Social work scholars and personal learning networks


I recently decided not to apply for a certain academic position because of a policy banning the use of laptops in the classroom. Although I recognize that laptops in class can be problematic, I believe the answer is to move forward, not backwards. I don’t think I could work in an environment that is not open to discovering how new technologies can enhance the educational experience instead of hindering it.

The above video follows directly from my previous post, Nobody ever told me that I’m responsible for my own learning! It introduces the notion of the personal learning network (PLN) as applied to students.

What’s a PLN? I want to begin by talking about PLNs for social work scholars. To state the obvious:


Social work scholars are responsible for their own learning

Older social work scholars remember using card catalogues in the library to look up information. I have sat down at the computer with more than a few of these colleagues to help them understand how to access the new technologies for library research, because we are all now responsible for keeping up with an ever-increasing amount of information. Today, you cannot keep up with your field without using these electronic databases.

But there’s an even more dramatic shift happening right now, in 2009.

First, knowledge is becoming democratized. Anyone can start a blog and build a readership. Anyone can post a video on YouTube. Conversations are happening everywhere online — and they’re happening across all kinds of boundaries. It’s a very exciting time to be an academic.

The second trend is that the amount of information related to your field continues to multiply — it is not limited to traditional academic sources and it is constantly bubbling out in real time. Traditional sources cannot stay current enough. (See Gideon Burton‘s controversial post on traditional academic publishing in the digital era.)


Then how do I keep up? Help!

You need a personal learning network. It’s a way of engaging with the flow of information out there and filtering it so that you don’t get overwhelmed. A PLN helps you to keep current in your field by creating a network of people with whom you regularly exchange information and ideas. The best way to explain a PLN is by presentations like the one above, or the 15 minute video below.

<Click the link to view the video>

Building Your Own Personal Learning Network from Carl Anderson on Vimeo.

The idea of building one’s own PLN should be an exciting one for social work educators, because in our field, we are always drawing on our networks of resources, collaborators, and partners. Whether we are researchers or practitioners, we are experts at building networks.We have the skills already to build our personal learning networks… except for the technologies part. But that part can be learned, step by step.

(Actually, I’m no expert at this. I’m learning it from my colleagues in other disciplines — such as Alec Couros from the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina. )

People like me are going to be the ones to help our colleagues acquire proficiency in these new social media. (I know how computer-challenged some of you are. You don’t have to hide it from me.)

I want to become part of your PLN. Most of all, I want to see you get excited about how natural a fit these new technologies are with social work values. Social media are about relationships. They are about giving and sharing and contributing. They make your world bigger and at the same time friendlier than you thought it could be.



© Silvia Straka and A Just Society, 2008.


6 responses »

  1. Thanks for this post. I appreciate that you opted not to apply to a position because of a principle … I wish more people would do that, there might actually be some change!

    Also, I want to say that I’m not an expert either … that’s why I rely on my PLN. We’re stronger and smarter together!

    Thanks for the mention, and your thoughts.

  2. I love that you are such a strong advocate of social networks and new media in social work training and learning. I fear sometimes that we will get left behind as a lot of people seem reluctant to embrace technologies but like you, I think it is wonderfully democratising process that we have to engage with.

  3. Thanks for sharing.
    You didn’t take up the position because of your principle. I understand the power struggles.

    There are big changes happening relating to the way we educate and learn.

    I have been doing on-the-job training in distribution centre and logistics training since 2000. No more classroom, no more lectures. All these have been done using on-the-job learning, just in time, via mentoring, assessment based on evidence, etc. So, no more worries on the lap top. In fact the laptop or computer desk top used by the trainees would be right there in front of the employees, while they are working, so this would not be a problem. And the walls disappeared altogether. University teaching is still done with the walls….

    “Social media are about relationships. They are about giving and sharing and contributing. They make your world bigger and at the same time friendlier than you thought it could be.” I agree.

    Would you be interested in joining our Community?
    My blog:

  4. Your Community looks very interesting and I will take you up on your invitation to join. Thanks for adding another context to the discussion — the business training domain. I agree with you that there is a huge paradigm shift underway.

  5. Hi Silvia,
    Welcome to the ConnectivismEducationLearning Ning Community. I hope you will have an enjoyable time there. You are also welcomed to share your insights with other community members. Your perspectives as a Social Work Scholar would surely enlighten us in our learing journey.
    See you there. Renewed thanks.

  6. Sorry Silvia, for my poor typing – should be learning journey.

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