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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds NICHOLAS FAIR: Since the arrival of the world wide web and the introduction of smart phones and Wi-Fi, individuals and societies have become much more connected both to each other and to a huge wealth of information from every corner of the world. In highly digitised societies at least, our relationship with technology begins almost from the moment we are born. Throughout our lives, we develop an online, as well as offline identity. What this means is that we should think of ourselves as networked individuals, living and learning in the network society. This intimate connection between people and technology has had a profound effect on the way we learn.

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 seconds It has changed how we seek out, access, use and store information, how we communicate, study and work together and how we create and share ideas. The way we learn has changed. Learning is not just something we do in a lecture theatre or a classroom with a tutor. It’s something we do together through our social networks, through video sharing sites, gaming networks, forums, communities and other online spaces and, of course, in person. We are at the centre of an empowering online and face-to-face network. This network is made of people, devices, information and services, which we can shape and use in order to learn at times, in places and in ways we choose and control.

Skip to 1 minute and 32 seconds In short, each with sits at the heart of our own, unique, personal learning network.

What is a Personal Learning Network (PLN)?

We all regularly interact with a network of our preferred people, digital devices, information sources and services, both online and offline. We use this network in different contexts, such as at work, in school and at home, and we use it where, when and how we choose.

This is our Personal Learning Network.


Watch this video to find out more about Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).

Rajagopal et. al suggest that someone who

“intentionally builds, maintains and activates … contacts within her personal network for the purpose of improving her learning — and uses technology to support this activity — is creating a personal learning network”.

And Richardson & Mancabelli state,

“In our PLNs, we learn what we want to learn using the vast resources and people online (or off) that can help us learn it. Each of our networks is unique, created and developed to our personalised learning goals that evolve and grow throughout our lives.”

Learning through our PLN is something we can do throughout our lives – it becomes a tool for Lifelong Learning. This has become increasingly important in light of the economic and social changes that Covid-19, climate change and the automated future of work will bring.

Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, automation, robotics and the Internet of Things, will mean that some jobs will disappear and whole new types of work will arise in their place. A truck driver today may need to retrain as a drone pilot tomorrow.

The potential for long-term social distancing raises fundamental questions concerning, among many other things, the nature of public transport, leisure activities, working from home and, crucially, education. Jobs in these areas will undergo significant transformation or may be lost entirely.

Climate change has the potential to drive fundamentally changes in the way we make things (manufacturing), where and what we grow (agriculture), how we move about (transport), where we live and how we power our societies (energy). These changes will impact jobs in many respects - again making some of them irrelevant (or even illegal), while creating a whole range of sustainable, green jobs.

In some cases, such as transformations resulting from Covid-19 including the shift to online learning, the changes are rapid and urgent. In other areas, such as AI and robotics, the changes may be more gradual. Nevertheless, the nature and type of work available in the future is likely to regularly change - requiring us all to be able to learn and relearn in order to face new realities as the world around us transforms and jobs appear and disappear.

This means that it is no longer enough to rely only on the things we learn in school or university to give us the knowledge and skills in a forever-changing world. Neither should we rely on our existing systems and structures to provide us with the new knowledge we need - because government systems and educational institutions change more slowly than both technology and the world of work.

Instead, we should carefully consider developing our own network skills and digital literacies. We should focus our learning on making the best use of our Personal Learning Networks, so that we can become adaptable lifelong learners. This may be the best way to equip us to deal with whatever the future throws at us.

How actively have you thought about your learning network before now?

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Learning in the Network Age

University of Southampton

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