PLNs and OERs

While I have always been interested in OER’s, this issue has taken on greater professional significance for me since arriving at an institution that has active OER projects on the go, and I have begun paying closer attention to reports like the one released this summer by JISC in the UK examining the the impact of Open Educational Resources (OER) (pdf) on teaching and learning.

While I started reading the report from the perspective of someone who works at an institution sensitive and supportive of OER’s, I quickly realized that there is a lot in this report that connects the creation of OER’s with Personal Learning Networks and with what I discovered during my thesis research.

The JISC research looked at the benefits OER’s offer to educators and learners, and examined the pedagogical, attitudinal, logistical and strategic factors that enable or inhibit the uptake and sustained practice in the use of OER’s.

While some of the benefits to educators for adopting OER’s are not surprising (saving teachers effort in that they do not have to create resources themselves, and enables educators to teach topics that may lie outside of their expertise), there were some conclusions that are maybe not so obvious, and sound very much like the kinds of activities people who cultivate PLNs might take part in.

OER’s are collaboratively created in networks

For example, the research found that using OER’s can “stimulate networking and collaboration among educators” and can “improve possibilities for new collaborations in researching fields of common interest.” Additionally, the report notes that one of the enabling factors for uptake of OER’s among educators is a decidedly social one in that:

Impact on individual practice is most likely to be achieved within the dimension of social practice: networks of like-minded individuals who are receptive to ideas and suggestions from each other and ready to share their own resources.

This reinforces something I discovered in my own thesis research on the role that Twitter plays in Personal Learning Networks. Every participant I interviewed for the research indicated that Twitter played an important role in coordinating the creation of collaborative resources related to their professional educational practice, and, quite often, those collaboratively created resources were shared not only with their PLN, but beyond as well (pg 79-83).

One of the participants in my research spoke to the importance of creating collaborative resources that get shared back to the community.

 I like the word professional for learning network, but I use the word collaborative learning network because there’s a sense of symbiotic nature, like we benefit one another by being involved. It’s not just me that’s getting the benefit. It’s not so much personal. But for me it’s very much collaborative benefit; there’s a whole bunch of people that are benefiting from it.

In this passage, the participant suggests that there is a “symbiotic nature” to collaborative projects, and that “we benefit one another by being involved” which implies a reciprocal relationship at play here; that if you help with my project, not only will you get to reap the rewards of this project, but I will participate in future shared projects as well because we will both benefit.

OERs are created by people being open and willing to share

The JISC report goes on to make a number of recommendations for educators wishing to enhance their teaching and learning practice with OER’s, including one that is very connected to what I discovered in my PLN research.

Adopt an open approach to your academic practice, seeking to share resources and ideas both within your disciplinary community and beyond it.

This echoes another story I heard from another participant during my research who initiated a collaborative project with her PLN by tweeting out a call for collaborators on Twitter. Shortly after, she received a message from a member of her PLN saying that they wished to contribute to the project not because they wanted to use the project, but rather because they witnessed how this participant had, in the past, created these collaborative resources and freely shared them back with the larger community.

I think it was probably <name removed> in <location removed> who wrote in and said “You know, I don’t even know what’s on your document but I want to be part of it because of your openness and your willingness to share, and your willingness to let everyone collaborate and use it again.” That’s the kind of attitude that we need. And I’m not saying that I’m special for having that attitude, I’m just saying that idea of openness I think is really critical.

By conducting this work in the open on Twitter, the work of this participant became transparent and visible to the members of her PLN, which builds up goodwill in her PLN. This goodwill then translates itself into motivation among members of her PLN to participate in collaborative projects she initiates. In the end, the shared resource was not only shared back with the PLN, but to the wider educational community.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out