Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The PLN Matures. The Progression of the 21st Century Personal Learning Network

I’ve noticed an exciting new trend lately with personal learning networks (PLNs).
To date the progression of the PLN has gone something like this.

1) Joining
People organically develop their PLNs when chosing to participate in social media like Twitter, Facebook , blogs, and through learning networks like Classroom 2.0.

2) Lurking
Once a member of an online community, people generally watch to get a feel for how things work and consume information.

3) Conversing
Next people move to joining conversation by retweeting, replying to discussion, commenting on blogs, connecting face-to-face building on ongoing conversations, etc.

4) Initiating/Creating
Sometimes people move to initiating the conversation by tweeting, starting discussions, launching blogs or learning networks, starting conferences (i.e. Educon, EdCamp) etc.

What I’ve noticed lately, is that this has moved a step further from, wait for it...

Conversation to Collaborative Creation
The natural progression of PLNs where people move from consumption to creation seems to be moving to the next level: Collaborative Creation.

I first noticed this when Mary Beth Hertz and Kevin Jarret shared with me during preparation for our #140Conference panel how they used the power of their PLNs to collaborate to create what is now called EdCamp. EdCamp is a day-long, completely free, user-driven “unconference several educators spent several months planning, mostly virtually resulting in a terrific learning experience for all those who participated and leading to future EdCamps. Drawing from a PLN to collectively share and put together an unconference is extremely powerful and likely couldn’t easily be done without many Web 2.0 technologies available today.

Hey PLN, Can Ya Help Me with This?
Then I noticed something else happening in the Twitosphere. People were tweeting out requests for others from their PLNs to help collaborate on projects. The requests were not just asking for feedback, comments, or responses, but to actually jump into collaborative documents and join in the creation of materials connected to areas of expertise. The result in many cases would be something that benefited and informed all collaborators. What’s more places like Twitter and Facebook make it easy to reach out to/tag specific people if you want to virtually tap an expert on the shoulder for input.

I was so intrigued by this that I asked a few people doing this to share guest posts on my blog to share what they were doing. The work they were doing was nothing short of transformational.
These educators were collaborating to come up with smart ways to update their curriculum by infusing innovative, collaborative ideas. Teachers all contributed to a document what unit of study they were focusing on, ideas for innovating instruction, challenges, and questions. There was an additional column for suggestions. The document was tweeted out by some class members and next thing you know there was a global conversation with people providing feedback to teachers as they were learning directly in the document in which they were working.

Here are the two posts explaining exactly what took place.
Perhaps the most amazing example of this was when Alec Couros Tweeted:

Wow! What resulted was a document that you could see had dozens of contributors sharing, creating, developing a document that is currently 24 pages and counting and the source for numerous articles about Ning Alternatives. Sylvia Curry made a screencast of the “Ning Alternatives” document being edited in the first few minutes. The process was incredible and you can see pieces of it below with exactly who is editing where. What you can’t see is the top right part of the screen where Google docs shows you who is collaborating and also allows for a chat that can take place about the document.

Next I noticed a revered educator, Lucy Gray doing something similar. She Tweeted:
elemenous Share any thoughts/resources for meeting the needs of adult learners here. #appsct 1:51 PM Aug 12th via TweetDeck Retweeted by you

So, I took a look at her Adult Learners document. What I saw was people (including me) collaborating from around the world on a Google doc with Lucy conducting a conversation in the instant message feature of Google docs prompting folks to think deeper and provide additional insights and information. This is a document that is useful to all those reading and contributing.

Being the innovative educator I am I had to jump on the bandwagon, so I followed the lead of Lucy, Alec, and the rest and I tweeted this:
Contribute to hosted v self hosted Ning alternatives Focus - Right language rather than critique.

I also sent direct replies to some people I knew were successfully learning network hosts such as these:
@stevehargadon Wld luv ur contribution @ hosted v self hosted Ning alternatives
@jenwagner - Not sure I understand the question. It's really "any" hosted v self hosted solution.

I also had extended conversations with @funnymonkey and @don_watkins who contributed generously. The result was this document that compares hosted vs self-hosted alternatives to ning (stay-tuned for upcoming post).

As creator of my own learning network I had expertise in the hosted solution, but I did not have expertise in the self-hosted solution. What better way to learn, make meaning, and create then with contributions from my PLN.

I know the phrase “game changer” is overused these days, but...I think this qualifies. Do you?


  1. Great post... If teachers do not take place in online collaborative communities, are they really prepared to be a facilitator of collaboration in the classroom? I agree that this is the next evolution of the PLN.

  2. Excellent post!
    The upside of the "Ning fiasco" was certainly the collaboration it sparked off.
    PLNs allow us to discover how much generosity there is around the world. Isn't that the mark of true greatness?

  3. Great post! I have noticed exactly the same thing! What is also blowing me away is the speed of this process. The feeling is what I would expect to feel if I watched a glacier melt away in one day. Wow!

    Thanks for posting and great site!