Learning in the Information Age

Variously figured as “knowledge work” or “distributed work,” contemporary professional activities are often characterized by “coordinative, polytextual, crossdisciplinary work that splices together divergent work activities” (Spinuzzi, 2007). Professionals require vertical expertise for their position, but also horizontal expertise that  characterized by “learning across boundaries, including organizations, activities, disciplines, fields, trades, and settings” (Ibid).

Complementarily, connectivist learning theory argues that the primacy of three values for learning:

  • Capacity to know; rather than content known
  • Diversity promotes fruitful commerce and growth
  • Connectivity is the engine of learning and knowledge-production

Connectivism suggests that learning is best supported by a robust social network of peers, mentors, and professionals that provide diverse perspectives and promote spontaneous connections in support of the lifelong development of professional capacities and learning. For an extended treatment see Alec Couros’s, “Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning,” 2010.


Distributed learning facilitates disruptive innovation and leverages collective intelligence to fulfill the promise: “Chance favors the connected mind.” It means overcoming knowledge silos and fostering meaningful interdisciplinarity; it means the cross-pollination of ideas, connecting markets and solutions, and catalyzing fortuitous opportunities. Technological innovation is no longer just about efficiency and convenience, it is about social innovation and modes of collective intelligence that allow the work we already do to become more productive and available for more uses.

Personal Learning Networks

Alec Couros offers this basic definition: “Personal learning networks are the sum of all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a personal learning environment.”

Personal learning networks are as unique and diverse as individual learners. The concept suggests a combination of essential tools (technical networks) and networking strategies and resources (social networks). There are a range of philosophies of relevant to the practice of networked learning (connectivism, situated learning, participatory culture, open education, social pedagogies, etc.). Regardless of our inspiration the primary challenge is sustaining and integrating PLN activities into our already busy professional lives.

Distributed Learning is …

  • Virtual: anywhere, anytime, anyone
  • Social: curation, filtering, situated perspectives
  • Networked: aggregative and connective


Getting Started with PLNs

Getting Things Done with PLNs

  • Sustainable Engagement (Time Management)
  • Iterate, Integrate, Curate
  • Networking and Branding

Each of these activities has supporting examples and explanation. We could do all or some of these. Some could be “in-session” activities; others could be suggested as opportunities for ongoing engagement with the workshop group. (Ex. Participant could be asked to contribute to a running curated list of great people, ideas, resources they encounter during the conference, etc.).

Collaborative Notes/Discussion in an Open Google Doc

1) Skill Share
Choose a tool, service, or strategy for TEL

  • Share a review: compare several options/alternatives
  • Share a use-case for a new tool or a novel use for an old one: inspire, demonstrate value
  • Share a how-to: help us get started

We could do this as a rapid fire 1-2 min per presentation F2F activity; or, asynchronously by posting to blog site or the the listserv

2) Curated Resources
Generate a crowd-sourced list of tools, people, and resources worth knowing

  • Social: Thought-leaders, mavens, laisons, gatekeepers, etc.
    • by Institutional, Disciplinary, Public
    • by Areas of Expertise and Interest
  • Technical: Tools, Resources, Etc.

This is a simple activity. We could create a Google Form and request 2-3 submission from each participant; could also be supported by a social-bookmarking tool like Diigo. Criteria for submission and “tags” could be negotiated and flexible. The activity would result in a public spreadsheet. Social lists would be translated into a subscribable Twitter list (contacts) and RSS feed list (blogs).

3) PLN Mapping
Choose a perspective and/or approach and create a concept map

  • Map your Personal Learning Environment — Technical Contexts: Tools, Apps/Services, Workflows; Uses and Taxonomies
  • Map your Social Learning Network — Social Contexts: People, Teams, Societies, Organizations; Information Sources, Events
  • Map your strategy: Planning/Visioning — Development Contexts: Knowledge, Skills, Areas of Interest; Vertical/Horizontal Expertise, Needs Assessment/SWOT

We could do this as a brainstorming and reflective exercise; it could be recorded on paper, in a google doc, or using a collaborative whiteboard like mural.ly, or with a mind-mapping software like text2mindmap (see example below). In a F2F exercise, we could iterate through the perspectives or ask participants to choose their own approach. Alternatively, we this could be an optional asynchronous activity.