From Public to Private – What is your PLN?


Earlier this week, as my daughters were getting ready for bed, as usual, the evening did not go smoothly.  The following occurred,

“Mom!  She’s reading my diary!”

“It was just laying on her bed!”

“It’s mine!  It’s private!”

Just listening to this exchange about something totally unconnected, and considering that as we wrapped up the course, Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln), we were asked to crystalize our thinking, I did just that.

There is no doubt that PLNs are “personal”. There was a great amount of discussion within the course in our community trying to define what PLNs were.  How were they characterized?  And how do they fit within an organization?  Many participants in this course felt that there was no place in an organization for Personal Learning Networks because they were … well … personal.  But does this mean that an individual’s PLN should be private – like a diary?  Is a PLN something that is owned, possessed?  Is a PLN more along the lines of being public?  Or is it somewhere in between?

Obviously that really depends on the individual.  But for me, I consider my PLN closer to the public side of the continuum.  There were a few realizations I came to as I progressed through this course and had the wonderful opportunity to get to know some very interesting people from around the world.  As a part of the course, we were asked to create an artifact that addressed this problem,

Your CEO (or equivalent organizational leader) just heard about PLNs at a cocktail party and is excited about gaining a competitive advantage (or improving impact on mission) by leveraging PLNs for the organization’s success. But, she/he knows little about PLNs or what to do with them to support organizational success and strategy. Is the organization set up to benefit from and support PLNs, so it is more than just an individual thing? She/he is going away on vacation for one week, and upon return wants you to explain what PLNs are and to provide guidance for what to do. You have a one-hour meeting to facilitate a conversation.

Through the course of conversation, and seeing what artifacts were being posted, I realized that my PLN is a core part of who I am as a professional and as an individual.  When I have the opportunity to leverage my network to help others, either by finding an answer, pointing toward information, or connecting two individuals within my network with each other, I feel I’ve accomplished something of value.  I’ve contributed to a larger purpose.  And this makes me feel good!

What I found interesting is that while the course was focused on discussing how participants defined a learning network, and the sources that were shared to support the discussion, perspectives were for the most part very positive.  But when we turned our focus to the problem we were asked to work on, much of the conversation was tinted with suspicion.  Suspicion for the motives of the “CEO”.  Suspicion about the potential for exploiting an individual’s PLN.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not saying that this perspective is bad or wrong.  There was a lot of healthy, idealogical conflict (as Patrick Lencioni would say) in our discussions because of the differing perspectives.  And without this, I may not have crystalized my own thinking as I did.

According to Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, the opposite of trust is often displayed as suspicion rather than a complete absence of trust.  And a lack of trust is often a result of fear.  So this line of thought, and additional discussion, led me to wonder what was the fear about?  Judgement?  Exploitation?  The potential for being inaccurate?  Some past experience?  Or just a lack of understanding?

Through this whole experience I recognize, acknowledge, and accept that each person has their own perspective of whether their PLN is closer to private or closer to public.  And even though I consider myself a life-long learner, and thrive when learning from, engaging with, and building my network, my learning has never really been just about me.  It’s about who I can help with what I learn and who I learn it from.  It’s about the potential I see in others and doing whatever I can to help encourage their success – their possibility.  The reason I learn is to help others learn in return.  That is who I am.  And this is why the final artifact for the course that I submitted with the help of a few course “team members”, PLN Artifact: CEO of a Global Company, was advocating for the support of Personal Learning Networks in the organization.

So I ask, “Who are you?  Where on the continuum do you place your PLN?”  

I would really like to know!

Image courtesy of Flickr