Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thomas Jefferson: A Pioneer of Personal Learning Networks?

Some people have recently questioned my "need" to be constantly connected to social media like I am. They argue that social media may be ok during their time at work, but why would they want to be “connected” at any other time of the day? What happens at "work" stays at "work"...right?

So what is my answer? Why am I always connected?

Thomas Jefferson

I know exactly what you are thinking…what does an influential Founding Father, the third President of the United States of America, the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, the founder of the University of Virginia, and an exponent of Jeffersonian democracy have to do with social media? How could a man that lived from 1743-1826 have anything to do with a web-based application?

Actually, for me, Jefferson’s design of the University of Virginia and his thirst of knowledge (Jefferson once stated, "I cannot live without books” and by 1815, his library included 6,487 books) are what influence my desire to develop a shared connection with others.

Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village (The University of Virginia)
Quite simply… I like to learn and social media allows knowledge to come to me in several forms, from a variety of experts, at all hours of the day.

As I visited the University of Virginia and Monticello twenty years ago I left truly amazed at the variety of knowledge that Jefferson possessed. I’m not talking about “Jeopardy” knowledge (knowing a little about a lot), but an in-depth knowledge across many disciplines.

I know this may be a stretch for most of you, but Jefferson’s original architectural design of the University of Virginia is the 1817 structure of today’s personal learning (PLN) or personal sharing network.

The University of Virginia Magazine by Robert Llewellyn
His u-shaped design with the Rotunda located in the center provides his century’s version of the PLN. In the design of his “academical village,” a democratic community of scholars and students are to coexist in a single village which would unite the living and learning spaces in one area. This “academical village” has, to this day, been a thriving neighborhood, a close community of faculty members, families, and students for generations.

For Thomas Jefferson, learning was an integral part of life. The "academical village" is based on the assumption that the life of the mind is a pursuit for all participants in the University, that learning is a lifelong and shared process, and that interaction between scholars and students enlivens the pursuit of knowledge.

As an adult that is far removed from a university setting, a personal learning/sharing network becomes my "academical village." It is a place where I can learn, a place where I can share, and a place where interaction can drive my pursuit of knowledge.

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