking at human resource development, there would still be many students who would not be headed into a career in human resources.  Understanding this variety in the students I took a step back and used a very broad definition of technology in HRD.


One of the biggest limitations in this course was that it is a six week summer course.  The timeline for this course would be quick.  Knowing that I would have a variety of technical skills, we needed to jump into using the technology quickly.  It would also be important to provide tutorials and keep things focused.

Course Objectives

I left this step out of the previous post, but this is what should always guide the selection of technologies in a learning environment.  The course was redesign around the concept of a Professional Learning Network (PLN).  This is a overarching concept that would apply to all the students and would get everyone in using technology tools, especially social media in a professional context.

The previous course design incorporated all the student reviews of individual technologies into an ebook.  The current course retains the objective that students will become an “expert” on a specific technology.  However, in order to incorporate another social media tool, this one project was moved to a wiki format.  The content would remain the same, it would be available publicly and would incorporate a useful technology tool that is used in many work environments.

What is a Wiki?

A wiki is a freely editable webpage.  It is one of the first tools that moved the internet from a read-only resource created by those who understood servers and HTML, to a creation resource created by anyone with appropriate access.  You can read more about wikis on one of the most well know wikis – wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki)

Selecting a Wiki

In consultation with the previous instructor of this course she recommended two wikis – PBWorks and Wikispaces.  I created an account (free education account) on each system.  This allowed me to see the interface and available tools.  After a brief exploration I paused and created a list of what features I wanted in the wiki.

  1. Easy interface
  2. Helpful support resources
  3. Easy to add users
  4. Free
  5. Logical navigation

Both options fit most of the items on the list.  I could have also search for a comparison like this WikiMatrix or sought out a discussion like this Wikispaces vs. PBWorks, but I did not at that time.  In the end, wikispaces had some impressive tools that supported the use of a wiki within the educational setting and the interface was intuitively easier to navigate.

I am looking forward to watching our class wiki evolve.  As with many eLearning projects there is a need for some project management.  In order to meet the needs of a graduate program, moving this project to a wiki also provided the opportunity to guide the graduate students in project management.  I have provided some vague guidelines, but the wiki page template recently posted in the course was co-created with the graduate students and the organizational structure of the wiki as a whole is in development – headed up by the graduate students.

Wiki and PLN?

A wiki is a wonderful tool in a PLN.  It enables professionals around the world to co-create a resource.  One node in my PLN is http://ethosconsultancynz.ning.com/.  Ning is a tool to create communities – it combines blogs, profiles, wikis and social media tools into a space all their own.  And even though this community began in New Zealand, I have found it useful in my PLN.

Social Media: Drinking from a Fire Hose

Social Media can feel overwhelming.  Between all the various tools to connect and navigate, the options on sharing – photos, urls, text, videos etc., the other tools to organize your social media not to mention all the usernames and passwords, it can quickly feel overwhelming – like trying to drink from a fire hose.


by Official U.S. Navy Imagery on Flickr  creative commons button by-sa Some rights reserved

This is a phrase I heard during a keynote by Alec Couros at the NWelearn conference several years ago.  At this point in time, I was not active in social media and was seriously wondering if it was worth “adding one more thing.”

stacked by Chrissy Wainwright

by Chrissy Wainwright on Flickr  Some rights reserved

Stopping to Explore

The solution Alec Couros suggested was to not worry about what you missed.  You just need to stop by every now and again and take a drink from the river of information.   I have followed this advice and found some incredibly helpful information when I needed it, or an introduction to a new idea or technology that proved useful later.

daughter of milam by anurag agnihotri

by anurag agnihotri on Flickr  creative commons button by-sa Some rights reserved

Blogs and RSS

One of the first tools I used was an RSS reader.  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication – which while it does make you feel like it is something you could wrap your mind around – really doesn’t answer the question  of what is RSS.  You can search “define RSS” in google and you will get the definition along with a number of sites to explore.  Or we can turn to CommonCraft on Youtube for a visual explanation:


So, you use RSS to help you keep track of your blogs and other sites that use RSS.  I currently use Feedly to gather all the RSS feeds I have discovered.  I like the ability to sort, organize, and search.  It can still be overwhelming, but you have to remember that you are not “required” to read everything, just the titles or images that catch your eye.  Or maybe use the search for terms like “presentation” to find people talking about technology for presentations.

 People, Products and Twitter

I have found that twitter can often provide a quick look at something new. With only 140 characters there is a limit, but often links will be added using a url shortner (bit.ly, goo.gl, ow.ly) that take you to blog posts, articles or other expanded information.  It has been through these short moments in time that I have found some cool tools (gingko), insights from big names in my field (http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2986), informative graphics (), and inspiration

So, while social media can be overwhelming, don’t feel you have to “do” or capture everything.  You are in charge of how you use social media.  Explore a little, but do some planning as well.  Plan to take time to use the tools in a way that in useful for you.

At times you may feel like you are letting information go down the drain, but there are tools – searching, filtering, etc. to help you find the information when you need it.  Take the time to learn those features and you will be in charge of your social media.

fire hose drain Kat N.L.M.

by Kat N.L.M. on Flickr   Some rights reserved


Building My PLN: Who to Follow?

In considering what I want to learn and how I want to develop there are many ways I have used to find people to include in my professional learning network or PLN.   In this post I will look at the process I used to find two individuals and some of the tools I have used to organize my PLN.  Before looking for people, blogs or other resources, it is good to consider your areas of interest.

Areas of Interest

My list grows and changes as I learn more, but at the moment I would say these are my areas of interest – with some sub-categories:

  • Instructional Design
  • Faculty Development
  • Online Learning
    • Quality
    • Course Design
    • Delivery
  • Technology for Learning
  • Just plain cool technology
  • Teaching
  • Learning
  • Visual Design

So, now that I have some general areas, the question is how do I go about finding people, blogs and resources to add to my PLN.  Here are two ways that I found key people in my PLN.

Just in Time Answers

One of the first places people use to find answers is “Google.”  In the process of working on various projects, I will use this same process to find solutions to problems I encounter.  In the searches, I will often discover a  blog that consistently has great answers, suggestions and solutions.  This is the type of resource you want to include in your PLN – one that consistently has answers to the questions you are asking.   For me, this resource centered on designing learning experiences.

The eLearning Coach

The elearning Coach blog is written by Connie Malamed.  Her background is in design and her blog post usually focus on the implementation of a strategy, tool or technique, making them perfect answers for questions.  In addition to following her blog using Feedly, I followed her on twitter and connected with her via LinkedIn.

Who are They Following?

After adding several people with practical answers like Connie Malamed.  I started paying attention to who they were following on Twitter, whose posts they retweeted and who they referenced in their blog posts.  Through this process I found someone who makes me think.  I enjoy when I discover a new idea or a new perspective.  It is important to include people that make you think and bring alternative perspectives.

Howard Rheingold

Howard Rheingold is one of those people that brings new ideas into my thinking.  I do find that I agree with much of what he says and he does bring practical ideas to my attention.  But he is also one of my resources that pointed out that you need to include multiple perspectives.  You don’t want a PLN that constantly agrees with you – you don’t get new ideas that way.  I find that his principles in NetSmart are good guidelines to follow.

Tools for PLN

In building my PLN, I have found the following tools most helpful:


Feedly.com allows me to follow blogs, put them into categories and easily access new posts from one location.


I use twitter to see what people are sharing and talking about.  I have also looked up hashtags for conferences I cannot attend to follow the backchannel.  WordPress also allows you to automatically send a tweet when a new blog post is published – allowing me to easily share what I am exploring.


Along with individuals, LinkedIn also has groups.  I have found some valuable people in the Instructional Design and Moodle groups who I have followed on Twitter and added to my Feedly account.

So there you have some guidelines to help you in building your PLN.  Who will you find? What tools are you using?  Feel free to share in the comments so we can all build our PLN.


Organizations and Conferences: AECT

One of the best things that happened to me as a student teacher is that my mentor encouraged me to attend a conference with the rest of the Foreign Language Department.  I loved gathering all the best practices and ideas that I could incorporate into my teaching.  I continued to attend regional and national conferences each year I taught in K12.

When I moved into Higher Education, the organization and conferences did not meet my professional needs anymore.  I felt lost and out of touch.  I needed to connect with other professionals outside my own organization.  Most of my colleagues were fantastic to work with, but there is something about getting out of the regular environment that energizes you in a way that an internal conversation or training just can’t do.

Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT)

Last year I joined and attended the national conference for AECT. This organization is about instructional design – designing good education that incorporates and takes advantage of technology.  Some may see other aspects of the organization -as there are others, but this is what I needed.

This conference was different.  In lacking a professional organizational “home” I had turned to blogs and twitter to find other professionals.  In attending the conference many of the names and faces were familiar.  Several of the featured speakers were people whose blogs /twitter feeds I followed – Howard Rheingold, David Wiley, David Merrill, Tom Reeves.

One morning of the conference they had what they called “Breakfast with Champions.”  I bought my ticket and went.  In the room were approximately 20 tables with names.  All the featured speakers and many of the other “big names” in instructional design were each seated at their own table.  This was an opportunity to go sit and have breakfast with amazing professionals!  As a doctoral candidate everyone was interested and willing to help me with research ideas so the conversation  became centered on my research interests. I can’t wait to go again!

Professional Learning Networks (PLN)

So how does a professional organization fit into your PLN? In beginning the creation of your PLN, look for an organization.  Look in all areas of your interest, for me those interests have included teaching, technology, instructional design, learning, French, change management and Chemistry.  Once you find an organization – join that organization.  Take advantage of the conferences, workshops and resources available through the organization.  As you find people that have similar professional interests, you can follow their blogs and twitter feeds to see what they are studying and exploring, and who they are following.  Bringing a wealth of information to you, to learn and grow as a professional.

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