Last night, I went to happy hour with a group of friends and colleagues who knit. I don’t have much of a social life, so for me this was a Big Deal and a Lot of Fun. For the most part, we knitted, talked about how we came to knitting (or not knitting), showed off our projects, snacked, sipped, and more-or-less avoided “shop talk.” A little spurt about teaching online here, a little chat about connections between programs there, but mostly it was social time. Having just completed a compelling five-week online seminar (a cMOOC) on “Exploring Personal Learning Networks,” the back burner of my mind was sputtering away with questions: is this part of my PLN? If so, shouldn’t I be much more deliberate about our conversation?
My biggest takeaway from Exploring Personal Learning Networks is how much discipline and intentionality it takes to be a member of a community of thinkers/doers/makers. 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 really thinking – utterly naturalized. Move these practices online, and suddenly I am overwhelmed. I feel inundated with new information, ideas, and resources.
For me, this seminar highlighted the pleasure and fun of learning, particularly learning with amazing deep thinkers, which made it all seem like play more than work (like knitting in a pub, maybe?). That must be why over 100 of us found moments here and there to listen to, read, and engage with weekly broadcasts, tweetchats, blogs, Google+ discussions, even becoming first-time bloggers. We divided into smaller groups to work on how we might integrate PLNs more intentionally into our workplaces. While I didn’t get to contribute directly, I found the level of agreement I had with our group’s artifact to be compelling; in Janet Webster‘s and Rick Bartlett‘s leadership in creating this presentation, I found the richness of PLN.
The trick is commenting, responding, and curating — a new concept for me, and one that I will be grappling with intensively now. And yet there is a heaviness to all this intentionality. Curating is demanding work, and I’m still really not sure Evernote or Diigo or any number of other platforms are going to get me to where I actually have useable information. Stuff I can return to and use. Like my collection of knitting needles or my yarn stash, right?
During the seminar, we worked on definitions of personal learning networks. When the class started, I’d only just begun to figure out what the term “PLN” might mean, and why it might be interesting to use. At the time, I thought it was a fancy way of talking about connections between people around ideas, methods, and professional goals. Tanya Lau’s tweet in one of our seminar’s chats (the question at that moment was about how one might explain PLN to our mums) changed my thinking: “Mum, a PLN is like when you visit a new friend’s place for dinner & ask for the recipe cos you really like what they cooked,” tweeted Tanya.
That definition came back to me last night, where I found a lot to think about among the knitters. We were almost all professional colleagues. We had a lot to offer each other in terms of professional resources, connections, and ideas. But we didn’t “network.” Instead, we discussed how to cast on, whether to use one long needle or four shorter ones, what kinds of yarn we like, taking turns petting one knitter’s beautiful bamboo/cotton skein. Today, I’m inspired to keep knitting, maybe even finish that project that’s spent more time at the bottom of the yarn basket than in my hands. Tools, creativity, conviviality, inspiration – isn’t this exactly how a PLN works?!