This seems a bit too worryingly straightforward. Here’s my definition:
Your Personal Learning Network is the distributed and present network of people that you connect and collaborate with with the aim of developing and sharing knowledge, learning and expertise.
Teams do this in the workplace face to face, but PLN is generally used of technology mediated connections to those with similar interests irrespective of geography and time. Making a serendipitous discovery from a complete stranger on Twitter doesn’t automatically include that author in your PLN, there’s an element of intentionality and regularity involved. If however, I opt to start a discourse, comment on their blog, checking their slideshares and look out for them in online events then I know they are in my PLN.
PLNs morph and change reflecting our learning goals, contexts and interests. I’ve followed Steve Wheeler’s blog on and off and know that both PLEs (the tools you choose to use to maintain those connections) and PLNs the people are hot topics of his. He has a helpful diagram here (Now I am all copyright aware I dare’t reproduce it). A few helpful things from this post:
- All of us use personal web tools (FB, Email, Twitter), these overlap with our PLN, but may not always be used in the PLN context. So I may tweet about a party, or tweet to share some information, the same tool, but used to engage with different networks.
- Our PLE includes the tools, networks and real situations we are in.
WikiPedia’s definition puts a slant on “informal learning network”. I struggle with this a little. In a working environment my learning goals are more often than not work related, my colleagues are formal connections and make up my PLN, as do ex-colleagues and contacts in similar fields met at conferences, training and online.
Is it a useful term?
Digital technologies and associated open practices are the lifeblood of distributed PLNs. For connections to flourish discourse needs to be open and sharing needs to be as frictionless as possible. Arguably the existence of the term PLN legitimizes the investment in developing one through connecting, commenting, blogging and sharing.
PLNs are both an artifact of connectivism, and an answer to some of the challenges that this learning theory postulates. In a increasingly complex world it is not a question of finding an answer it is one of choosing an answer. Multiple perspectives and cross-disciplinary thinking is required for complex learning in a world with a shortening knowledge half-life. Connectivism takes things a little further and suggests that knowledge is held in networks.
Not quite finished with this yet. I’ll have a listen to the recording and revisit this later.