Putting Educational Innovations into Practice.

15 Tools for Developing a Learning Network

Developing a learning network is essential for those enrolled in continuing education programs. Creating a personal learning environment helps adult learners focus on their education goals, while avoiding time spent on all the distractions the Internet offers. These networks consist of tools, communities, and services that constitute the individual educational platforms learners use to direct their own learning and pursue educational goals.

A learning network is a collection of free, widely distributed, web-based tools, RSS feeds, and typically located within a blog or wiki that is controlled by the adult learner. These are a collection of customizable tools which are personal and independent of school or work. The important aspects of a personal learning environment are its capacity to access, gather, and process information.

Online Tools: Building a Learning Network

The following are free online tools used to organize a personal learning environment in support of continuing education.

  • Blog – is used to create and maintain open discussions other adults regarding the focus of the learning network. Blogs foster the growth of learning communities, collaborative filtering, and provide methods for storing and gathering information. Blogs typically contain links to other blogs, webpages, RSS feeds, and other online media for gathering information. Free blogs are available from WordPress and Blogger.
  • Wiki – is used to create a website designed for personal note taking, links to blogs and wikis, webpages, RSS feeds, Google Docs, and other online media for gathering information. Free wiki’s for education are available from Wikispaces and PBworks.
  • Elgg - open source software combines a number of social media tools such as blogs, wikis, micro-blogging, file upload and sharing, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, and social networking for a building a personal learning environment.

Gathering: Online Tools used to Collect Information for Processing

The following are free online tools used to gather information for a personal learning environment to support continuing education.

  • RSS – is a protocol that lets users subscribe to online content using an RSS reader or aggregator, which checks subscribed web pages and automatically downloads new content. What makes RSS important is that users decide exactly what content is allowed through that pipe. Two examples are Bloglines and Google Reader.
  • Bloglines – allows selection of specific content from blogs, online magazines, video, audio, other websites, and RSS feeds.
  • Google Reader – provides RSS feeds that eliminate style and formatting to simplified text, pictures, and videos.

Social Networking: Bookmarking and Communication Tools

The following are free online learning tools used to gather information and collaborate with others interested in the same learning environment.

  • LinkedIn – is a tool used to interact, ask questions, answer questions, start discussions, and network with others for further developing a personal learning network.
  • Delicious - simple bookmarking tool for websites, articles, videos, and more that support a learning network.
  • Diigo – is a bookmarking tool for articles and more to support personal learning and research.
  • Ning – is an online service that allows adult learners to create their own so­cial networks and join and participate in other networks. A Ning includes features such as photos or videos, lists of network members and events, groups within the network, and communi­cation tools such as forums or blogs.
  • Twitter – is another social network that allows adult learners to collect and share information with others who are part of their personal learning network. Information shared on twitter includes links to articles, videos, webinars, podcasts, and more that can be added to a blog or wiki.
  • Flickr – is an image and video hosting website that is used to collect or store pictures and videos related to purpose of the learning network.

Organization: Categorizing and Processing Information

The following are free online tools used to organization information for processing and sharing with others interested in the same learning environment.

  • Google Docs – is a set of online word processing, spreadsheet, forms, or presentation tools for preparing academic work and other documents. Also, provides the ability for real-time collaboration with others.
  • Bubblus – is mind mapping tool useful for organizing information in flowcharts or graphic organizers.
  • FreeMind – is another mind mapping tool used to organize and process information gathered in learning network.

A personal learning environment places adult learners in charge of their own learning processes, challenging them to reflect on the tools and resources that help them learn best. While most discussions of a learning network focus on online environments, the term encompasses the entire set of resources that a learner uses to answer questions, provide context, and il­lustrate processes.

According to ace essay writers, online tools used in a personal learning environment are designed to help sort and process the important information from all the Internet noise. As used here, the term refers not to a specific service or application but rather to an idea of how adult learners ap­proach the task of continuing education and academic success.

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