One way to grow a networked teacher, is to grow a networked learner #pln

In my new role as Lecturer in Blended Learning, a part of my role is staff development. Staff development has always been a part of my roles, both in how do you do staff development in a networked world?

It was one of the big questions at the national AITD conference on training and development where I was invited to be a keynote. Much of the discussion in the keynotes and sessions where how traditional trainers/developers could adapt their traditional approaches capitalise on working and training in a networked world and in networked organisations.

Some issues overheard:

  • Traditional training is unpopular. Staff don’t want to give up time/other activities.
  • Traditional training lacks the ability to customize, not personal, not just-in-time
  • Not every trainer is an expert in every aspect of the company’s operations
  • How do you measure networked staff development?
  • How do you measure your contribution to organisation, if you can’t tick off training sessions, coaching interventions, resources created…
  • Senior management need convincing on the power of networked organisations
  • There will never be enough IT trainers to help everyone

And even though I wouldn’t call most higher education institutions networked organisations just yet, there are nascent networks inside them. These will become more important as the impact of the networked, information abundant world on this sector grows (as it has with the music, publishing and newspaper industries). Networked organisations are more flexible and adaptable. And so we as academic developers can look through the lense of the T&D professionals and see that we struggle with the same issues.

A networked professional has a Personal Learning Network

I’ve long thought that it is impossible to truly assess the potential of networked technologies for learning, when you only learn about them in a 2 hour workshop.

I’ve done many a Twitter, LMS (Moodle, Blackboard, etc), Facebook workshop and the traction is… not good. For example, in a 2 hour Twitter workshop, I can help you set up your account, begin to follow 10-20 people and learn how to use a hashtag. But the benefit of that Twitter network won’t pay out until you have 150-200 people you follow in your field of expertise, and started having rich ongoing conversations with them and finding artefacts through them, on your topics of interest.

Reflecting on those academic staff that I’ve seen develop into networked professionals, I note that they have all done so over a period of time, anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Discovering networked practice really must be done on an experiential learning basis.

So I thought I would help staff kickstart their own Personal Learning Network over a matter of weeks. In their own time. And with support available. This would prepare them for further participation in both internal communities of practice and external networks in their own fields of interest and expertise. The necessity of these kinds of internal and external networks on organisations is much documented by Harold Jarche.

I based the program loosely on the very effective 23 Things, originally developed by Helen Blowers for library staff, which later went viral. I tailored this programme to developing a PLN for your own practice, whether an Engineering lecturer or a Nursing lecturer. Here is the outline based on my PLN model.

One of the priorities within my organisation, as in most higher education institutions, is ePortfolios. So I thought why not kill two birds with one stone, and help staff document their learning journey into networked learning, by documenting it in an ePortfolio.

Setting it up…

I based the program on my Personal Learning Network diagram that is under constant development.
Design Your PLN Diagram - Updated 2012


Activity Artefact in ePortfolio
Week 1
1: Let’s meet Informal meetingsAccess introductory material in LMSeLive sessionSet up Twitter account Link to Twitter account
2: What is the cloud? Explore various definitions of the cloud Reflection
3. What is a personal learning network Explore diagrams & definitions of PLNsCreate own diagram Diagram of current PLN
Week 2: Your Staff Room
3: Putting Twitter to work Learn to use hashtag, @replies and other Twitter conventionsInstall Twitter appsExplore the ‘apps’ conceptConnect to other networked academics around the world and create a list of those that interest you Link to curated Twitter list in ePortfolio
4. Other cloud conversation tools Explore other tools, Yammer, Facebook, Skype, LMS forumsExamine difference between 1-1, 1-many, many-many and walled gardens versus open gardens.Discuss: what does conversation tool selection mean for an academic’s digital footprint? Reflection on conversation tool selection & corresponding digital footprint
Week 3: Your Filing Cabinet
5. Your public filing cabinet Explore delicious & diigoExplore concepts of tagging, folksonomy and social curation Link to delicious, diigo or other account
6. Your private drafts file Explore Google Docs, Evernote, and other online notetaking softwareExplore concept of cloud access to information Reflection on choice of notetaking software or reason not to use
7. Curating your topic Explore digital curationExplore, Pinterest and othersDiscuss: curation role as part of academic identity Link to accountReflection on own role as curator
Week 4: Your personal magazine
8. RSS Explore RSS and RSS readersExplore dashboard pagesSet up Google alerts Link to dashboard page
9. Magazine apps on smartphones & tablets Explore magazine apps like Flipboard, Zite, PulseTweak to own needsDiscuss: What it means to have personalized information streams Screenshots of tweaked magazine apps & reflection
Week 5: Your portfolio
10. Your current portfolio Discuss portfolio to date Reflection
11. LMS ePortfolio Create presentation to share artefacts from ePortfolioShare via Twitter / Facebook, via email Presentation created
12. Other ePortfolio tools Explore resources on ePortfolios and examplesExplore other ePortfolio tools such as blogs, delicious, etcDiscuss: own use of ePortfolio Reflection on personal choice & purpose for an ePortfolio
Week 6: How does your PLN grow?
13. How has your PLN grown Diagram current PLNReflect on use of tools in learning, in teaching, in research, in other activities Diagram current PLNReflection
14. Next step: Now what do you know about networked learning? Discuss experiences in the networkExplore learning theories related to learning in a network Personal reflection on what networked learning means


Benefits of this kind of networked approach to developing networked literacies

… People we don’t know all that well are hugely valuable in our work. They’re sources of novelty and innovation (because they know quite different things than we do) and bridges to other social networks (because they know quite different people than we do).

says Harvard professor Andrew MacAfee on the Power of Weak Ties

Well I think that Harold Jarche is one of the leading experts in this field with a singular ability to explain these concepts visually. in his post on Social Business, Jarche states “new frameworks help management, HR and L&D professionals get away from the trees to see the forest of workforce development.”. And I agree. We need to get away from the singular trees – learn how to upload a resource, learn how to set up a discussion forum, learn how to teach with video conferencing – and aim at the forest – being a networked learning organisation.












So how can this approach benefit our institutions?

For academic staff:

  • Being a networked professional means having the means to find the learning you need, when you need it, just-in-time and personalised
  • Skills learned and networks created during this program continue to be of use to academic staff, not only in their teaching, but also in their research and other professional activities.
  • Very suitable for those staff who have a smartphone or other mobile device, but perhaps aren’t getting full use out of it. Building a PLN gives them a purpose to explore new apps, with guidance.
  • The learning occurs in a networked way, meaning it will be largely independent of time and place, with f2f support available
  • Studies show that formal learning only makes up 10-20% of total learning employees do (and need). Having networked-based learning skills sets your staff up to make better use of informal learning opportunities.
  • Running it over 6 weeks gives participants the flexibility to practice
  • It uses the ePortfolio as a place for academics to track their achievements, letting this be used in career progression
For the organisation
  • Resources from the networked staff development are open, so remain available to the organisation, even when the academic developer leaves (unlike a F2F training).
  • This can be the start of a networked Community of Practice in teaching and learning throughout your institution
  • This means you are no longer dependent on a few education technology specialists and champions, of which there will always be a shortage
  • The learning occurs in a networked way, meaning it will be largely independent of time and place. This means less travel, less chunks of time away, so staff can be more efficient.
  • Having a networked staff means ideas can spread more organically and faster through your organisation. On top of that, you are breaking through the silos and that is where networked theory says the power of weak links becomes apparent.
  • Having networked staff means external ideas are being filtered and curated in-real-time by the practictioners in your organisation
I’m sure there is a lot more to this model of being an academic developer, moving from being a trainer, to being a node, hopefully a very useful node, in the network. How our impact on our organisations is measured? This will require some thought…


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3 thoughts on “One way to grow a networked teacher, is to grow a networked learner #pln

  1. […] One way to grow a networked teacher, is to grow a networked learner » Cat’s Pyjamas […]

  2. Verena Roberts says:

    Hello! I love this blog post! So well thought out! I am just finishing faciliating my first “MOOC” like attempt – although I call it Meaningful Open Online Learning (not Massive) for k-12. #DigiFoot12 I used a wiki, and used a similar process (stages and steps) but not so nearly well thought out! This is the wiki: and this is the link to the Classroom2.0LIVE presentation where I presented the “How and Why” –

    Thank you for giving me such clear directions and something to compare my own ideas to…
    Verena :)

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