For the past four weeks I've been participating in an open online seminar called: Exploring Personal Learning Networks (PLN's) (#xplrpln) through Northwestern University.
During this time the discussion has swirled around this question, Your CEO (or equivalent organizational leader) just heard about PLNs at a cocktail party and is excited about gaining a competitive advantage (or improving impact on mission) by leveraging PLNs for the organization’s success. But, she/he knows little about PLNs or what to do with them to support organizational success and strategy. Is the organization set up to benefit from and support PLNs, so it is more than just an individual thing? She/he is going away on vacation for one week, and upon return wants you to explain what PLNs are and to provide guidance for what to do. You have a one-hour meeting to facilitate a conversation.
Here's how I've come to define the term: "A PLN is a person's network- a group of people, living or dead who regularly influence and guide that person in learning and growth. In the past a PLN might have included people from one's academic discipline who were consulted once a year at conferences; now with the global reach of the internet, these people can be from around the world and can be interacted with through a wide variety of tools: Twitter, blogging, Google+, or Facebook."
I want to take into consideration that people like my 80+ year old father-in-law- a PhD and Old Testament scholar who belonged to numerous academic networks, who would attend annual meetings and collaborated with his friends through phone or the mail- had a PLN whether he acknowledged it or not.
I also want to note that the "Learning" part of PLN means I have learned a lot in my field from those who no longer walk this earth. For example, in the area of developmental psychology, the writings of Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Lev Vygotsky, have shaped me and I consider them, and others, to be part of my PLN.
As I've engaged in these discussions, I've been thinking of what I will do or say to answer the assignment. Would I go to the Administration at my college and say, "Everyone should have a PLN?" Or would I attend a faculty meeting and try and convince them? What would I say to the President of my college?
This week in a Twitter Chat it hit me, I have developed a PLN out of joy and spontaneity. I started #edcmooc in January and through that experience I emerged with a group of people I interacted with through various forms of Social Media and who over this past year have become part of my PLN.
When I presented my findings in the fictional situation above, I wouldn't want to recommend that my institution to require us to create a PLN. Rather, I would want to share the joy and excitement of journeying with a group of people who have shaped my thinking and been a sounding board for brainstorming and ideas and have helped me to grow professionally. My life and my output as a worker has grown because of my PLN.
It also hit me in the chat this week that maybe we're moving into a place where each of us as individuals is becoming the sum of our PLN's. It reminds me of Rachel Botsman's TED talk titled, "The Currency of the New Economy is Trust."
I like thinking about PLN's in the same context as Botsman describes above. In many ways we operate on trust with people most of us have never met apart from the web.
As part of that trust. I group of us in this experience who are educators worked together on a Google Doc and Slideshow. Here are the links to our collaborative work. It was fun and the comments and suggestions of others definitely sparked my own thinking. A clear sign of a PLN at work.
Personal Learning Networks for Higher Ed- Google Slide
Personal Learning Networks for Higher Ed- Google Doc