During my time as a freelancer I was occasionally called up to work at random locations with companies I had never heard of and often on software I wasn't yet familiar with. This is all too often the way freelance work plays out, especially during your the early days as you're learning the ropes and discovering ways of dealing with new challenges, some days I would get calls from agencies who may have exhausted their current stock of candidates and need someone to solve a problem quickly. Sometimes you're just the first freelancer capable of thinking laterally when solving a problem and flexible enough to think outside the defined category of work most clients or agencies have you pinned for.
It would be a mistake to say I bluffed my way through these jobs, part of being a capable freelancer is acknowledging your own strengths and limitations and building on your knowledge and networks in order to best prepare for the challenges that lay ahead. Though I didn't know it then, this is where my own Professional Learning Network (or PLN) came into play, there really is no limit to where you're learning comes from, what matters is that you can find ways to encourage personal growth that includes the aptitude for both deep and shallow learning.
I have become familiar with the term PLN only recently, but on further reflection it's a concept I've been acquainted with for some time, having intrinsically employed it's elements during times of need. One of the beautiful things about working online, is the never ending source of experience and knowledge now available at our fingertips, turn a few proverbial google rocks over and viola! questions answered.
As a strategy it was not something I previously learn't during my time in High School, College or University, but developed out of a sense of need. Now as I continue to progress through a formally constructed course to qualify as a Secondary Teacher it's value is becoming more evident.
So what is a PLN?...and why is it useful? Loosely put, it is the networks and methods you develop in order to self-educate and continue to grow in a professional capacity (or maybe even a hobbyist). Today this will likely include the use of digital technologies and social media, and be highly content driven. Before the internet these domains were mostly restricted to places like professional associations and educational Institutions.
Today we have things like MOOC's, (Massive Open Online Learning Courses) where structured online learning environments providing coursework, feedback and online student communities where distance learning can take place in an almost realtime environment. These courses are today offered, often free of charge and by some of the most revered education establishments in the world. While providing and facilitating great access to content, they seldom offer a revered qualification upon completion, though it's likely things may change.
The tech industry has recognised the value in online education and companies such as Apple provide a user free framework for accessing MOOCS on their products, check out iTunes U. Not to be outdone, Google have also joined the fray, partnering up with edX to create their version of an online learning environment mooc.org, which according to the site will go live early in 2014.
Still, these courses are based on delivering deep and complex learning, of which time, patience and some level discipline is required. There are times when those luxuries hinder the business worlds mantra of 'get the job done', and it's this frenetic attitude to acquiring information quickly that becomes of utmost value (at least in the short term). Fortunately there's a plethora of available ways to up-skill in time, below are some of the tools I've found invaluable in my own PLN.
One of the best ways to stay informed, personal and professional interest group pages can be found and joined with ease, members share resources and information whilst also providing a forum for you to test out your own knowledge by providing answers to posed questions. As teaching students, we have found establishing a group page where we can connect, share and unpack all the confusing information we are expected to learn very valuable.
Not unlike facebook, Google+ (plus) is a social networking platform with incredible reach, and resources thanks to its propriety foundations as a search engine. Where Facebook uses the term 'groups' Google uses 'communities, and as you'd expect, they're similar but different. Some of the communities I've been checking out lately include:
- EdTech where members share and discuss new technology in education
- Art Education
- SmartHistory the Google community for all those interested in the Khan Academy's free Art History course
- Google Apps in Education, obviously the name pretty much says it all...
I now have several accounts, one which is associated with this website and my usual account and a shared account with my team member for the Digital Art Room. Some people have a little difficulty understanding how to best use twitter for learning or sourcing appropriate information. The best way I've found to sift through relevant categories is to create lists, that way you can view content/subject specific feeds, whilst stillbeing able to follow variously different accounts.
Not only is this an online resume site, but business personalities and major news agencies (that you may wish to follow) post stories and links that I've found quite useful.
I must confess, it took me a little while to really take to this site, but this year I've found it a great way of sharing ideas and resources with fellow classmates. I created this board on Art Education to post things that have influenced my learning so far, and allowed classmates to also contribute. I also have hope that I may be able to use it as a tool for students in a Visual Arts classroom setting.
Available on both Apple and Google this app works as a live feed digital magazine, sourced from your social media feeds. I often flip through and save articles I'm interested in to pocket to read in more detail later when I have time.
With so many videos uploaded every second, its an amazing way to keep up to date with whats going on. The real benefit lies in subscribing to relevant channels, for example:
I've used this many times during my time as a freelancer, and have found it a great way of keeping up to date with new programs and web languages. There are a range of topics to learn from 3D animation, page layout, Dreamweaver, HTML through to project management and Zurb. Although there are some free tutorial videos on offer, they're often only a small collection out of a full course, and to get the full benefit you will need a paid subscription, but well worth it if you're lacking in some needed skills.
There is also an iPad app available that you can use to go through a course on your tablet.
Similar to Lynda.com, but you will find more complete courses available for free. I must confess I haven't yet made good use of this resource, other than to know it's there. Also each course is independently priced, unlike Lynda where all courses are available at the one monthly subscription fee.
Books, books and more books, whether I purchase books online or take myself to the shop, I've been a bit of a keen reader now for some time. It is nice to get away from the screen from time to time and at least if my device's are flat or broken I know there's always some pages to catch up on. Amazon.com has become a favourite online destination, from there I can also purchase books to be read on the kindle app on my iPad, I also often purchase books on iBooks to read when in transit.
Associations are a great way of networking and keeping up to date with things like policy changes, current trends and important events. Over the years I have been a member of AGDA (Australian Graphic Design Association), D&AD (Designers & Art Directors) and FONAS (Friends Of the National Art School). As a pre-service Visual Arts teacher I joined VADEA (Visual Art and Design Educators Association). There are sometimes opportunities to attend lectures and connect with respected practitioners who can offer advice or sometimes mentorship.
As well as all these tools there are a collection of websites that I'll visit if I have any specific need that list varies depending on what I need to learn. I'd also love to know what you've found works, and if there are things I could add to my PLN to make me more effective.