#WritingWednesday #1: What is a PLN?

There were two "chats" this week in this Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I'm taking this month, and they definitely caused me to think more about PLNs, specifically what are they and how I can improve them.

In last week's blog about PLNs, I shared my mindmap which showed which social networks I belong to and who belonged to that social network. But, I need to rethink that. One thing I learned this week is that it's not about the network, but about the networking.

It doesn't matter if I use Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, etc. So, does everyone else! I need to start viewing these networking tools as subscriptions. Yes, Facebook, Google Plus, twitter, etc. are free tools. Anyone can sign up, but when you're actually using them with an intended purpose, you are subscribing, and that "fee" is engagement.

So, moving forward, I need to differentiate between a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and a Personal Learning Environment (PLE). The best way to characterize them is by the level of engagement. If I am only reading about what a person does, I'm learning, but I'm not interacting. I know that learning doesn't have to involve interacting, but it certainly helps! Learning without interacting, to me, is the Personal Learning Environment. It's very necessary and sometimes the only way of learning from a particular individual; however, the moment I choose to interact with the person instead of just his "stuff", this person has moved from an "environment" into a "network".

The moderator of our  most recent PLN chat asked us to create a definition of a personal learning network in one tweet, so here is mine: "A Personal Learning Network is an opportunity to move from simply learning to actually engaging with those who share a common interest."

Keeping in mind my new definition, I need to spell out for myself what this looks like. I'll first assign three categories for my PLN which were present on my last blog: Writing, Neuro & Education, and Music. These groups are important to me because it tells me what I can learn from individuals in those groups. Then, I need to choose who should be in each group, keeping in mind that adding or removing an individual from these groups is always a possibility. Third, I need to find where I can find the individuals in each group. And, finally, I need to narrow those locations to those where I can actually engage with the individual.

As an example, three people I feel best belong in my PLN are realtor and all-around amazing person, Shauna Zamarripa; musician, psychologist, neuroscientist, writer, and esteemed educator Daniel Levitin; and music director, musician, and mentor extraordinaire, L*A*W.

I have no interest in realty or sales, but Shauna, whom I've known for over twenty years, is also an excellent writer. So, for the purposes of my PLN, Shauna fits in my writing group. Step three? Where can I find Shauna? She's on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, and Blogger. She  shares professional nuggets of wisdom as
well as personal moments of her life on Facebook. She writes blogs and articles on multiple subjects, and she tweets about real estate , money management, and writing.  One might think that twitter would be an appropriate venue for engaging with Shauna, but that is not the case. This is not to say that Shauna and I would never have a twitter conversation, but she uses her twitter feed primarily to retweet and advertise/promote herself.

Here's another lesson about PLNs - check a person's twitter feed. Does he interact with others on twitter? Would he interact with you on twitter? Answering those two questions can determine through which network is best to engage. For Shauna, the best medium of communication is through Facebook. I can comment on her posts where she will quickly respond or send her messages, which she also promptly answers. So, following my steps, Shauna is a writer with whom I can interact on facebook.

One of my classmates classified a PLN as being one where there is an individual you would most like to meet. For me, that person is Daniel Levitin. I first learned about the field of music cognition from Dr. Levitin through his book This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, and I've tried to keep up with what he is doing through watching videos and reading his books and research studies. There will be an opportunity to meet Dr. Levitin next year at the research conference offered by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) next April, and I hope I'm able to attend. While Dr. Levitin could easily fit into either music or neuro and education, for the purposes of my PLN, he is part of my neuro and education group.

So, where I can I find Dr. Levitin? He has a personal website, a laboratory site through his university, an Amazon page, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. Like Shauna, Dr. Levitin retweets relevant links. He also asks questions and provides an article to promote discussion about an issue. Does he interact with others? Yes. I've found that Dr. Levitin will interact with others to thank them for compliments. He'll also occasionally respond to questions. I asked him in August when his personal website's calendar will be updated with 2014 events, and he responded: "Look for a book tour in Seattle fall 2014". His response told me two things. First, of course, he answered the question. Second, he took the time to look at my profile which showed my location. While his interaction is somewhat limited, I feel the best form of engagement is twitter. Therefore, Daniel Levitin is a neuroscientist and educator with whom I can interact on twitter.

Finally, there is L*A*W. I discovered him through Twitter about three years ago, and have found him to be wonderful source of learning ever since. As a musician, L*A*W easily fits in my music group. He shares his music through Youtube and DatPiff. He sells his music through all the music websites. He shares his words of wisdom on twitter, Facebook, and Youtube blogs. In any of these areas, I can learn a lot about the music business and how to distinguish a bad artist from a good artist or a good artist from an amazing artist. L*A*W has also introduced me to other artists that I can choose to follow or not. While I can leave comments on his Youtube page or on various sales sites, neither offers me the opportunity to engage with L*A*W. If I want L*A*W to be a part of my PLN and not just part of my PLE, I need to engage with him on Twitter, where fortunately, he is eager to interact and tweets on a regular basis. Again, following the steps I gave myself, L*A*W is a musician with whom I can engage on Twitter.

My PLN MOOC's most recent chat also asked at which level of interaction would you consider an individual or organization a PLN. Because I mentioned twitter with each of the three individuals I listed, I think "levels of interaction" could be a discussion in determining PLNs, but I don't think there should be a qualifying level of interaction to declare an individual a member of one's PLN. As you will see, Shauna, Daniel, and L*A*W use Twitter. Shauna's interactions on twitter are significantly limited, Daniel interacts occasionally, and L*A*W interacts daily. If I were to look at levels or even a "beginning level" as defined by Twitter, I might rule out both Daniel and Shauna. But, I would prefer to look at levels as either zero or one. Is there engagement? If not, do I want to find engagement? If not, then the individual remains a part of my PLE. Further, I can't limit my networks to simply Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc. Just because a person might not interact much on one network does not mean that he won't interact on others.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on my latest reflections on PLNs. You can comment here or contact me through Twitter or Google Plus. By the way, if you want to add me to your PLN, I most engage with others on Twitter!
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Glen Cochrane said...

I like your post, thanks for the extensive examples. The line that got me thinking was that "it's not about the network, but about the networking". From my perspective, I would challenge this...in a 'medium is the message' sort of way. Networks are not neutral, I feel. And this even shows in your description of your relationship with Shauna and how she used Twitter. I wonder if you could expand your thoughts about this?


Deborah W Halasz said...

Good observation! I hadn't considered the limitations a medium might have that would affect networking. If someone neglected to use any networks, the networking or connecting would be extremely limited, and it would be on the learner to work harder to engage the other, if that's the desire. With twitter, someone might not like to use it because either it seems like informal chatting or because you can only use 144 characters per tweet. And, if you're not constantly looking for tweets, you might miss a question that someone would like answered immediately.

Indeed, each medium or network has its benefits and limitations. I suppose I also need to consider why someone might not use a network as I do?

Tanya Lau said...

Hi Deborah, thanks for your post! My thinking is mirroring yours...I also started trying to decipher my PLN last week by first mapping it by network or platform...but this week coming to realise that this may be more PLE than PLN. I like your comment "It's not about the network, it's about the networking" - that's a neat wrap up of the distinction b/t PLE and PLN.

I like the way you have qualified the distinction: learning without interacting (PLE) vs learning with interaction (PLN).

Along similar lines, one of the thoughts I picked up from twitter chats (from @KGS_Scott) was the potential for reciprocity as the defining factor b/t PLNs and PLEs, which is a position that I'm leaning towards.

And when you start to talk about potential for reciprocity, it's clear why social media are such powerful tools for the development and maintenence of a PLN > social media enables potential for reciprocity.

Thanks for your thoughts Deborah, they helped to clarify some of mine!