Have you ever taken a step back from your Personal Learning Network and looked at who has ended up in it? If you’re anything like me (and you know you are!), you’ve spent months or years following those that follow you, sitting in conferences and hearing about who the “must follow” folks are in a particular field, or simply following folks that seem to get reposted in your in your information flow. Over time, you end up following hundreds, if not thousands of people (sometimes multiple times across different platforms) and you lose track of who you are really listening to.
As I teach my students more and more how to learn effectively online, I’ve decided that I need to spend some time re-examining my own practices and tend my own PLN garden. I’ve started by looking at Twitter. I follow over 500 folks, some who are prolific Tweeters and others who lurk. I’ve taken all of the these folks and dumped them into a spreadsheet to take a look at who they are, how they support my current learning goals and make some decisions as to who I need to keep following and who needs to be “let go.” Ouch! Even writing this last sentence feels a little bit harsh. At least it’s not Facebook where I’m “unfriending” them. But the reality is this: currently, there is such a wash of information on my Twitter feed, that I avoid it more than I read it. It has become less effective than it was. Other feeds get even less attention. As any librarian knows, the weeding process makes what you have more useable and more meaningful.
I have also realized that I need to segregate my feed. Simply reading my full feed is overwhelming and I tend to gloss over posts that might otherwise be meaningful. If I can separate my full stream into creeks, the flow will be slower and I can actually see what is going on. I can also filter out those things that are merely interesting from those that are crucial. I can segregate my feed in a number of ways. I will likely create lists within my Twitter account that I can then view separately. But I will likely also go another step and embed these list feeds into another page (either built from scratch or in a tool like Netvibes) so that these feeds can parallel similar information pulled from other platforms (blogs, Google+, Facebook…). This way, I will have pages that I can go to for each topic.
The other benefit I have found in the process of starting to examine my PLN members is that I start to categorize and describe each member. I think about why they are in my PLN in the first place and how they relate to others. Learning goals emerge that I hadn’t really articulated before. I see patterns in my interests and I can choose to elevate those interests by giving them a specific page in my curated learning goals information feed (my Portal) or I can decide that those folks represent something that is interesting but not really aligned with my current learning needs. The process helps to focus my own understanding of my own learning needs and goals.
I would recommend a little garden tending in the, hopefully, lazier days of summer (or in the doldrums of a southern hemisphere winter). I think that you’ll learn a lot about your learning community and will make your PLE a yet more effective and exciting place to hang out!