Monday, February 4, 2013

Personal learning network as learning communities

"A personal learning network is a set of learning communities to which someone belongs. If a learning community equates somewhat with a course then our learning network is equivalent to a degree program. Each community is a node on the network" (Siemens,2003). In this sense one can learn a program and achieve a degree similar to a degree earned in an university by belonging to several learning communities of which each one is equivalent to a course. I believe this can be achieved by carefully choosing these communities. The problem is to find structured communities where this goal can be achieved. There are some learning communities organized around some specific subjects. For example LinkedIn  Facebook, etc have different groups to which one can subscribe. One can follow several people and organizations in twitter. One can also subscribe to different groups in Quora. One can follow different magazines curated by different people. One can also follow organizations, people in Google + and subscribe to different communities. One should select carefully these communities and doesn't tend to participate to several communities which are not interesting or for which one doesn't have time to visit and participate. One is attracted to subscribe to several communities but sometimes time doesn't allow ourselves to participate in all these groups. Another problem is that some communities are not very active. I am thinking also while writing this post to unsubscribe to some groups that are not useful or active and focus on those that correspond more to my interests. I think MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)  and other open courses constitute also learning communities. One thing that is very stressed in learning communities is communication. I find this very hard as people are not sufficiently connected to communicate, are not interested in communicating or may not find something to say. Communication depends on affinity and reality. Affinity is the degree of emotional connection between members of a community. Reality is some sort of understanding of what is being communicated. One or two of these factors can impede communication. Sometimes it is better to focus on learning and not worry about communication. I attended online courses and MOOCs and the lack of communication is a pattern. This is also true in social media. Frustration can lead someone to leave a group if this person believes that the group doesn't satisfy his/her needs for example if someone asks for something in the group and no one answers or doesn't adequately address this person's needs. Another example is if one finds oneself as the only contributor in the group while others who can be active choose to be passive or if there is no interaction and acknowledgement

Alternative ways of learning instead of courses include Communities of Practice (CoP), archives, access to gurus, self-reflection/expression forums, etc. In LinkedIn I found there is a section where one can subscribe to posts of several leaders in different fields. These leaders or gurus price highly their seminars. Following them can be somewhat beneficial. Belonging to a productive learning community can make us knowledgeable in a field of interest. One doesn't limit to the knowledge learned in the community. One has to complement this knowledge by doing further research much like one attends a course and does further research in physical libraries and the internet.

A learning network can be defined as the connection of learning communities with he intent of sharing experiences/resources and a self-defined goal of competency/knowledge. In other words one belongs to a learning community in order to achieve competency and knowledge not to be just  a reader who glances at discussions without learning something or someone who cares only about voicing his/her own opinions. The intent of competency/knowledge can be compared to a degree which is the intent of a school program. One can argue that a degree is more structured, etc. But a degree is not equivalent to knowledge. A degree is conferred in a  piece of cardboard paper after having forgotten most of what one was forced to learn to pass an exam and not to achieve knowledge and competency. In this sense competency and knowledge achieved in learning communities are worth much more than what is learned in school in the sense that one is more interested and has time for self-reflection. Some components o learning communities allow to update knowledge and provide access when it is needed. One has access to new information in learning communities and this information can be accessible any time and anywhere.

 A portfolio allows to track one's learning. It holds workshops, seminars, etc. Online seminars are also an important part of a learning community. I belong to learning communities that invite me to different online seminars by mail. I just attended some online conferences this past weekend from CO2013 Integrating technology in teaching. These seminars are recorded and if one doesn't have time to attend them they can be attended later. A personal portfolio is a proof of past learning just like a transcript is a recording of courses attended. A piece of paper or degree is a proof that someone attended some courses and passed them. A degree is not equivalent to knowledge and skill. These are learned and cannot be fully actualized in a piece of paper. A community that witnesses the production of one's knowledge can attest someone's worth. A community can attest an active participant's worth. The media (physical or online) offers the possibility to judge someone's knowledge. Some people have been recognized for their knowledge because of books they have written. Some are recognized because they are good TV or radio speakers. Now with the web many people are recognized for their contribution or the expression of their knowledge in blogs and different online spaces.          

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