Sunday, November 6, 2016

Networking: What is a Personal Learning Network?



Rachel Burnham writes: Thank you very much for all the comments and feedback on the blog post I wrote last week ‘Networking: How my perceptions and practicehave changed’.  It seemed to reflect a lot of people’s experiences both with  ‘traditional networking’ and how this has been changing to a more positive and helpful approach to networking as a vehicle for learning.

So, I thought it might be useful to explore in a bit more detail what a ‘Personal Learning Network’  or PLN means to me.  For me, a personal learning network is ‘those people who you learn from and with’. 


It is a network, which is loose and open, rather than a defined group of individuals.  Some of the connections are close and frequent, some more fleeting and transient.

The first part of that definition, ‘those people who you learn from’ is perhaps what we might immediately think of when focusing on networking for learning.  People who we learn from because they share useful information, put us in touch with resources or other people that are helpful or share articles and ideas that help us to become better informed or extend our networks. It can also include people who inspire us, who we may seek to emulate in some respect – perhaps to try out a specific tool that they have used, or to develop some aspect of a skill that they excel at or to adopt a behavior or approach they use.  These are people who are role models, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways.

One of the people who responded to my previous post was @MJCarty, who had previously written in his blog that the idea of PLNs made him feel uncomfortable or twitchy and that the concept of a PLN ‘could be interpreted as a framework for consciously using people for just one purpose’.  This got me to question my thinking about PLNs more – could you use a PLN to ‘suck the learning out of other people’? Perhaps as it was Halloween this week, I heard this in more of a blood-sucking way than I would have done otherwise.  But it made me realise, just how integral for me to a personal learning network are the values of generosity and mutuality.

I think what makes me ‘twitchy’ is the idea of ‘thought leadership’. That there are some people set up – by themselves, by other people, by particular platforms – I’m not quite sure – but I know that it doesn’t sit well with me.  That setting apart of some individuals to lead the thinking of others is in my view, almost completely the opposite to the idea of a personal learning network.

I think the most important part of a personal learning network is the learning with other people.  It isn’t enough to just take learning from others, I think the joy – the magic, if you like – really happens when you are also contributing.

That may be through sharing resources; helping people to make connections; acknowledging others contributions and through this encouraging them in their explorations; and sharing from your own experience.  This links it with the idea of Working Out Loud (WOL).

I think that learning with others is at the heart of a personal learning network and this involves dialogue and doing.  The dialogue can come in many forms – in person conversations over a cup of tea, a quick tweet or two, exchanges within a twitter chat – I know I learn so much from participating in the regular Friday 8am – 9am (GMT) #LDInsight twitter chat.   Dialogue can be quite spaced out - reading someone’s blog, reflecting on it and some way down the line writing your own take on that topic - that is a conversation too – with more time for reflection than we usually allow within an in person conversation and it may be all the better for that! 

A conversation may begin with one group of people and continue with someone else in a different setting. Some of my learning has come about from dialogue that started out in MOOCs or other on-line courses that I’ve participated in and have spilled out into other forums and conversations.  There are colleagues who I work with who I rarely see in person, but we share ideas, offer feedback and just talk through an almost seamless mix of texts, phone calls, emails, tweets and Dropbox inclusions.  Through this dialogue the focus may transmute, the prism through which you see a question or topic may change and something quite different can emerge.

Just as important, is learning by doing. Taking some insight or idea and incorporating into your practice or experimenting with it. Our personal learning networks include our colleagues and clients who we work with on a daily or occasional basis. The trusted practice partners who we try out new approaches with.  The people we seek feedback from and those who generously offer it, even when we haven’t asked. The colleagues or clients who are willing to take a risk or who sometimes place demands on us that push us into learning something new.   



So, for me my Personal Learning Network is all those who I learn from and with.  And that includes you! 



Rachel Burnham

6/11/16

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 


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