A PLN is a personal or a professional learning network. Typically, they consist of a group of people who help you learn and grow in whatever it is you do. This covers everything from rock climbing to high school administration. These networks have always consisted of other humans. The internet, though has changed all that in amazing ways. Robots now join in the mix. Please don't start to picture Rosie or C3PO. No, I'm talking about computer programs that are able to bring you important information. Programs have become sophisticated enough to listen to what a room (that is, an online group) full of people are saying and make sense of it. I'd like to introduce three of my favorite robots.
First, there is the hashtag robot. A hashtag is really just the # sign put in front of a word. The convention started with Twitter. People wanted an easy way to search for tweets based on key words. The hashtag became a way for people to mark specific terms as most important. Twitter employs a program that scours all the tweets online, looking for these small symbols and organizes tweets accordingly. So if you write #edtech for example, the hashtag robot will put your tweet in a list with all the other tweets containing #edtech. That means that you can do a simple search for that term to get thousands useful tweets about (in this case) educational technology. The robot has become a vital part of learning networks for educators.
Zite is a mobile app that works as an electronic magazine. When you first download this free app, it asks you to describe the kinds of articles you'd like to read. You can choose from sports, politics, gossip... whatever you like. Then it does something amazing. It begins to learn from you. You tell the robot back at the Zite company when you like an article and it will bring you more of the same. Tell it when you dislike an article, and it will bring less. What's even better is that on a tablet, it brings up some key terms. You can tell Zite to look for articles in your genre with those key words. For example, I've taught Zite to fetch me articles on Technology which also deal with education, tablets and Google. I get all the educational technology news I want from Zite's robot.
Google Plus is bringing a new robot on the scene. The robot is called Search+ and it works by looking at your Google plus social network to bring you material it thinks you would be most interested in. Since it is only now being rolled out, I haven't had much time to test it out to see what it will bring to me. The implications are huge, though. If this robot is able to make sense of your network on Google plus and truly bring you relavent results, you should be able to find quality resources more easily and in less time. I think this would work best if you were careful to use Google plus just for professional networking. Having your friends in the mix could skew your search results giving you some great gift ideas, but not really showing you want you want for work.
Don't get me wrong- none of these PLN's could function without the people who make them up. I'm just saying that now we're going to have to welcome the newcomers. Now, we're working with robots.