Diving Deep into PLNs

This guest post by Miguel Guhlin was previously published in his blog, Around the Corner.

Photo: Derek Keats,  CC BY 2.0
Photo: Derek Keats, CC BY 2.0

Old ideas find expression in today’s learning environment.

This weekend, a colleague asked me, “What do you think of The Deep Dive video?” At first, I didn’t understand what she meant. What did this old ABC news video featuring IDEO have to do with personal learning networks (PLN) in schools?

A part of me balked at having to hearken back to an ABC news broadcast to help explain to a group of principals what Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are about. In fact, I thought it was a bit of a problem. After all, those Deep Dive videos are old. Why couldn’t we just say something along the lines of….

Helping teachers build a PLN accelerates their learning and professional growth. The richness and variety of a PLN makes creating change that leads to enhanced teaching, learning and leading valuable.

I promptly started checking out PLN videos, but most of those focused on the how-to. In fact, that was the complaint I had for myself. In creating a PLN, when you focus on the interaction, you’re missing something. You’re missing out on all groundwork that went before…that groundwork includes relationship-building, building mutual purpose and mutual respect. I would venture that most of our time as leaders should be focused on those 3 core activities. It is a point that George Cuoros acknowledges in his blog entry:

I get a lot of emails asking about creating the conditions for change and recently was asked, “As a new principal, what is the first step to create a better learning environment in our school?”


Here is my answer…do nothing.


Too many times people walk into buildings and have some great ideas and they start trying to tweak this, and change that, etc., yet that often alienates the people that you want to get better.
What I would strongly suggest is that you sit back, watch, learn, and figure out what people are great at already and build from there.  Source: The Principal of Change

As I reflected on The Dive Deep videos, it was apparent several ideas were core. For fun, here are those ideas with what I see as a potential connection to PLNs.

1) Defer to the person with the best ideas.
Unbelievably, we’ve seen that the twittersphere and PLNs defer to the people with the best ideas. It’s not the size of the megaphone that captures people’s attention (not over time), but rather, the quality of the ideas. In fact, it’s all about influence, not authority. The better your ideas, the more influence you have, even if you’re NOT the boss. While in the past, it would have taken a courageous boss to lift up a worker with great ideas, now, it’s very possible for workers to use social media (e.g. Twitter) to find or create ideas that are sticky and worth sharing.

2) Chaos is encouraged, and is perceived as constructive“This is where the crazies live.”
I’ve asked my secretary to make a sign with that sentence about crazies and put it over the door of our offices. Although a network is very ordered, the activity along that network can be quite chaotic and it’s that very chaos that provides the randomness, the variability that engages human beings. If you haven’t tried a “walled garden” approach to social networks, then you may not know that once students and staff have had the opportunity to play “in the wild,” connecting with people from around the world, they are hooked. There’s no going back.

For me, this is a personal experience made true by video games. For many years, I played ‘canned’ video games, games that required no Internet connection. However, now, I’d rather not play a video game unless I’m playing against other real people who happen to be connected. My son, an avid gamer thanks to my efforts, connects daily with people around the world in a way I could never have imagined when I was his age. And, he is richer for those experiences because learning is ALIVE, it’s CHAOTIC…it’s messy.

3) Status is who comes up with the best ideas.
As a veteran article publisher and presenter in Texas, I remember the first time this truth really sank in. It’s when I had to compete to present and submit articles against others from all around the world. Think about that. While I was once was “good enough” to be a Texas presenter, I soon found myself competing against people who were veteran authors and presenters from around the world. This really came home during a virtual conference where I had to compete against no less than Scotland’s Ewan McIntosh! What a terrific incentive it is for learners today that they have to compete, not just against those in their geographic area, but because of modern video conferencing technology, against people from around the world!

Of course, the flip side of that is that I also get to collaborate with people who have the best ideas, who aren’t afraid to make their ideas easy to access via social media.

4) Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of a lone genius. Fail often in order to succeed sooner.
“Has anyone done this before?” It’s a question I’ve asked often over the last year as I began a new job. If the answer was, “No,” I knew I had a better chance of achieving different results than had been in the past. As an avid PLN member, focused on sharing and garnering the benefits of being a connected learner, I’m able to often see what works, or does not. This has tremendous benefits for us as educators as people report how they interact with students, staff, others in ways that are both successful and unsuccessful.

That’s why I love blogging because it allows for transformative reflections that can result in change, if not for you, for others who may be reading. The resulting conversation about failure and success helps you achieve success even if you are a “Rank: Failure.” Why? Simply because it means you can find solutions that much faster and get the feedback you need sooner.

5) Teamwork
When you’re limited to the team that’s on the ground, you’re truly limited. Although you may have an awesome group of folks, your REAL team is out there on the Network, connected to you by ubiquitous technology that changes how you approach every problem and solution.

There are a lot of examples, videos on YouTube that illustrate these points. It’s absolutely genius to try “old ideas” to new ways of accomplishing things. We no longer have to be part of an innovative organization dependent on its employees with advanced degrees to be successful. Now, the world is our’s to explore, to learn from, connect and collaborate with.

Who wouldn’t want to build a PLN that helps them be smarter?

Creative Commons License
Diving Deep into #PLNs #twitter #edchat #cpchat #hfsoars by Miguel Guhlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

2 thoughts on “Diving Deep into PLNs

  1. Pingback: PLN | Pearltrees

  2. Pingback: Four short videos to help your language students improve their fluency

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