Personal Learning Environment or Drinking From the Firehose

This past week we have had Jen as our guest instructor. She has been further introducing me to the world of social media and its role in Education. Previous to this week, I thought I knew a thing or two about social media. As a grad student, my main research area was the effect of social media usage on our real world relationships. At the time it was even newer than it is now, and many around me considered it to be a fad. Now, anyone is able to see that a social approach to the web is here to stay and is a gold mine in terms of new research.

While my previous work had really looked at social networking and the effect it had on relationship — the world that I have been introduced to in the past few weeks has tried to show me that these same web tools can be used to promote autonomous learning. At the NW Elearn conference that I attended a few weeks ago, I was introduced to this idea of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE), while the term seemed really abstract the first time I heard about it, I now recognize that the PLE is the way in which we gain knowledge on a daily basis. Through explorations and conversations, I have realized that I have been using social media tools to expand my PLE all along, I just didn’t know it.

I have been a social networking user since 2004. From Friendster to MySpace to LDS Linkup to Facebook. Increasingly these sites have moved away from vanity projects to more of an Personal Learning Environment. On Facebook, the information ranges from the mundane to the sublime. Some days I will post a funny comment (or what I perceive to be funny), other days I will post an interesting article that I read online, and still other days I will post videos like this:

Each of these acts share little acts of learning that I am doing, ways that I am interacting with information on the Internet. The problem however, has been that I have not been realizing this act of learning for most of the time that I have been using these sites. My learning was passive, and as a result, I think I have missed many learning opportunities along the way.

The social tools that we have talked about this week are ways that we can consciously expand our PLEs. It is not enough just to be content learning pop culture tid bits from those that are already our face-to-face friends, but instead we need to use these tools to reach out to others that have similar interests.

In pursuit of this, I have been using Twitter more. Jen was helpful in connecting with individuals who have similar ideas to me, individuals that can increase my personal learning environment. I really feel that turning onto twitter has lit a fire within me. I have been tweeting more — no longer in a vain attempt to make others laugh, but rather as an opportunity to connect with others, to share my ideas and items that I discover in my PLE.

The downside of this however has been that I feel like I am on information overload. There are so many tools, and so many ways to access and organize this information, that it is difficult for me to know where to begin. I have definitely been turned on by the Edupunk movement and would love to get involved — but it feels as if that world is moving so fast already and I will always be struggling to keep up. Plus, I want to keep a balanced life, spending the time I want with my own family, as well as being engaged in work and other leisure activities. Right now it feels like I am drinking from a firehose. Any tips for turning it into a straw? How do you keep your PLE at a manageable size?