Blogging now at

Haven’t stopped blogging. Just moved to a new neighborhood. You can find me now at

Although I am no longer posting to Learning. Change. Design, I will leave this place as is for awhile. Kind of like that section of your bookshelf where there’s some good stuff and it makes you feel good knowing it’s there.



The personal pull into social

Note: I wrote this short blog post for the Jive Software community. It was subsequently picked by and republished by DZone. It’s my thinking on whether there is in fact some connection between personal learning networks (PLNs) and social business. And very much relevant to an upcoming open, online seminar I am co-facilitating: Exploring Personal Learning Networks: Practical Implications for Organizations.

I am an educator whose academic and professional interests focus on technology, learning and knowledge sharing. One of the questions that keeps me going is: Just how do people become social (in the good-digital-citizen, knowledge-sharing, reciprocating, narrating-your-work-because-it’s-just-what-we-do kinda way)?

This is not just a purely academic interest. And I am more a realist than a utopian when it comes to digital networks and people. But I truly believe social business depends on our collective ability to broadly develop digital literacy and competent digital citizens. We all win when the majority of participants in digital spaces operate in the kinda-way I outlined above.

So how does that happen? What might drive it?

We use Jive as our learning environment in the graduate program in which I teach (yes – correct. we’ve pretty much dumped the university LMS). One of my joys is watching how graduate students begin to connect and learn outside of the formal class groups we create, when no one is telling them what to do or post or share. And as a co-conspirator and participant of ETMOOC – a “connectivist” Massive Open Online Course designed specifically to foster social collaboration and networking around the course topics – I watched as nearly 2,000 people enthusiastically learned and shared, cross-commented on blog posts, jumped all over Twitter chats, and did so with civility.

If you dig into this a little bit, the people who become good at operating in this way are often explicitly working on developing their personal learning networks (PLNs). They see the web as a resource to help them develop professionally or personally; use a variety of technology tools and platforms to collect, curate, share and develop knowledge; and they understand the importance of sharing and reciprocity as the kind of “golden rule” of operating in a civil manner on the web. (See a few of my collected resources on PLNs if you are interested in how I get to this point).

And it’s the reason we are running an open online seminar this fall (Oct. 7 – Nov. 5): Exploring Personal Learning Networks: Practical Issues for Organizations. We’re going to provide participants with some background on PLNs and then engage in a couple of weeks of facilitated discussion: What might happen IF…PLNs became an everyday part of professional development within organizations? Could we build better social muscle? If we focus on the personal first, do we create a pull into social that benefits us all?

photo credit: iirraa via photopin cc

Personal learning networks – notes and resources

Some thoughts and partial thoughts as I work through a collection of readings and resources on personal learning networks (PLNs) as they apply broadly to professionals and learners of all types. These readings will be part of Exploring PLNs: Practical Issues for Organizations, an open online seminar I will be co-facilitating this Fall.

Alison Seaman

For me, it honestly starts here: Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy.

I am biased of course because I know Alison and she is a valued part of my own PLN. But this piece, published in Hybrid Pedagogy (a wonderful online journal), is now recommended reading in Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Literacies course at Stanford for the section on PLNs.

This is a really well-written piece which pays respects to early innovators. But it puts PLNs into a broader context while at the same time making the idea of a PLN seem – well – approachable and personally valuable. This resonates with my own experience in learning to learn on the web.

Howard Rheingold

Howard Rheingold’s latest book is Net Smart, in which he explicitly addresses PLNs for only a small bit. But really the whole book is a manual on all the capabilities necessary to build a PLN. Given who he is — writer, teacher — and his remarkable history in the world of virtual communities, I find it not only interesting to note his insights into PLNs but also note to whom HE pays attention. We cross paths at several points in that regard (Shelly Terrell, Alison Seaman and the Rajagopal et al academic piece in First Monday).

In a short blog post, Rheingold interviews Shelly Terrell, an educator who is credited with really accelerating the PLN movement among teachers as well as being a great PLN developer on her own. She is referenced in his book Net Smart. The interview is a focused on the basics of PLNs in the context of education. But this post as well as the accompanying video hits on themes concerning adoption and overcoming barriers of support (e.g., school administration).

A similar post introduces the idea of a PLN being “people learning together,” an insight Rheingold credits to Will Richardson, another education innovator.

After Net Smart’s publication Rheingold went to Twitter and started sharing his ideas on how HE builds a PLN. This post shares the results. (I am looking for additional content explaining these steps):

  • Explore
  • Search
  • Follow
  • Tune
  • Feed
  • Engage
  • Inquire
  • Respond

Shelly Terrell

From Shelly herself, a curated list of 23 resources on PLNs. I think I would introduce this as a great window into how the teacher world has adopted PLNs/thinks about PLNs. I’ve looked at many of the links (and videos) – some are better than others. But the themes that are built here all resonate with everything I’ve heard or read about how people think about PLNs.

Harold Jarche

Jarche writes about workplace learning and advocates a point of view that work and learning are now inseparable and that networks provide an opportunity for great innovation in learning and work. He does not use the phrase personal learning network but writes extensively about personal knowledge management (PKM) and how PKM is central to his point of view.

I see few meaningful distinctions between PLN and PKM — both focus on the individual taking control of learning and being conscious of the network developed for that purpose. Here is one of Jarche’s definitions of PKM taken from a recent post:

PKM is a framework for individuals to take control of their professional development while working in organizations or across networks. Disciplined personal knowledge management brings focus to the information sea we swim in. The multiple pieces of information that we capture and share can increase the frequency of serendipitous connections, especially across disciplines and outside organizations. – Harold Jarche “PKM in 2013″

Jarche also describes PKM as dependent upon a seek-sense-share process, which he uses extensively in his writings on PKM.

I particularly like his post Activate Your Knowledge, in which he reflects briefly on his earliest inspiration for PKM and his interpretation of that inspiration into the seek-sense-share process – “as a process of moving ideas and conversations through relationships of people in networks, communities (CoP), and work teams.”

In two other recent posts – An Organizational Knowledge Sharing Framework and PKM in 2013 –  Jarche puts PKM into organizational context and does an effective job of linking “Big KM”/knowledge management, social learning and “narrating your work” with PKM/PLNs.

What I also respect about Jarche is his critical voice. In The Knowledge Sharing Paradox he hits head-on one of the key tensions in thinking about PLNs and organizations: ownership of the things you produce. “Why would someone share everything they know on an enterprise network, knowing that on the inevitable day that they leave, their knowledge artifacts will remain behind?,” he writes.

Note that Jarche also runs The Connected Knowledge Lab with Jane Hart, another veteran thought-leader in the area of technology and learning. The Lab offers members both content and community designed to help individuals build their personal knowledge management capabilities and networks.

Academic articles

This is the best that I have found in terms of explaining PLNs and looking at the networking skills required to make them work. It is also used by Rheingold in his Stanford course in the section on PLNs: Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them

This is a conference paper by some of the same authors from above (the conference itself is a gold mine). Also very good: People in Personal Learning Networks: Analyzing Their Characteristics and Identifying Suitable Tools

Via Catherine Cronin (comment below): The 2012 First Monday article “Understanding PLNs” by Rajagopal, et al, is another notable piece to add to the list.

As well, education innovator Alec Couros’ chronicles the development of PLNs in his chapter —  “Developing PLNs for Open and Social Learning”  — in George Veletsianos book, Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (2010).

On the history of the term PLN

This post summarizes several posts but puts PLN into historical perspective.

On PLNs and Personal Learning Environments (PLE)

How to Create a Robust and Meaningful PLN by Debbie Morrison clearly defines the relationship between personal learning environments — the tools and space you use to collect and construct knowledge — and the network of people with whom you learning (PLN).