A personal learning network is little more than a network of people, groups and communities with whom you interact. The purpose of this network is to help you grow and learn. There are many articles on the subject. A Teachers Guide on Creating Personal Learning Networks provides a helpful introduction with links to many excellent articles and videos about PLNs.
However, one the best ways to start building your network is to take action. With that in mind, I offer the following 15 challenges, each designed to help you start reaching out and connecting with new and interesting people. If you decide to take up the 15 challenges, consider sharing your experiences on Facebook, Twitter, your blog (if you don’t have one, why not start now) or elsewhere. You might want to use the hashtag #PLNChallenge to share and talk about your challenges on Twitter. To add some interest (and a little incentive for you achievers), I will be offering a special badge of recognition for anyone who completes at least ten of the challenges and provides evidence of their completion.
This is no small challenge. It will require time, effort, and stepping outside of your comfort zone, but I guarantee you that it will be rich with learning experiences and meaningful interactions with interesting people. There are not many rules.
- Do them in any order and complete them as quickly or slowly as you want.
- However, to earn the badge you will need to give clear evidence that you completed at least ten of them.
- They can be things that you’ve done in the recent past (within the last year or two) as long as you can give the evidence.
- Once you complete at lest ten challenges, send me your evidence using the “send a message” link at the top of this blog.
- The badge will have a 36-month expiration. Why? I want the badge to represent people who have a somewhat current and active commitment to connected learning.
- Also, if you are planning on attempting the challenge, consider posting a comment to let me and others know about it. If there are enough of you, we can even build a little community of people who are working toward this rare and prized badge.
Before you get started, I’ll offer one pre-challenge challenge. Consider sharing the news about this challenge with a few others or on your favorite social media outlet. That might help us build a bit more of a community around this. Of course, if only a few people take and accomplish the challenge, that just makes the badge that much more exclusive.
Are you ready? Here is your list of challenges.
- Making Contact – Read a great blog post, book (or watch a video) and find the contact information for the author. Contact her/him (email or other), thanking them for their work and sharing how it had value for you.
- Online Communities – Join a Google+ Community, LinkedIn Group or Facebook group that is focused upon a topic of personal interest. You can learn about other independent communities about education here. Take the time to learn about the existing conversation and then make two or more contributions to the group.
- Join the Blogosphere Conversation – Find two or more educational blogs that interest you. Review some of the existing articles and consider tracking their new posts/articles. If they have a “subscribe option”, try subscribing so that you are notified when there are new posts. Make a substantive comment on at least two articles. As a great way to find blog posts and articles of interest, consider setting up a Google Alert. This will send you an email notification each time there is news or a new blog post on the web about a topic of interest. There are a number of alternatives to Google Alerts that are excellent as well. Learn about seven of them here.
- Micro-blogging – Find and follow at least ten new people on Twitter who are contributing to a single topic of personal interest in education. Make at least five Tweets to interact with one or more of these people about that topic of interest.
- Real-time Micro-blogging – Participate in a Twitter Chat. These are scheduled meetings of people on Twitter. They use a common Hash Tag (e.g. #edchat – which is one of the most well-known education Twitter Chats) and gather at a scheduled time to interact around an open or pre-determined topic. There are hundreds of scheduled Twitter chats from which to choose. It can be a bit disorienting at first because a busy Twitter chat moves quickly. You might find it useful to try one of these four tools. As an alternative, you can host a Twitter chat on a topic of interest. The only requirement is that you need to get at least 10 other people to join you for the Twitter Chat. Just make up a hash tag, set a time and topic, and start inviting people. You might also want to read up on how to host a successful Twitter chat.
- Attend a Free Webinar or Online Conference…and Network – There are thousands of free real-time web-based sessions on any number of valuable education topics. Find one, attend, and interact with the group. It can be a wonderfully engaging learning experience, and you can discover new possibilities who also meeting interesting people with shared interests. Just search around online and you are likely to find many options. You will also find that many professional education associations host them, so check out the web site for any favorite groups. Here are a few of my favorite sources: Connected Learning, Education Week Webinars, The ISTE Webinar Series (not free but good), eSchool News Webinar Series, ASCD Free Webinar Series, Discovery Education Webinars, The Global Education Conference, and Classroom 2.0 Live. I also host webinars from time to time, so look for them on Twitter. I’ll try to post them here as well.
- Social Bookmarking – Create an account at one of the social bookmarking services. Consider Del.icio.us or Diigo as a starting point. Then invite two or more friends or colleagues (local or people who you meet online) to create a bookmark group where you can all contribute resources and short annotations on a common topic of interest or a project that you are all working on together. How did it work?
- The Pinterest Experience – Create a Pinterest account and follow at least five people of interest. Note that Pinterest is now about much more than crafts and cooking. You can find all sorts of relevant resources. In addition to following five people, pin at least ten items of interest to your own board.
- Create a Mashup of Your Favorite Online Articles – Create an account at Scoop.it! and build your first mashup of articles and resources that you find interesting (use ideas that you found through your other challenges, perhaps). Once you created it, share it on Twitter, Facebook or another social network/outlet.
- The Networking Challenge – Create a list of 5-10 people who you would love to meet to learn from their work in education. Find out how they are active online and start following their work. If they have a Twitter account, follow them. If they have a blog, subscribe to it. You get the idea. Then reach out to at least two of these people with an email, LinkedIn message or some other communication tool. Thank them for what they do, noting specifically how their work benefits your own thinking and work in education.
- The Interview – Interview someone who is doing great work in an area of interest. It can be an email interview, phone, in person, a live Twitter interview, a Skype session, a Google Hangout or anything else that interests you. If you want, you can even stream it for others to watch (like in Google Hangouts on Air).
- Join a Distributed Team – Find a group of people online who are building or creating something of interest and volunteer to help out. Make two or more meaningful and substantive contributions to the project. Or, if you prefer, create your own group of people to build or creating something of value in education (a shared curriculum project, etc.). Start by finding something that you already want or need to create and then using your growing PLN to find others who want to work on it as well. I encourage starting small, something that can be completed in a relatively short period of time. You might even start with being a contributor to a popular wiki (even Wikpedia).
- The Blended PLN Challenge – Attend a workshop, conference or other in-person event and join in the back channel at the event. This is likely on Twitter, but there might be other online outlets as well. Try to identify one or more people with common interests and connect with them (follow them on Twitter, join any communities that emerge from the event, etc.). You might also consider attending a Twitter “meetup” if someone organizes it. This is where people on Twitter get together in person at the conference or event. You will quickly see how a blended PLN allows you to extend and enhance a face-to-face even by connecting with people before and after the event.
- The Open Course Challenge – Sign up for a free open course on a topic that interests you (Check out Canvas.net, P2PU, Udacity, Udemy, Coursera, and EdX. You can also just do a search for “list of MOOCs.” I suggest looking for ones that are social or use the term “connectivist.” These will have the most peer-to-peer interaction. By the way, I’m running one right now at www.beyondlettergrades.com and I have plans for a couple more in the upcoming 6-9 months.
- Create a Visual Map of Your PLN – Now that you’ve engaged in many of these activities, build a visual that represents this growing network. Here is an example of one created with the free online tool, MindMeister. However, instead of just listing the technologies/tools for your map, try writing out the names of people, groups and communities. After all, a greatPLN is about connecting with people. The technology is just the means by which you make andmaintain the connections. Following are some examples of visuals that people created to represent theirPLNs. However, please note again that some of these are tool focused. This challenge is to create one thatis focused on people, groups, and communities that are part of yourPLN (Be specific. Instead of “blogs”, you might represent specific blogs. Instead of Twitter, you might include influential people on Twitter. Instead ofwebinars, you might list specificwebinar hosts or communities that are valuable to you).
- A Google Maps PLN,
- a visual that includes the names of key people in a PLN,
- a long list of visuals representing PLNs or PLEs (E is for environment).
Are you up for the challenge? If so, consider announcing your participation via a comment to this article/post. Also, consider sharing it with others on your favorite social media outlet.