Networked Learning at Conferences

We know that things are getting tight, when conferences are offering fold-it-yourself door prizes.  Yet the conferences are still happening and people are still coming.  Many of the conferences I’ve worked lately have actually seen an increase in attendance over last year.  There seems to be an intersection between shrinking budgets and a genuine interest in, and desire to change the ways we’re doing things.  The other day, I heard someone on NPR say that when we come out the other end of this recession, we’re going to see a different world.  I suspect that this will be especially true of education.

Sawyer & I cutting up after his keynote

I have only one more gig for 2008, Ontario’s Wester Regional Computer Advisory Committee’s Symposium 2008.  I delivered a keynote address for this conference in 2004 along with Canadian SciFi author, Robert Sawyer.  It was an honor to meet and talk with Robert and to read many of his books during the following weeks.

Photo by tyfn ((TYFN, “Amber Mac.” Flickr. 5 Oct 2007. 6 Dec 2008 <

This year, I will open the conference and then hang around to see the afternoon address, delivered by Internet media star, Amber MacArthur.  I remember her from TechTV and have listened to a few of her podcasts, but will likely be listening to more in the coming days.  Her address is called, “The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media & Web 2.0.”  I can’t wait.

Rolling around in my head, though, as I continue to prepare my talks, is something that I illuded to in my live blog of Jim Moulton’s keynote at NCETC last week.  It was only a year and a handful of months ago that virtually no one in my audiences had heard of RSS, only three or four had blogs, and Wikipedia was still the spawn of Satan.  Certainly there are still many educators who are unaware of RSS, continue to fear Wikipedia, and not everyone needs to be blogging.  But there are many who are attending these conferences who are in, with the new information environment, and who know as much as I do about the opportunities — and know things I don’t know.

“There are a lot of people attending ed tech conferences who don’t need to.”

Not only do I not like to teach things that people have heard before, but I suspect that we are wasting an enormous opportunity in not finding ways to tap into the knowledge and experiences that glow in the audience seats.

The way that my brain works, I know that I do better teaching from a script, sequenced presentation slides, arranged with purpose, to deliver a message through story.  But letting go of the script, breaking the slides out into flexible nodes of information, and asking the audience to share and build captures much more knowledge, experience, and perspective, and serves the needs of far more people.

I tried it during the second day of NCETC, and received this comment from educator Earnie Cox…

I think I might be one of those people that don’t need to attend as many conferences as I do. Your sessions today invited me to form questions and engage in discussions about the tech stuff I already knew about. That is what we need more of…

I basically introduced Personal Learning Networks, at a fairly general level, and then asked folks to raise their hands if they could identify and conceivably map out their learning networks conceptually.  Several hands went up, and I asked, they described their networks. 

One of the distinctions that I discovered was that most of them saw their groupmails as their PLN — and rightly so.  This gave me the opportunity to say that PLNs are not new.  We’ve always had people and information sources we connected to.  The distinction today, is that our networks can extend beyond our geographies, and even more importantly, they extend through content.  The people in my evolving network are there, not because we speak the same language, grew up in the same neighborhood, look the same, or live the same culture.  We’ve connected through our ideas, through our questions and answers, experiences and insights.

Our networks today can grow spontanieously by virtue of the conversations we are having.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.