Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsNICHOLAS 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 secondsIt 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 secondsIn 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 our preferred people, digital devices, information sources and services, both online and offline, and in formal and informal contexts, in the ways, times and places of our choosing.

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 is going to become increasingly important as the future of work changes.

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.

Although estimates vary considerably, a reasonably moderate estimate, according to 2017, is that AI is expected to replace 16% of jobs within the next 10 years. This has been recognised in a range of recent UK government reports, including among others:

  • the UK Government report on the Future of Work 2014, which discusses the “potential disruptive impact on jobs of advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and 3-D printing”.
  • the UK Industrial Strategy 2017, which states “The world is changing in fundamental ways.…. Artificial Intelligence will transform the way we live and work”.

This will not happen overnight, rather it will be a gradual change over a period of years. Nevertheless, the types of work available will regularly change, requiring us all to be able to retrain ourselves to face the new realities of work as they appear and disappear.

We can not rely on the things we learn in school or university to provide us with all the knowledge we will need for the rest of our lives. Neither will we be able to rely on our governments to provide us with the new knowledge we will need, because school and university curricula change more slowly than both technology and the world of work.

Instead, we need to develop the network skills and digital literacies which will empower us to become flexible lifelong learners, to make sure that we are fully equipped to deal with whatever the future throws at us. Again, this is recognised by the UK government in several reports including:

  • the UK government report on the Future of Skills and Lifelong Learning 2017, which suggests that the “Partial/full displacement of jobs by automation increases the need for training as people adapt to new roles and even new sectors”.
  • the UK Digital Strategy 2017 which informs us that “The pace of technological change makes it difficult to predict the nature of digital skills that will be needed in future. Requirements will change quickly so we will need to up-skill people across their working lives”.

Although the future can never be predicted with certainty, it seems clear that work will be a changeable and dynamic thing, with some jobs disappearing and new ones being created. We will all need to ‘Unlearn, Learn and Relearn’ throughout our lives. Therefore, we need to focus our efforts on making the best use of our Personal Learning Networks, so that we can make the best of our futures.

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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