Posted by: crumphelen | November 5, 2013

Personal learning networks: it’s mutual #xplrpln

Week 4 of the open online seminar Exploring Personal Learning Networks gets down to participants pitching to an organizational leader the value (and implications) that PLNs would bring to them. I have to say that over the last few weeks the discussion has been both intensive and extensive as the community discussed the coming together of personal learning networks and the organizational context. Here though, I must point out that it’s the addition of organizational involvement that’s caused me difficulty because, similar to Deborah W Halasz, I’m not directly involved in an organizational context relative to the PLN that I’ve been developing (probably why I was interested to consider PLNs in relation to contractors, adjuncts and the like in my last blog post) and, no surprise here, I’m convinced.

So now what indeed?

Well thanks to suggestions, I’m going to think about others who might benefit from developing a PLN and explore the direction from which they’re best developed. The context I’ve chosen is higher education, as I’d like to think that the sentiments in this blog post might form the basis of a discussion in some kind of teaching and learning forum or committee. Hopefully, this would have representation from both academics and students with discussion/actions being disseminated to administrators and support staff within the institution.

All along within the seminar it’s been suggested that we hone a definition of personal learning networks and consider where this falls between the spectrum of “PLNs are absolutely personal and everyone has their own version of a definition” to “PLNs have clear defining attributes”. I’m squarely in the “personal” camp where each PLN is as unique as a snowflake. And as such, I’m not overly keen on providing a definition. I’d rather describe my PLN and show others how I’ve constructed one and highlight the benefits that it brings. At the moment, I’d describe my PLN something like this:

enhanced by social networking technologies, my PLN is the connections and relationships I develop and nurture in order to pursue my learning goals and to make sense of the things I’m interested in.

In addition, I can offer this screencast, entitled “A Presentation of Networking and Learning” (made for my POTCert class earlier in the year) to show what one might look like. Oh, and I think this #xplrpln tweet nicely captures the nature of my PLN and the dualism that’s at play.

Any way to continue, within the higher ed group that formed it was thought that the development of PLNs might assist members of faculty who wanted to develop their online teaching offer. But, as Rick Bartlett reminds us, it’s not that networking is new to faculty; academics have always had their networks, attended conferences and collaborated with colleagues. It’s just that the technology is changing and with it comes greater opportunity for networking/collaboration, and with a wider audience now too. On this point, it was thought that colleges/universities might encourage PLNs as part of their outreach activities. Virginia Trovato came up with the excellent idea of “campuses as incubators for PLNs” where opportunities for building PLNs would be encouraged and the relevant pedagogies embedded in the curriculum. After all, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that individuals and organizations need to develop a new set of skills and a new mindset to thrive in the new networked era (or possibly just survive even).

The important point in all of this is that personal learning networks are precisely that, and they flourish for mutual benefit when individuals are able to freely persue their interests and their learning goals (or shared learning goals). In which case then, PLNs can’t be mandated by top-down approaches nor, like Jane Hart frequently says, can people be forced to be social either. So it seems to me then that the best way to go is for committed individuals (like me) to model what’s necessary in order to develop and nurture a PLN and to highlight the benefits to be gained from being a connected/networked practitioner. Hopefully, this will encourage others to develop PLNs of their own. Furthermore, seeing as you can’t mandate or force this activity, any organization interested in “incubating” PLNs might best be served by considering the different ways that individuals can be supported to become connected, if and when they choose to, and not have technical issues or policy issues stand in the way.

Hey what do you know, I reckon I could pitch this to an organizational leader after all. In fact, I believe the whole #xplrpln community could do a pretty good job.

Therefore, before I sign off this blog post I’d like to say a great big thank you to Jeff Merrell and Kimberley Scott for facilitating this seminar and to the community of participants who wrestled with this challenging topic. I hope you don’t mind if my artifact is in fact a hyperlink to an existing one and if my final reflections have largely been a synthesis of the discussion we’ve had. I look forward to continuing the discussion in our ongoing connections… PLNs as language – now what’s that all about?

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