With a resounding “YES!” I have to state quite unequivocally that for me PLNs are a far more effective way to learn than attending PDs.
Unbelievably it is just on two years – August 1st 2010 in fact – since I published my last post for the VicPLN program, a program in which I and more than 240 participants revelled with all that was new and exciting in the online world. It was a program which for many of us changed the direction of our professional lives.
In previous posts, including The more you learn, the more you want to learn! and an earlier post The ponderings of a PLNer I’ve grappled with the issue of why I found the VicPLN to be a more powerful learning platform than traditional PDs. Until now though, I’ve never really been able to annunciate clearly to myself why I feel so strongly that PLNs are a far better path by which to learn than that experienced in traditional PDs:
- Engagement with tasks: As a member of a PLN participants actively seek out answers to questions or solutions to problems. Diving into cyberspace head first and giving it a go while all the while being warmly encouraged by those more experienced is so much more beneficial than attending traditional PDs where the norm is to passively sit back and listen as someone else tells you how to do it.
- Immersion: There’s simply no comparison between being instructed on the mechanics of starting a blog or creating a Twitter account than actually getting in there and discovering by trial and error how to do it yourself. Learning by immersion is so powerful. The support provided by a PLN in the process of exploring, learning and trying and then the sense of achievement experienced at the end of the road is awesome.
- Self paced learning: PDs dictate that everyone learns at the same pace. Taking control of your own learning allows you to determine how quickly or how slowly you learn. Being able to saunter along the learning path, picking up allied skills along the way, makes you the master of your own learning. Competition and comparison simply don’t exist when learning via a PLN
- Weekly requirements: When completing a learning program with the support of a PLN, the completion of set weekly requirements acts as a highly structured learning scaffold on which future learning can be built. Active rather than passive learning is the distinguishing feature between the two learning models.
- Reporting back: Knowing that others are around on the sidelines keeping a watchful eye out for you is a great motivating factor. Completing tasks throughout a week then blogging about them or sharing them with members of your PLN via Twitter or FaceBook provides continual guidance and encouragement. Mentored learning is a very powerful way to learn.
- Engagement with other participants: Learning from and with peers while exchanging thoughts and ideas, solving problems and connecting in meaningful ways with a PLN are great. Bonds of professional friendship created with members of a PLN are cemented by these shared experiences.
- Length of course: Learning is not an overnight event. Mastering new skills and new tools with which to communicate, present and teach is not an easy task. Having sufficient time to engage, learn, synthesize the old with the new and consolidate skills learned is essential. The 12 week program offered by the VicPLN recognized these needs.
- New tools: The rapid pace of change and development of tools and programs means that we are all constantly learning. One of the most valuable features of a PLN is being able to share this information. Sharing experiences, blog posts, articles and announcements of a never ending range of tools can be achieved in a regular and on-going manner. There is no longer a need to wait for the PD scheduled months ahead to learn. Learning can occur anytime, anywhere, anyhow.
- Learning by doing: Experimenting and learning by actively engaging with new tools and new skills is a far more effective learning process than by noting down ‘how to’ instructions in the lecture/workshop model. Having the opportunity to explore in a new, safe, enclosed environment was the best! Give me active learning any day.
- New skills, new thoughts, new pedagogy, new knowledge: The gift of learning how to learn on your own cannot be over emphasized. The continuous engagement, immersion and self-paced learning afforded by learning with and from a PLN is beyond belief. Providing a springboard for continued learning and exploration, the very nature of a PLN aims to support an individual’s lifelong learning.
There’s no question that learning via the VicPLN was an exhausting, demanding and mind-boggling experience. So much new information was shared in a seemingly short time, yet knowledge acquired at the end of the 12 weeks of the program seemed to be enormous! Feelings of exhilaration experienced by mastery and achievement were rewards enjoyed by each of the participants. Realizing that learning can happen on your own with the support of a PLN was an incredibly liberating feeling and has fed many a participant for a considerable time well after the end of the program.
Presented by the State Library of Victoria in conjunction with the School Library Association of Victoria, the VicPLN program continues today. Check out the details and sign up to take the first step into your new life!