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Personal Learning Networks


What sort of health practitioner do you want to be? Nobody wants to be average, as Simon Carley tells us, so how do we go about growing? Professor C. offered us lots of great advice and there will be more to come when the #smaccDUB podcasts get released.

This week, I have once again sacrificed myself to the roster gods and got a week off to attend the Teaching Course in Melbourne. Without wanting to sound like a shill for the course on day one, I wanted to reflect on something that really resonated with me.

Over forty medical practitioners from many different craft groups and professions have gathered in Melbourne to learn to be better educators. This is wonderful. We are all benefiting from the collective wisdom of the faculty and each other, but why do we need to? We have all identified deficiencies in our practices, and areas of improvement, and have not found means to rectify them in our places of work. Perhaps we have nobody to guide or mentor us (a post for another time), and so we have looked outside ourselves for improvement.

Medics have been going on courses since time began in order to improve themselves. But what can you do if you cannot afford to go on a course or to a conference? How do you get better?

That is what it is all about for me. It’s about being better – not better than anyone else, but better than I was yesterday, or last week or last year. So I want to share a way you could do that.

Salim Rezaie introduced the concept of the personalised learning network. And it is just that. It’s a set of resources, be they websites, podcasts or more importantly people, that you trust and refer to. You can start out your network or hive mind in a quiet, introverted way, just by listening and looking.  It’s easy to sign up for Twitter, follow a few people and lurk, listening to what they have to say.  This passive process may be all some people want/need to make them a little bit better.

Earlier in the day, we heard from Rob Rogers on how social media could provide multiple learning (and teaching) opportunities and there was a chance for the technical neophytes to jump on board the Twitter express train to excellence, sign up and crack their eggs. But what do you do then, when you are comfortable lurking, perhaps even sending out the occasional tweet, to get better?

If you ascribe to Siemens and Downes’s concept of Connectivism you’ll understand that the learner creates a network of personal connections to contribute to their professional and personal development. You may not be able to go up to someone and just ask a question but social media (such as Twitter) allows us all to make global connections. Because of Twitter, I got involved with three people I had never met, so Don’t Forget the Bubbles was born. The connections we have made through this website have led to further opportunities for personal and professional growth. Now, just over three years after we began we have published multiple articles, are section editors for Emergency Medicine Australasia and are about to launch our first conference. None of this would have been possible if it were not for our personal learning networks.

Like every journey, it begins with just one small step off the well-worn path of just doing the same thing you have always been doing. You reach out and make contact, without fear, and ask for help.

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2 thoughts on “Personal Learning Networks”

  1. What has really benefited me in the last year or so are some of the social media based connections with online resources. DFTB has been excellent, the weekly LIFL update emails have also been great, but my favourite are the Cochrane summaries. Breaking down research findings into succinct, readable articles that are directly related to clinical issues will hopefully bridge that theory-practice gap in clinical practice. Nurses are so scared by research; anything that breaks down this barrier has to be a good thing

    1. Thanks, Sarah.
      Dipping your toes in by reading online resources then jump in for a swim and get involved. When I was doing my biostats course I had to critically appraise a paper and just couldn’t find the answer I wanted so I e-mailed the author and asked. I doubt any of the other 40 people in my class had the (personal communication) reference in their reports. Everyone involved in #FOAMed is more than happy to say hello, answer a question, or find someone that can help you. That is the joy of forming a PLN outside of the physical space of work.



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