Insights
Introduction – Personal Learning Network
June 11, 2013
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My name is Michael Sean Gallagher and I am a member of the Advisory Council here at Beni American University. I will be writing a weekly column here on all things elearning and mobile learning (mlearning) and hopefully providing some useful information on learning theory, tools, environments, and practical information on how you might structure your own learning environments. Beni American University is unique in the way it positions the learner; you are participating in a hybrid model that supplements online learning with face to face collaboration. In this column, I hope to provide some ways you can make use of that hybrid model to achieve your own goals in learning. I also hope to share some of my research as well, which deals quite specifically with mobile learning in higher education, a topic relevant to all of us affiliated with Beni American University.

I wanted to start with some practical information you might use for your academic work and research and talk about a bit my own Personal Learning Environment (PLE). A personal learning environment is a series of tools and spaces that you use to conduct research and study in online and offline spaces. It is helpful to think of your spaces as a set of tools that aggregate to a larger cohesive space of academic productivity. They can be whatever you want them to be, but they are chosen by you, managed by you, and you decide what goes in and what comes out of them. As such, it is important to consider what these tools offer you and how you can best use them. As for me, my personal learning environments involves the following:

  • Blog: I cannot stress enough how important my blog is to me and how important it can be to you when looking for potential employment. Many of you already working understand that it is important to have an online presence that you control and that projects your work in a positive way.  A blog is a perfect space for that and for your writing or thoughts on a particular subject. I use WordPress currently, but there are many alternatives including Tumblr, Blogger, and others. If you have a SMS-only phone, Blogger in particular supports SMS blogging. Regardless of what you choose, it is important to have a space for you to reflect on what you are learning and whether or not that matches your expectations. It is good for personal development and employers want to see that you are reflecting on your performance and how you can improve.
  • RSS Reader: I used to use Google Reader but they have since shut down and I have transferred to Feedly. I find it very important to have one place where I can read and analyze long pieces of information, as opposed to Twitter or Facebook or other social media channels.
  • Twitter: I use Twitter as a listening and speaking tool, but it is best as a tool for market or educational research. I create many columns via Tweetdeck with relevant search terms for my fields of interest (#mlearning, #elearning, #ICT4D, etc.) and monitor those daily. Checking this along with Feedly is the first thing I do every morning to keep myself up to speed on what is happening in my fields. This is a quick and effective means of doing market research for your potential industries as ewll.
  • File sharing/storage: I currently use a combination of Google Drive and Dropbox, but I find myself migrating slowly to Dropbox. I suspect many of you use Mxit’s File Sharing feature or some alternative to share documents with your colleagues or classmates. Regardless of what you choose, it is important to have a mechanism for saving and sharing your documents.
  • Visual mediums: I use Flickr and Pinterest for visual mediums. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a visual person, it is a good idea to have a media library of your own work that you can use for your blog, your design, or even your promotional materials for work or for personal use. As Flickr is a collection of my own images, I am free to use these without concern for copyright or royalties. This is handy as I always try to use images in my writing or my work. Pinterest I use
  • Google Scholar: this is where most of my academic searches start and finish. I will be writing more about this in later posts as it is a great tool with a surprising amount of functionality.

Some of these have or had SMS functionality for those of you with SMS-phones who want to do some of this away from a computer. Blogger has a SMS service (http://www.google.com/mobile/sms/blogger/), MXit is very SMS-friendly (http://site.mxit.com/), Facebook has a light, SMS-friendly service (https://www.facebook.com/blog/blog.php?post=391295167130), as does Twitter (https://support.twitter.com/articles/14589-how-to-add-your-phone-via-sms). Google and Google Scholar have recently pulled their SMS search functionality, but they have maintained other SMS services (http://www.google.com/mobile/sms/). Regardless of which services you choose, it is important to choose ones that cover a range of activities that your studies will ask you to perform, either writing, researching, disseminating, even publishing. We will be discussing all of these in later posts, but that is enough for now. Until next time.

Editors Note

This Article can also be seen on Michael Sean Gallagher’s personal blog.