Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

A Year of Growing a Personal Learning Network (PLN)


Ok, so to be fair, it’s been slightly more than a year for me, since roughly August 2013 but more solidly since I started my blog, late December 2013 that I started becoming aware of, and building, a PLN. Not sure when I learned of the term PLN, though. I guess sometime during #rhizo14 or something.

I read Laura Ritchie’s post today where she talks about knocking on doors to connect with people we are interested in, and that outside of the frame of a MOOC or such, it’s highly unlikely we’d get a response. I’ve been through that. When I first finished my PhD and wanted to edit a book, I emailed a lot of people in my field and got few responses. Later, I tweeted to some people I was following on Twitter and got a more favorable response. Now, with my much wider social network and PLN, I find research partners with a lot more ease.

Maha Abdel Moneim and I are presenting at Nile TESOL next month on becoming a connected educator, and developing a PLN is central to this, isn’t it?

Depending on our level of engagement and comfort with openness, developing the PLN can have benefits from inspiring our learning and teaching (think The Ingredients of Me that @cogdog developed, shared with me, I blogged, others used in their classes and tweeted photos), to actually helping us with specific challenges we are facing (e.g. If you blog about them and ask for help, like I do sometimes), and to transformative effects of co-designing learning experiences with others. Think #clavier and #tvsz as international collaborations. Lifelong learning indeed. Otherwise, you could be learning alone, by reading books and articles but not engaging with their authors, or not discussing them with others.

So how do I grow my PLN?

#1 MOOCs. My favorite way to grow my PLN has been MOOCs. Definitely. cMOOCs specifically, or at least ones that use Twitter. The advantage of a good MOOC (good here is the right topic at the right time when you have free time to engage and the right combo of people with enough similar interest but also enough diversity to be beneficial) is that you don’t have to look for individuals – you are gifted with many to choose from. It can be hard to find the jewels among them, especially that some people are just more visible or louder (like yours truly). It can be hard in MOOCs where lot of people seem to know each other beforehand and you feel like you’re outside that clique. I feared this when I entered rhizo14 – but was welcomed right in. I feared some of us who knew each other in ccourses would do that, but i think we welcomed a lot of others right in (though i fear other people might still feel left out). The thing is, if you write a blogpost and no one responds… Or if you tweet back to people and they don’t respond, what do you do? One thing is to discover for that MOOC where everyone is. For rhizo14 many of us found facebook the easiest place to engage and find out who blogged what. For clmooc it seemed to have been G+ and i rarely ventured there, so even though i enjoyed clmooc, i did not meet a heck of a lot of new people, but did engage with a few that i am happy to have met and continue to know today. In ccourses i am not sure, i guess i am everywhere except the forums; the facebook group is not hyper active. I love the blog aggregator but i guess i engage most with twitter. In ccourses i learned the new trick of tweeting to particular people sometimes when i blog something addressing them. I rhizo14 i learned to link to other people’s blogs to let them know i appreciated what they had written and it also gets attention. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to engage is to engage. The best way to get heard is to keep talking and to listen. There is probably no way everyone will hear everyone else, but someone will hear you, eventually.

#2 is following useful twitter hashtags and adding them to my TweetDeck and following people whose tweets I like. Again, responding to people not just favoriting makes a huge difference. Alan Levine recently wrote beautifully about the importance of acknowledgement:

Acknowledgement, recognition of others matter so much, even more in online interaction. People get so little of it, we get our micro reassurance when some one clicks a blue button.

Which brings me to…

#3 is commenting on people’s blogs and retweeting their stuff. If I like someone and follow them but also want them to notice me, I’ll give them attention for a while. It’s not a devious thing, it’s just targeting my attention to building a relationship. Reply to their blogpost, or retweet it, or reply to their tweet.., and if I get lucky, we follow each other on Twitter and start conversing and maybe even DMing. This used to happen to me naturally at first but I now do it more intentionally.

#4 blogging I did #edcmooc and #readmake in Nov 2013 before I started blogging and they did not feel like truly connected experiences. I didn’t feel it til #rhizo14 and I think it’s partly the blogging and partly the facebook. But not all MOOCs have active facebook groups, so its the blogging and twitter that have endured.

I guess i am running around the same thing. To widen your PLN… Easy steps:

Find people where they are – listen and engage the ones who interest you
Share useful things, your thoughts

I remember someone once said two of the the best ways to use social media were to ask questions and to amplify the voices of others.

That’s good advice, too šŸ™‚

P.S. i know someone made a good website on PLN, was it Maureen Crawford? I’ll dig up the link and post it here…ah found it here it is


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