Photo Credit: Me (partial Twitter followers)
There has been a lot of talk over the last few years about Personal Learning Networks (PLN). You know, the group that you put together yourself to help you learn new things about a related topic. In my case, it is educational technology and education theory in general.
My PLN is pretty diverse. It ranges from close friends that I have eaten dinner/played golf with to new friends who I have met face to face to complete strangers overseas in countries I have never been to. Then, throw in a few folks that love to play devil’s advocate regardless of the topic and you have a nice, diverse group to help you grow some dendrites.
Recently I had the opportunity to discuss PLN’s with a good friend who works outside the education community. He related several tips to building a strong PLN, but he calls it community:
1. Have the right idea about friendship. Know that true friends are honest regardless of whether they agree or disagree. The important thing is that you realize the importance of a friend and not just looking for a “yes man/woman.”
2. Be sure you see the reality of the process of a community. Get the true value out of it. Only you can make the decision to do that. Make sure the person you are adding is worth the effort. Be sure to factor in that the process will have valleys as well as mountains. You can learn and grow during both.
3. You have to move beyond the superficial. In other words, who cares who your friend is or what his/her title/ranking/popularity/Tweet ranking/etc really is. That does not grow knowledge and community. Moving deeper into the relationship is what helps build trust. It puts the conversation and expectation of input at a level that you both can grow from. Challenge yourself and your PLN for that deeper content or you’re both wasting time.
Also, be who you are and not who others want you to be. Seth Godin has a great, short piece on Walter Cronkite:
Here’s the thing about the life of Walter Cronkite:
At every turn, he acted as if he had a responsibility to his audience. He didn’t do the right thing because he thought it would help him get ahead and then one day he’d get his share. Instead, he always did the right thing because that’s who he was. No sellouts, no political consulting, no false transparency.
That’s the way it is.
Transparency works if it’s authentic.
So my friend’s overall key point is that the ability to experience and enjoy the friendship of the PLN you create is in direct proportion to the relationship you build. Throwing together a haphazard group just because you think you need one now is only going to disappoint both you and them. Take your time. Add and remove from your group. Revisit the group make-up as you go. Be honest with yourself about your own growth. Your PLN is for your benefit. You get out of it what you put into it. If you only plan to follow along and not participate, you will never expand your own learning, and others will find folks more willing to be a part of the process.
Passive learning stinks. Be an active part of the process. Maybe this little bit of my friend’s advice will help you out.
PS: Once you realize the power of this in your own learning, imagine what it would do for your students.