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This blog post is between 300 and 600 words telling you that learning networks have changed my life, more specifically, my academic life.  I began the learning journey that brought me to this Walden MS program out of the desperation I felt when, in 2009, I saw  first-year university students experiencing the same teaching method I had in 1978; groups of 200+ in theater-style lecture halls.  It was at this point that my desperation took the form of ranting and raving.

I turned to distance learning for hope and enrolled in an online course but instead of being the solution, it compounded my desperation.  The method of instruction was exactly like the lecture hall except that the lecturer was replaced by a computer screen; the job of the student unchanged – gather information and recall it on command. This generic form of online education was obviously not the alternative I was seeking to theater-style lecture halls.

Around this time I met Michael Wesch, Professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University, thus beginning the creation of my learning network.  I discovered Dr. Wesch through a YouTube search which retrieved a video him being awarded “US Professor of the Year 2008”.  Oh my goodness – he was ranting and raving also; he said that the lecture theaters were not working, that we were not reaching the students, not engaging them in the learning process.  He said that the idea of a single person telling hundreds of people that he knew all of the information on a subject was no longer valid – that transferring the power to the group would mean hundreds of people could gather information from hundreds of sources, share it with the class and build a knowledge base that a single “teacher” could never amass.  Professor Wesch showed me that my passion could be into action.

His videos led me to other videos, books, journals and blogs resulting in the creation of my personal learning community.  I felt the empowerment of the “crowd”, a term made popular by Clay Shirky, an author introduced to me when I “attended” (through webcast) an ISTE conference in 2009.  My learning community led me to SecondLife where a current Walden student told me of her great educational experience, and so began my master’s education.

Having used 354 words on background information I must move quickly to the questions assigned for this post.

How has your network changed the way you learn? Approximately  90% of my learning currently happens through my learning network.

Which digital tools best facilitate learning for you? Along with those mentioned herein, I would include Elluminate (www.elluminate.com) web-conferencing tool which allows for a slide-show with live narration accompanied by live (typed) questions from the audience, with voice capability given to participants at the discretion of the moderator.

How do you gain new knowledge when you have questions? I look for keywords in my area of inquiry, search my bookmarks on delicious and follow the links provided.  If I am unsatisfied with those results, I perform a google search.

In what ways does your personal learning network support or refute the central tenets of connectivism? My personal learning network has connected me to a social group with a shared area of interest.  This fits exactly with the description by Siemens in our video this week that “with connectivism there is that emphasis on the social dimensions”.  This blog post is a testament to the truth in the statement by Siemens in his blog www.connectivism.ca post dated 11/10/09:  “Instead of experts and designers serving as the key sensemaking and wayfinding agents in curriculum, social networks and their ability for context-sensitivity must play a greater role.”

Phew – 600 words