Exploring Personal Learning Networks: O Week

12 Oct

Earlier this week, the Exploring Personal Learning Networks open online seminar that I’ve enrolled in began. This will be my second MOOC experience and I’m looking forward to growing my PLN and strengthening relationships with other members of my network who are also participating. I wrote a post a few weeks ago where I started to think generally about PLN’s. I’m sure this seminar will provide an opportunity for me to connect, explore, think, reflect, and engage with others about this interesting and emerging area.

One of the things to do this week was to try something new. For me it was using Google+ which something quite new to me – hangouts, circles, posting to different sections. While a little frustrating at times, I’m finding that Google+ is pretty cool and I’m getting used to it with a little help from my friends.

It’s been terrific to start making connections with other participants by reading their backgrounds and getting to know them a little bit. In some posts that I’ve read, people have created a visual for their PLN. My version looks like this:


There’s me at the centre of the network. I’ve put the Twitter and WordPress logos next as they have been the main two tools that have connected me to others in what I now know is my PLN. The surrounding circles represent different levels of contact and interaction between me and other people. The closer they are to the centre, the stronger the connection. The network itself isn’t fixed, people move in and out, some stay close for a long time and others for a shorter period. In a way it reflects relationships we have in our everyday lives. Each person within my PLN would probably have their own diagram similar to above which increases the interconnectedness between everyone. The thing about PLN’s is that some people might be aware they are part of your network and other my not even know. After all, you don’t send out a welcome pack and issue membership cards!

The rapid expansion of my PLN has come via the use of twitter. About a year ago, I started using twitter as an experiment to see how it works. At the time, I followed Cathy Moore and Ryan Tracey as I knew they were in the learning field and I was a reader of their blogs (I also followed friends and a few celebrity types). Back then I was an infrequent user. It pretty much stayed that way for a long time and then I found a few more learning practitioners and I started looking at articles and retweets they posted which led to discovering more people. I noticed some people were quite active and others not so much. It was the links from one to another that have led to the growth of my PLN. I’ve since ditched the celebrities and I’d say that about 95% of the people I follow on twitter working in the learning and related fields. I’m learning much more via informal channels now. On the downside, the larger your PLN the more information is coming through and as a result, I’m sure I miss stuff coming through but that’s ok because chances someone else may pick up on it and share again.

One of the themes that we’ll be working towards during the next few weeks is the use of PLN’s in an organisational context. At this early stage, I’m a little uncomfortable with this. I think this is because for me, my PLN is separate from my organisation and I’m in control of it. My organisation, still benefits from what I’m learning but its informal and I engage with my network in my own time. My concern is that if organisations become involved things could change and I’ll lose that level of control and it won’t be the same – my world’s could collide! (maybe watch the clip if you don’t know what happens when world’s collide).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this learning experience and where it takes us.



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17 responses to “Exploring Personal Learning Networks: O Week

  1. Jeff Merrell

    October 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Wow Matt. Your last paragraph about worlds colliding is so spot on. That, IMHO, is one of the key challenges to be worked out (if at all possible). Harold Jarche touches on it in his “Knowledge Sharing Paradox” piece ( And my good friend Alison Seaman also continues to remind me that “networks are not neutral” – meaning there is still social power plays, etc. involved (among other messiness).

    The scenario you share in that paragraph is also one that I’ve used in my classes for discussion. No real answers on how best to resolve it. Organizational culture plays a role – but still, it’s not a clear picture. Will be looking forward to your thoughts on this as we go through the seminar.

    • learningsnippets

      October 13, 2013 at 1:47 am

      Hi Jeff,
      Thanks for your comments and link to a great article! It mentions the things that I’m thinking and wrestling with regarding PLN’s in a corporate setting.
      I like how you use the word ‘messiness’ as it sums up my thoughts (at the moment anyway) towards organisations tapping into the power of the PLN.
      Maybe there’s a way for organisations to create conditions to allow PLN’s to grow, while allowing people to retain control/ownership? Looking forward to exploring this during the seminar.

  2. Sorokti

    October 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing your PLN/learning journey here Matt! So much of what you wrote here has been my experience as well. I lurked on twitter for over a year and now it is my main tool for developing my PLN (see: I agree with you that the visual of your PLN really mimics the other types of relationships in one’s life. If a particular person happens to be the parent of a child in my son’s class and we volunteer together for the Parent Teacher Organization that person typically moves into one of the closer rings for awhile. But if that child moves to another school, the interactions I have are few and far between and take much more effort on my part so the parent moves further out and unfortunately sometimes drops off completely. The same can be said of members of my PLN. If I happen to be in a structured learning experience with someone, such as a cMOOC, the other participants typically move closer to me in the diagram. Some stay close once the cMOOC is over while others move further away.

    I am interested in exploring the ways that personal learning networks are nurtured (or neglected) over time. How similar or different are PLN relationships that start via online technology from friendships or work relationships that are started via face-to-face interactions? How are online PLN relationships different from other types of relationships if at all? How do we read social cues in 140 character tweets from people we have never met in person? It seems there is a skill to develop in this area. (I wrote about this a bit here:

    Like Jeff I find your comment about worlds colliding fascinating given the topic of this #xplrpln seminar. I happen to be in the unique position of working for an organization where developing a PLN in encouraged and I don’t feel that it is being taken out of my hands (I get to work with Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott!). I know that my experience may not the norm so am excited to hear other perspectives about how this is playing out in other organizations. I think this “keep your hands off my PLN” reaction is completely valid. This is a barrier to address/acknowledge if an organization were to encourage the building of PLNs or ask those who have developed PLNs to share back into the organization somehow. This may parallel the motivations behind knowledge hoarding (people often guard their own knowledge and expertise as opposed to sharing freely within an organizational setting).

    • learningsnippets

      October 13, 2013 at 3:56 am

      Hi Keeley, thanks for reading and for your comments!

      I liked your posts and it seems like our experiences are similar in terms of our ‘twitter journey’. I find you can build connections quickly but they can weaken just as quickly too. I’ve had similar experiences e.g. while participating in an MOOC the relationships can be quite strong and then afterwards some people stay and others drop off altogether.

      You raise some interesting questions to explore regarding PLN relationships compared to other types of relationships. While twitter is great, the character limit can be a constraint when wanting to have a more indepth conversation. In this case, it would need to move to another location or be carried out using another tool. I find it interesting that you can develop strong connections with people you haven’t even met. I thought Helen Blunden’s blog post and video about meeting some of her PLN was great and is something that I hope to do as well.

      When I read back my post about the worlds colliding, I thought it may have come across as being selfish and I’m glad it wasn’t interpreted this way. I look forward to more discussions about this as we move along. You said that your organisation encourages PLN development and maybe that’s all orgs need to do – create conditions that allow employee PLN’s to grow? I’m sure the people you work with makes a difference too – I’m a little jealous of you! 😉 It will be interesting to hear other views around this.

  3. tanyalau

    October 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Hey Matt!
    You raise a some interesting points here:
    1) as Keeley picked up on, the transience of some PLN connections. As I was reflecting on Keeley’s observations, I considered our connection (yours and mine). I definitely think the fact that we previously worked together and knew each other F2F first, is a big part of why we now closely follow and comment on each other’s blogs. There is simply a level of comfort (and vested interest) achieved from knowing someone F2F that doesn’t occur – or is a lot harder to replicate – from online interaction only. And I think a big part of that is – again as Keeley mentions – from lack of social cues. The immediacy and non verbal cues of F2F interaction is near impossible to replicate. I think relationships of similar strength can probably be built via online means only, but would require a lot more effort, mutual interest / engagement in an area of work, and probably some sort sustained collaborative activity (e.g. working together on a project – or perhaps being part of a longstanding CoP…?) that gave people a reason to interact closely long term.

    2) the use of PLNs in an org context and the potential tensions this may create – for both the individual and the organisation. Personally, I just don’t see how organisations could possibly lay claim to an individual’s PLN. Maybe they have a right to ask you to justify in business terms the benefit to the organisation of your interaction with your PLN during ‘work’ time, but in my mind, that should be pretty easy for you to do (and the evidence is likely to be clearly in your twitter stream for all to see….) What may potentially be more complex to resolve is the issue of who might own the IP if you brought an external idea (i.e. from one of your PLN connections) into the organisation, which the org then developed into a multi-million $ product (assuming you’re working for a commercial organisation). It might come down to how much the organisation developed the idea…or it might require a rethink of how we (society) views IP…?
    Anyway, it seems there’s no shortage of intriguing questions for us to explore in #xplrpln, will be interesting to see if there are any ‘answers’…or perhaps even more questions by the end! Look forward to exploring it with you all.

    • learningsnippets

      October 14, 2013 at 1:34 am

      Thanks Tanya! You’re right, having the initial F2F connection does play a role in our interactions and yes it is a comfort thing – comfort in sharing and also comfort in having a different point of view and feeling that this can still be expressed. Online only interaction can be problematic at times, I’m thinking how sometimes we put our version of the ‘tone’ onto the interaction. For me, I still am keen to meet those in my PLN, Helen Blunden’s post about meeting her PLN in the UK and the Melbourne meet-up group are great examples of establishing that physical contact. Having said that, seeing Jeff and Kimberly online last week was good as you get to see and hear the person behind the tweets and blogs.

      The IP issue is something I hadn’t really considered but I can see how it could become problematic and will be good to throw into the mix over the coming weeks!

  4. Clive Martlew

    October 13, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Matt, I liked your thoughtful piece. I’d not thought that others might want a sharp dividing line between their PLN and work or that organisations might somehow demand to exploit them. Maybe I’m naive…or just lucky where I work!! My PLN overlaps between our internal Yammer groups and my LinkedIn connections which seems natural. Looking forward to more provocations.

    • learningsnippets

      October 14, 2013 at 1:35 am

      Hi Clive, thanks for your reading and your comments.
      To be honest, I hadn’t thought this way myself until the question came up in the seminar about how we’d sell the value of PLN’s to our CEO and their use within organisations. That’s when I realised how separate my PLN is from work and I’m not sure how I feel about my workplace being involved. Maybe it’s just me thinking negatively! I’d be interested to see what organisations that are supportive of PLN’s are doing and how the two can interact for the benefit of both parties.

  5. Maureen Crawford @jmc3ualberta

    October 14, 2013 at 3:31 am

    I think the concept of ownership is not particularly relevant when talking about a PLN. No one owns, even their own PLN because PLNs are inherently communal! The links are the essence and the issue is not ownership but access. As alluded to above, the care and nurturing of links and relationships is what allows one to maintain both ease and speed of access.

    • learningsnippets

      October 14, 2013 at 5:55 am

      Hi Maureen
      Thanks for your comments. I do feel a sense of ownership of my PLN and I think this could be because it’s something that I’ve grown and nurtured over a period of time. I do agree that access could be a greater issue (especially if organisations become involved) which may impact on the quality of the relationships that we have with our PLN.

      • Maureen Crawford @jmc3ualberta

        October 14, 2013 at 6:00 am

        My immediate response was to agree with you about a sense of ownership. However, as I dissected my feelings I realized that what I feel is a keen sense of personal relationship with all the nodes in my PLN, which is very different from ownership.

      • tanyalau

        October 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm

        Hmm Maureen…I think you might be onto something there! Very thought provoking comment. PLNs are essentially just a set of relationships, or connections. When you consider this, I agree ownership is an irrelevant concept. Access is key. In fact, I just happened upon your blog post about this I do believe I agree! Thanks for your thoughts Maureen.

      • learningsnippets

        October 14, 2013 at 10:59 pm

        Maureen/Tanya, on reflection and wrestling with this, I’m also thinking that at the heart of it is a strong sense of personal relationship with my PLN. I think that my uncomfortable-ness is around a (perceived) change in access once organisations become involved.

        Maureen, I liked your blog post too. I think that your thoughts on ownership on your blog post and here, is a good example of the benefits of a diverse PLN, where you can get differing views and that give you something to think about and explore.

  6. Kimberly S. Scott

    October 14, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Ditto on the “Twitter journey” comments. I’m hopeful that I’ll find more people who are Tweeting in areas more closely related to my professional interests. Right now it’s hit or miss. but with time and intentionality–and perhaps more people seeing the value of putting their thoughts out there–I’m hoping Twitter can become a stronger resource to facilitate my PLN. I’m looking forward to the discussion about “worlds colliding” when we dive into organizational implications next week 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    • learningsnippets

      October 14, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      Thanks for reading and your comments Kimberley. I’ve also found twitter a bit hit-and-miss at times but when I was getting started I tended to look at people my closer PLN members were following or tweeting about regularly. I’d check them and might start to follow these people based on what I find.
      You’re right in that a vital part of growing a PLN is that people need to put their thoughts and ideas out there. You can connect with someone if you don’t know they exist! I do realise that this is a scary thing for many (including myself) but I’m finding that my confidence is growing over time.
      I’m looking forward to the discussions too!


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