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Creating Your Personal Learning Network & Why It's Important

January 11, 2016 Jake Frasier NASPA
Originally posted here.
Earlier this week, the Thursday evening #SAchat topic revolved around networking. As I participated in the hour long discussion on Twitter alongside my colleagues from across the country, I began considering my personal learning network, as I had already had a conversation earlier in the week about how I interact on Twitter. For anyone who is unfamiliar with what a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is, think of it as a study group of sorts (at least I think that’s a fun way to think about it). Your PLN is a community you create for yourself by engaging with certain topics either online or face-to-face. In my own experience, my PLN has it’s foundations on Twitter. There are a number of ways you can create a PLN, and the following are just a few of my thoughts regarding the development of a PLN.
Identify Your Community
Consider what you’re interested in - is it technology, student activities, or a particular region in in a professional organization? Go online to determine what communities already exist surrounding your interest area. For me, I regularly follow along with the #SAtech and #SAchat community given my interest in technology and student affairs. These communities are a fantastic way to engage with others regarding current issues, research or best practices. During this week’s #SAchat conversation, many participants cited social media as a driving force behind much of their own networking and the same holds true for me. Once you identify a community you are interested in, identify key thought leaders or individuals who share information you find relevant and interesting (for anyone interested in technology, Josie AhlquistJoe SabadoLaura Pasquini, and Rey Junco are a few of my favorites). When identifying these thought leaders, consider the lense with which they approach your particular interest area. For example, do you have a mixture of people sharing original research and content as well as people reposting information they’ve found through their own personal learning network? In doing so, you can curate a robust network of new information and thought provoking ideas.
Engage with Others
This is a crucial part of your personal learning network. Once you’ve identified your community, actually engage with members of that community -- ask questions, respond to other peoples’ posts, repost content and maybe even produce your own. While it can be beneficial to be a passive participant in the online community, you will get as much out of your personal learning network as you put into it.
Be Authentic
It’s likely you will engage with your personal learning network differently than you will engage with your close friends. When I interact with members of my personal learning network on Twitter, it is in a very different way than how I interact with my friends from college on Facebook -- and that’s ok, it does not mean you’re being inauthentic. Asking questions and engaging with others regarding your interest area over Twitter may seem strange to people who do not understand your own learning network, so it can be beneficial to explain to others what you’re hoping to get out of your interactions on Twitter.
Take it to the next level
After you’ve created a network and have developed ties with members of your community, reach out to engage with them elsewhere. Engage them in conversation around their work or a topic you’re interesting in over coffee or a Google hangout session. Either way, don’t be afraid to reach out and build those connections. In doing so, you will be able to engage with other professionals in a way that will keep you on your toes and provide a phenomenal, no cost means of professional development.

Thanks to Joe Sabado, I found a good number of readings on personal learning networks. Check out 20 Tips for Creating a Personal Learning Network (many of which are similar to what I mentioned above) and  the article Understanding Personal Learning Networks