Why I *STILL* Love the Phrase Personal Learning Network

During a session with Joyce Valenza at the BLC10 conference, I learned that there are folks who have an issue with the term “Personal Learning Network” (PLN). Valenza referred to her PLN and sort of apologized, acknowledging those who disagree with the term.

As a lover of my PLN, I had to know more. Why was she apologetic about the term? So, of course, to find out more, I turned to my PLN and asked what the issue was on Twitter where they tried to explain in 140 characters or less.

Here’s what they said and what I thought.

eduinnovation @InnovativeEdu I use Prof. Networked Learning Collaborative (PNLC) for PRODUCING / ACCOMPLISHING things with edu people from all over
  • My thought: Okay, that’s a nice term, but very different to me then my personal learning network. To me a PNLC seems like a group who all know they belong to a particular collaborative. I might use that for my learning network http://ted21c.ning.com. However, not for my PLN. My personal learning network is unique to me. We collaborate, sure, but we’re not one group. Each of us have our own personal learning network uniquely aligned to our specifications. While members may intersect, each network is different.
juliafallon @InnovativeEdu Jist of it: PLN doesn't mean anything to everyday people. Looking for word to describe w/o taking away human exp./connection.
  • My thought: Hmmm...If it doesn’t mean something to people I know, I take it as a great opportunity to explain in person or online like I did here 5 Things You Can Do to Begin Developing Your Personal Learning Network. I enjoy helping others understand the concept and build their own network. Technology gives us a unique opportunity to develop our network in ways never before possible and I want to share and help others get started!
tomwhitby @InnovativeEdu Arguments of semantics often take people off what should be the focus of the discussion. #edchat #blc10
  • My thought: I don’t get it. It’s personal. It’s learning. It’s my network. The semantics work for me.
While I appreciated the insight, I STILL didn’t get it so @akamrt tried to explain further in this series of tweets.
akamrt @InnovativeEdu For me, I think it's a misnomer & far to sterile. @ijohnpederson suggests "guild" as more appropriate term, I agree w/ that.
akamrt @InnovativeEdu A guild is an association of craftsmen . . . earliest guilds were formed as confraternities of workers. (Wikipedia)
akamrt @InnovativeEdu The network model is a database model conceived as a flexible way of representing objects and their relationships. -Wikipedia
akamrt @InnovativeEdu That was the best option on Wikipedia for "network" Also, guild is "us" and personal is "me"
akamrt @InnovativeEdu Networks are also too hierarchical. Also, think "guild" in the way it exists in World of Warcraft.
  • My thoughts: Huh? Misnomer? Sterile? Hierarchical Why? It’s personal. It’s mine. It’s the learning network I chose to create for me aligned to my talents, interests and passions. Guild is not more appropriate. A Guild is something people sign up to join. I am a member of the Screen Actors Guild. We all joined this guild because of a common focus, but my network is personal, aligned to my unique focus...not a common one. It’s mine and while anyone can join "MY" network, it is mine. They are a part of it...my network of people I turn to for learning. While I might be a part of their network, we are not all a part of the same network. Each of us has our own network. It is hierarchical and that’s okay. I’m at the top of mine, and you are at the top of yours and we have a lot of people that intersect.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of some members of my PLN, I still wasn't getting why some no longer like the term. So, mbteach tried to come to the rescue. She explained as follows:

mbteach re: PLN it started at ISTE. Certain people like to remind us to think about the terms we use & how we make connections.
mbteach as Tom said, it's a semantics issue but also requires more than 140 characters to explain :)

So I asked her if maybe there was a blog post that said more. She responded with...
mbteach it's not so much the acronym as this: http://injenuity.com/archives/21

This was a link to this blog post titled Embraced by the Cult | PLN | Embracing the Cult.
So I read it, and guess what? I’m still not convinced. While I respect the author’s opinion and clearly there are others who agree, I haven’t had the experiences she outlines, and I don’t perceive the term the same way. I hope there are others in my camp because I find the term personal learning network eloquent and clear. When I first heard Will RIchardson use the term I was filled with excitement. It named these wonderful people, from all walks of life that I learn from and with.

The issues stated in the blog post and how the author viewed the term PLN were just never how I viewed a PLN. True, I gave the term a glorified meaning. I loved it. It signified all the amazing people in my life I can turn to for advice, insight, and learning. I don’t agree with the post's postulation that a pln is cult-like or exclusionary. The author asks if you assign people to be in your PLN, what does that say about the people outside it? I’ll tell you what it says. To me there are two types of people when it comes to my personal learning network.
1) People who are in my PLN
2) People who I hope will be in my PLN.
There is no exclusion. To people outside my network, it says, "Hey, how ya doing? If you haven't connected with me yet, please do and let's get smarter together."

She explains that she believes people learn all the time, and everywhere. She says she doesn’t need to isolate or elevate a group of individuals to be her PLN. I agree with her observation. We do learn all the time and everywhere, and I appreciate that. That's why I am happy to elevate those I learn from and call them my personal learning network. They too are happy when I thank them and tell them how much I've learned from them and how I perceive them.

Furthermore, my PLN is not only digital. My learning network consists of many people that I know only online, only face-to-face, and there are those that I know in both mediums...my favorite, but not always possible. It also consists of people of all ages and with whom I have all sorts of connections. From my personal trainer, to my students who friend me on Facebook, to author Lucy Calkins who I rarely connect with in online communities, to my best friend, boyfriend, volleyball partner who also has a blog... or the one who also has a TV show, and all sorts of inspiring educators like principal Chris Lehmann (lots of on and off line connecting) and superintendent Mike Davino (we mostly connect offline.)

The article expresses a fear of loss of human connection. I don’t have this fear. My PLN enables me to connect to some of the most amazing leaders, thinkers, authors, students, friends, and others when I want, which would never be possible in the past. In fact, while at the BLC10 conference someone mentioned that it was at places like these that it is so great that we often, “meet people’s minds before we meet their faces.” I haven’t lost human connection at all. I’ve extended it in powerful ways.

The post goes on to bemoan PLNs for making influence and power more important than truth. I suppose any tool can be used well or not well. The way I use it, this has not been an issue. I try to connect with smart thinkers about smart ideas. A level of trust is developed. I get to know well the biases, passions, and interests of those in my PLN. I can usually look at their digital footprint for insight in this area. I just haven’t encountered power being more important than truth with anyone in my PLN. Could it be I'm more selective then others? I don't know.

The author also expresses a big problem when she reads “power of the PLN” statements, referencing the recursive nature of using the PLN to promote the PLN, or using tools to promote the use of tools. My PLN really has been powerful. It helps me think, process, discuss, dream, and create. So, I’ll be the first to admit that I often talk and write about the power of my PLN. Search for “personal learning network” on this blog and see for yourself.

Finally, the author shares, “I know people who have no desire to blog. I know people who lack charisma. I know creative people, who don’t function well in this space. They will be excluded, for not playing by the rules. They don’t “get it.” I guess this goes back to my own definition of PLN. Members of my network don’t have to get it to be included. They don’t have to function in this space. We communicate, discuss, learn, grow thinking, F-2-F, phone, email, Twitter, FB, Skype, on the court, wherever using whatever.

As I write this, I'm thinking/wondering if maybe I'm just lucky to have a super terrific personal learning network and realizing that perhaps there are others who in some way have been burned.

I applaud Jennifer Dalby for striking a powerful chord that resonated with many, but, even after reading the tweets and this blog, I still love the term and think I will continue to refer to my personal learning network as just that...unless I’m still missing something. Am I?
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