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A Primer on Personal Learning Networks

Twitter will actually save you time!

Twitter. Twitter?

We know. Your first reaction is to stop reading because you think, "Another crazy who sings the praises of a silly cell phone service that enables you to tell the world what you had for breakfast in 140 characters or less. Who cares what you had for breakfast? And how can you say anything interesting in 140 characters, let alone less?"

Resist that impulse. Read on, please.

Let's get it out on the table: Your first instinct is that tweeting is a huge waste of time. But in about 500 words from now, we believe you will see that Twitter is a great way to save you time.

As a school administrator you are constantly making decisions. To make those decisions you typically need some information. While you do go to Google (OK, OK—or to Bing), still the fastest way to find out something is to ask someone you trust who knows. The trick, of course, is finding that "someone." We all need help; there is no shame in that. And as we tell students, there is no such thing as a dumb question.

Quick Response Time

Here is where Twitter comes in: That "someone" is probably part of your personal learning network (PLN)! Send out a tweet (please, just go with the flow), and in a matter of minutes you will receive an answer.

A PLN is a network of fellow professionals, many, if not most, of whom you haven't met in person but with whom you share your job related epiphanies, questions and all-around support. A PLN can have 20 members; it can have 2,000.

You need a PLN—if not several! You need a group of folks you can trust who will clue you in to the latest and greatest. As a leader of a school district or building or classroom, you need to know what new ideas are floating about, what old ideas are being reinvented, and what old ideas are being discredited.

It is hard to meet such people face-to-face due to complex schedules and different locales, and phone conferences are not that easy to put together either. PLNs use Twitter, Facebook, or some other social networking tool to communicate.

Like-Minded Professionals

Personal learning network? Who has time? Rather, who doesn't have time to join like minded professionals who also don't want to waste time? PLNs are about pithy conversations. With its 140 character limit, Twitter encourages one to really focus.

Tom Whitby, founder of The Educator PLN, a Ning site with all sorts of resources (, points to the site's main page: "It contains educator lists that will enable you to begin following vetted educators who are all willing to collaborate. Those lists save months of time in accumulating valuable educator sources."

You need to do Twitter; you need to join a PLN; you need to be supported by the global village, since it takes a global village to educate a child.

We told you so—Twitter and your PLN will save you time!

Visit Cathleen and Elliot's Tech Disruptions blog.

Cathleen Norris is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas and co-founder and chief education architect at GoKnow Learning in Ann Arbor, Mich. Elliot Soloway is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and co-founder of GoKnow. In the next installment of this guide, they will address the cost and pedagogical issues that enable essential one-to-one computing.