Communities of Inquiry in Pursuit of Change

I am currently in week two of a cMOOC called Exploring Innovations in Networked Work and Learning.  And so far there has been some great discussions around the various topics of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and Communities of Inquiry (CoI).  Helen Blunden continued to inspire our thinking through her blog post, cMOOC, Social Learning Guided Design or Community of Inquiry – All The Same?  The big question seems to be around defining how a Community of Inquiry would fit in with our other social learning networks and then into the business environment.  What is interesting is that the more I read from the various articles, and then Helen’s blog, I am now convinced that not only can I relate to what a CoI is, but that I have been involved with one in the past and preparing to lead one now.

First I want to provide the context that led me to this realization.  Through our reading, I coi-presentation-diagram.jpgfound a definition of a CoI as broadly defined as “any group of individuals involved in a process of empirical or conceptual inquiry into problematic situations.”  This was originally defined within the scientific community and “represents a process of creating a deep and meaningful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experience through the development of three interdependent elements – social, cognitive and teaching presence.”

Then Helen posed some great questions in her blog:

  • “How can Communities of Inquiry help solve business performance problems?”
  • “Who can act as the “teacher” in a Community of Inquiry?”
  • “Does Learning & Development have a role as the “teacher” in a Community of Inquiry or should this be better served by someone who is an external consultant or someone within the business?”
  • How is a CoI different to a cMOOC or a Guided Social Learning Experience exactly? They all look like one and the same thing.

So with all of these questions and the model for CoI defined, I believe I can apply how this can, and has, been used in business.

My first experience was in the creation of a leadership model.  A “community” of people who represented various parts of the business came together virtually and physically to collaborate and define the leadership model and expectations for leaders in the organization.  The process through which all this occurred encompassed all three components of the CoI model.  There was a core team with a program leader (teacher), there was a great deal of thinking and discussion from high performing leaders in this community on what this model should look like (cognitive presence), and there was definitely relationships created and time to learn from, and about, each other (social presence).  This community of leaders had a very specific performance problem they were focused on – leadership behaviors and expectations.  And while Learning & Development (me) played a key role on the core team, the “teacher” was not L&D, but an Organizational Effectiveness consultant from within the business, supporting the business.  This was a great experience that lasted several months, with great relationships forged, and a model defined for 21st Century Leadership.

Now fast forward to the present.  I am preparing to launch a Change Champion Network in my current position as an Organizational Change Management Manager.

There will be a teaching presence (me) to help education change champions on some of the key principles of managing change in addition to other learning opportunities.  There will definitely be a cognitive presence in that we will all learn from each other how various cultures approach change and what we can learn and build together in support of managing and leading change within our organization.  And I will help ensure there is a social presence as this community engages with each other across organizational, geographical, and cultural borders.  While the experience I bring is primarily L&D, I am not currently L&D.  I am within the business, not external.  I may be the primary teacher at first, but I believe we will all be teachers at some point throughout the course of this community as we learn from, and about, each other.

And finally, as I look at a CoI through this lens, I see it as different from a PLN, cMOOC, or other learning network.  The CoI has a purpose – help the organization lead and navigate change more effectively.  A structure – the framework comprised of roles & responsibilities, expectations, and guiding principles.  An education component – leveraging virtual collaboration tools, change management concepts and tools.  And a “teacher” – me.  But the purpose of the CoI is not solely focused on learning.  It’s about applying that learning to help facilitate organizational change.

So in essence, when I look at the purpose of the various social learning networks, I can see the difference in purposes and how they are leveraged.  In pursuit of learning or education.  In pursuit of connections or networks.  And in pursuit of personal and organization change.  Give all of this, and your social presence, what is your pursuit?

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