This summer I’ll be teaching a new course on Leadership of Learning in the Digital Age. I’m designing the course as a combination of leadership skills (emotional intelligence) and digital literacy skills. One key aspect of the course will be to have students work on defining and expanding their personal learning network (PLN). In leadership terminology, the idea here is grow your social capital. From my perspective, I see it as growing the network of people who help me to continue learning.
One bit of advice I received was to make sure that I modeled the behaviors that I’m teaching. One example of that modeling is this blog, and my personal internet presence. This idea then made me start to conscious think about the things that I do (and have done) to help grow my personal learning network. How do I keep it alive and continue to feed it.
Currently the one of the most important things I do for my online network is Virtually Connecting (VC). VC has done so much for expanding my personal learning network. I love that I have so many new colleagues and even new friends as a result of what I do at Virtually Connecting. I’m working now at expanding that space into the Engaged Patient (ePatient) space. The transition is not an easy one, but it has been a valuable one for my learning. I also love seeing how Virtually Connecting is helping others.
Another thing I do is to reach out to people and ask about their research, or ask for a copy of their paper. I use Google Scholar Alerts to find the latest research papers on topics that interest me. When something that comes up that looks interesting but isn’t available through my university library (which is often the case with alerts about papers that haven’t been published yet), I try to see if I can find an email for the author (or if they are on ResearchGate or Academia.edu). If I can find a way to communicate directly with the author, I send them a message introducing myself and asking them a question and for a copy of the paper. This gives me an opportunity to reach out and have a dialogue with scholars who are doing work that I find interesting. It sometimes leads to further conversations. It is also very rewarding when someone answers your email.
Earlier in my academic career I participated in Connectivist MOOCs. These MOOCs gave me ideas for blog posts, but also gave me a chance to connect with others. Participating in the blogosphere, and linking to other people’s blogs, has done a lot for my PLN.
Now I think back to something that Michael Berman said to my class, networking is 80% giving and 20% getting. I am now thinking about what I do to give back. Early in my academic career, I monitored #phdchat on Twitter. If I could, I’d answer people’s questions. I also think that blogging helps other people learn. I connect other people’s ideas with what I’m thinking, and that helps both of us. Recently, I’ve done most of my work in mentoring breast cancer patients. It is hugely rewarding to know that I can help someone making their experience just a little less sucky (cause cancer sucks). While I was in treatment, I developed the Should I Blog (http://shouldiblog.org) course. It is something that I hope to update and launch again sometime in the next few years – but right now my time is going towards finishing my PhD and teaching.
I’m sure there is more. My husband says that I sell myself short when I think that I’m not going at networking or to use dry business leadership terminology – building social capital.
What do you to build and continually improve your personal learning network? Any tips for my future students who may have very little internet presence at the beginning of the course?