My Personal Learning Network is in the Hallway

Participation has always been easy for me.  I love to dive in, sense what the others are up to and what motivates each person, and magically create the glue that makes it all come together.  But not online.  Online, my greatest skill so far is lurking. I have lurked online for many a day, in many compelling contexts.  I have lurked on Facebook, hesitant to share my own updates, I’ve lurked on my favorite social media site for knitters (Ravelry), I have lurked in xMOOCs (traditional lecture-style classes on a massive online scale, (Coursera’s a great example.) and even in cMOOCs (production and connection oriented, though also massively open; my absolute favorite [and the one with the least fanfare] is DS106). Turns out you really have to participate in a connectivist MOOC or it makes no sense at all.  And so, now, here I am, signed up for an “open online seminar” on Exploring Personal Learning Networks.  No one is calling it a MOOC, which makes me sigh with relief – I don’t have to explain to my own network of family, friends, and colleagues, yet again, what a MOOC is. This one is not exactly massive (around 115 of us, I think), and it is very connectivist.  But the organizers (yay for Kimberely Scott & Jeff Merrell) have gone a long way to lay out a welcome for novices.  Every step of the way, how to connect in this connectivist realm is clearly marked, options offered, tools explained.

But, for me, the question remains: why engage online?

As a teaching professor, I believe in meeting students where they are.  And so my recent research has been about figuring out: where are our students these days? To what extent are online engagements naturalized for them.  It turns out (and I’m writing about this more formally these days), that like any of us, today’s college students engage online based on what they want to do, what they have to do, and what they get pulled into immersively.

But building a Personal Learning Network is not something I am compelled to do online.  For me, PLNs begin in person.  Even after decades of e-mail, I prefer to walk down the hall, up the stairs, around the corner, across buildings, travel to conferences, to other campuses of my university, etc in order to interact with my PLN.  These are the folks that inhabit the work spaces of my daily environment, friends and colleagues that I went to grad school with, share the microwave with, plan next year’s class schedules with. They are interdisciplinary professors who share my passion for pedagogical methods, and collaborators with whom, as often as not, plans are cooked up in the hallways as we run into each other.  Why turn from this PLN to a fully virtual one? How??

I’m getting more and more of a sense of the “how.”  Joe Moses’ comment to me during my first ever Tweet Chat meeting last week, “as I learn, I try to make something useful out of it, share it, get feedback, repeat” echoes Harold Jarche’s seek/sense/share paradigm, in which I especially like his emphasis on narration or “working out loud.”  You mean no one will be annoyed?  Well, Harold doesn’t promise that, exactly, but he does highlight the possibility of bringing “focus to the information sea we swim in.”

But why turn away from the hallway, the physical spaces I occupy with my co-workers and learning network? In a beautifully argued post on one of my favorite sites to get overwhelmed on, Alison Seaman says that learning “how to participate and share knowledge competently in online spaces has become a necessity” and later, “knowing how to engage in these virtual spaces has become crucial for full participation.”

So I am only a partial participant when I learn from those in my immediate environment?  Maybe not, but lurking is not participation either.  So here is my blog, there is my Tweeter feed.  Check me out on Google+.  Whew.  Participation is not as easy as it used to be.

how to participate and share knowledge competently in online spaces has become a necessity. – See more at:
how to participate and share knowledge competently in online spaces has become a necessity. – See more at:
how to participate and share knowledge competently in online spaces has become a necessity. – See more at:

13 thoughts on “My Personal Learning Network is in the Hallway

  1. David Beard says:

    My colleague, Jim Aune, once said that “every act of scholarship is also an act of friendship.” I think that I feel resonances of that claim in this blog entry. The journal and the blog and the hallway are a spectrum of spaces for acts of scholarship.

    • Mitra Emad says:

      I love this idea, David! And I suppose part of the “why” of engaging online is there is somehow more time. Perhaps a deepening of friendships through the acts of scholarship.

  2. Bruce Reeves says:

    Good for you! I like to think of the virtual environment as an extension of my physical environment. I love to learn, and I will take almost any opportunity to do so. So the virtual world is just one more opportunity. You do not have to give up your hallways. All you have done is extended them.

    • Sorokti says:

      Bruce – You took the words out of my mouth (or fingers in this case). I think this is a YES/AND situation. In my opinion a PLN is stronger if it combines all sorts of spaces for connecting, including the hallway! I find that when I go out to the virtual spaces and learn there I can bring it back to the hallway conversations and those then become much more interesting.

  3. Mitra Emad says:

    Thanks, Bruce! I was hoping someone would say this, though I do feel the more we turn to screens, the more we turn away from faces, bodies, actual, live people. That is the conundrum I can’t seem to resolve.

  4. Justin Jacques says:

    I really agree with your insight Mitra. My PLN starts with people too. Namely my clients and colleagues I interact with daily. I am also trying to find the space for social media and how it best augments my primary PLN!

  5. tanyalau says:

    Hi Mitra, great post, love your writing! I have also come to terms with participating online relatively recently, but definitely find that once you start (commenting on blogs, sharing/retweeting/connecting on twitter and other social platforms) it doesn’t take long to become comfortable with doing it and to see the value of it. The main difference I see between having hallway conversations and participating on the social web is the visibility and transparency of connections, and how this visibility makes it so easy to serendipitously discover interesting, inspiring and stimulating people and content. Sticking to hallways means that you tend to bump into and converse with the same people; the chances of discovering someone new AND interesting are a lot lower.
    At the same time, I recognise that although you can discover a lot people with similar interests or backgrounds a lot quicker, it takes a lot longer to achieve the comfort and rapport of face to face communication when you’ve only even known someone online – and it may be that you’ll never achieve the same type of rapport online as you can through face to face interaction, at least with certain people.
    Interesting thoughts, great writing. An awesome start!

  6. Kimberly S. Scott says:

    Great post, Mitra! I completely relate to what you’ve said. I have lurked online for a long time and I’m still trying to discover how engaging online fits into my approach to learning in general. I too tend to start with personal connections and agree with the comments by Bruce, Keeley and others that engaging online is a “yes, and”–for me. However, the people like Tanya whom I’ve met through our #xplrpln seminar have encouraged me to think that perhaps forging online connections can create a stronger, diverse PLN that may also lead to friendships down the road. Seems like we’re all in the same boat–not something I would have recognized had lurkers like us not taken the step to blog about it 🙂

  7. […] the offline PLNs are equally important – a feeling shared by at least one other PLN Explorer, Mitra Emad. We should not repeat the mistake that educational institutions made by separating elearning from […]

  8. […] In the face-to-face world, I rarely think about discipline and intentionality – in the hallways of my personal learning networks, I mentally bookmark ideas, offer help, brainstorm solutions, listen, comment, applaud, all without […]

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