Reflections on xplrpln

Well, it’s been over two weeks since xplrpln (Exploring Personal Learning Networks open online seminar) finished, and I finally feel ‘ready’ to sit down and write some final reflections.  I’ve been considering how to approach this for a while. There’s much I could say about it – hard to know where and how to start. I’ve also been enjoying getting into other people’s artifacts, and continuing some of the conversations.

But here are some of the Big Things I learnt from xplrpln.

About PLNs and organisations

Although I ended up doing a ‘cautiously optimistic’ pitch to the CEO in my final artifact, I still wasn’t entirely comfortable about the idea. The problem I had/have wasn’t with the idea of PLNs in organisations, or individuals utilising their PLNs to meet their workplace learning needs. This is something that is already happening now. Per tweet I posted in the final xplrpln twitter chat:

PLN_Org_wk5tweet

And I think this sums up my (current) position: I’m comfortable with PLNs in organisations – but on individuals’ own terms. The discomfort I had was with the idea of pitching PLNs in orgs to the CEO. Because the likelihood is that the CEO or other leaders / managers in the organisation will want individuals to ‘use’ their PLNs exclusively to meet the organisation’s needs and goals. This is in conflict with the fundamental tenet of PLNs: that they are Personal, developed and maintained by the individual. So it’s the individual who gets to decide how they use their network, and who they include in it. Not the organisation.

Sure, you can try to put measures in place for mitigating this risk (and I made some recommendations in my artifact around this) but ultimately, the problem is the existing structures within organisations  (incl leader / management attitudes, power issues, performance management processes, hierarchies, closed networks….) simply aren’t set up to support wide scale, networked learning and working in this way. Kristen Corpolongo’s tweet in one of the final twitter chats really brought this home for me:

@KirstenCorpo_PLN_reflectionstweet

It goes back to what Maureen Crawford said early on about society’s move towards networks as a paradigm shift:

MaureenCrawford_PLNs_paradigmshift

And unless an organisation has made that shift, it’s doubtful whether a pitch for PLNs to a CEO will actually ‘work’.

That said, I still believe that individuals can and should continue to develop and draw on their own PLNs to support their workplace learning needs – and encourage others to develop their own. And perhaps, once the groundswell of bottom-up action on PLNs reaches critical mass, leaders within organisations will start actually taking some notice and realise that this is something they need to do themselves too – and support – within their organisation. Because until leaders know the true value of PLNs (and they can only realise this by developing, maintaining and using their own), pitching to them on the benefits of PLNs is likely to lead to ‘exploitation’ of an individual’s PLN – as described by Helen Blunden in her final reflections:

HelenBlunden_PLNreflections

I’ve really appreciated Helen’s sharing of her personal experiences throughout xplrpln (e.g. in her blog post above, plus G+ discussions). It provided unique (and timely) insight into the very real tensions between the individual and the organisation regarding PLNs. It’s been big in helping me  see how much work there still is to do before we get to the paradigm shift that Maureen refers to.

About cMOOCs, connection & conversation

Open attitude + mutual engagement
I’m starting to think that an open attitude to learning / sharing, and mutual cognitive engagement is what drives learning in connectivist online learning environments. It was without doubt, the in-depth conversations that made this so interesting. But this couldn’t have happened without participants being equally interested, passionate and engaged enough in the topic to participate.

Meaningful and authentic conversation
I’m amazed at the depth of conversation we were able to achieve in this space, and all without ever meeting face to face. I think contributing factors included: open attitude +  mutual engagement, the presence of complexity and ambiguity (providing much scope for exploration) and a certain level of comfort with online tools and social sharing.

Diversity of learners
A diverse pool of participants led me to learning things I otherwise would never have known about. I loved how the xplrpln community included those from corporate, higher ed, not-for-profits, freelancers and more. Through Kay Assant’s brilliant ‘PLN House of Horrors’, I learnt that university management have the same control issues as corporates, and Karen Jeanette and Stephen Judd schooled me on Cooperative Extension organisations.

Twitter and G+ as conversation spaces
I’ve been introduced to new experiences with Twitter: as a space for thought provoking, even perspective-changing conversation (which I wrote about previously), and using Hootsuite (thanks to Keeley Sorotki’s excellent post) to follow streams and check in on what’s happening in other MOOCs, chats, conferences etc has improved my Twitter experience a lot. I’ve also discovered G+ as a place where interesting and in depth conversation seems to happen. As a largely open space (but with the option for privacy), it seems to offer a good balance to support online communities. It’ll be interesting to see what our G+ xplrpln community evolves into.

cMoocs & open online learning experiences
Finally, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about cMoocs and what makes them work – and particularly, how much of the experience can be ‘designed’. I do think there needs to be the right balance of structure vs freedom, and I think Jeff and Kimberley achieved this balance. Parts of the ‘design’ that I think were critical to its success (at least for me) included:
  • Overarching structure: this helped to maintain focus, and provided a framework for moving forward (if left to our own devices we might still be in the throes of week 2, debating the differences between PLN, PLE, CoP, NoP, OLN, PKM, and the multitude of other complementary concepts out there!).
  • Artifact assignment: although I thought at one point I might not even submit one, the process of thinking through how I’d communicate my current position and thinking WAS helpful.
  • Encouraging ‘half baked ideas’: pitching the course as an ‘exploration into ambiguity’ was a brilliant strategy. It acknowledged up front that nobody knew any of the answers, that coming up with ‘answers’ was going to be complex and challenging – and that there might be more questions than answers by the end. And that this was ok. Moreover, this exploration was something we would be doing together. And that actually, this was kind of the point of the seminar. This was a master stroke because what it did was open up the conversation from the outset, by making it ok (in fact, desirable!) to put forward ‘half baked ideas’, and to ask lots of questions of each other without feeling stupid.  In the same vein, Jeff’s positioning of the artifact as a representation of thinking….for now – was what encouraged me to actually create one. Thinking about it as something that could evolve took the pressure off: it didn’t have to be perfect, just an articulation of my current thinking.
  • Intentional recruitment of awesome people: I’m aware that (at least) Jeff was quite intentional in scouting out people for this seminar, and I think this had a significant impact on the quality and depth of conversation. There was an energy and level of engagement that you only get when you bring together group of people who are equally interested, enthusiastic, and open to exploring and sharing ideas on a common topic of interest. And whilst this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this level of engagement and depth of conversation in an online space (it has been reminiscent of collaborative learning experiences from my Masters in Learning Science & Technology), I think the big difference with an open online experience like this, is that these people become part of your PLN. And this opens up potential opportunities to continue developing relationships beyond the learning experience.  This has already started to happen (thanks to a somewhat timely opportunity to meet Helen Blunden at the Learning@Work conference last week!), and there are others who I’ll definitely be following, and finding opportunities to continue conversations with.

Inspired by Kimberly Scott’s opening blog post I was actually going to construct a haiku out of a brilliant tweet from Helen Crump defining PLNs to close this post…however I can’t seem to find the tweet now and it’s Very Late – so might have to wait until next post (tomorrow!).

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4 thoughts on “Reflections on xplrpln

  1. I feel fortunate that we had the opportunity to connect and to draw you into #xplrpln. So fun.

    One of the things I noted about the participants in general was their capability to think critically and produce amazing, insightful commentary. I know you had this experience, as I did, of reading posts and coming away not just thinking differently but also going – ooooo! that’s a great insight! Your post here is a perfect example of that. I especially appreciate your feedback about the design of the seminar – in part because I think doing these kinds of open events well can provide momentum for PLN development. Clearly that was our intention. But whether an open online seminar is about PLNs or civic engagement or food systems — I think it should be fuel for those of us who value our PLNs as learning entities.

    More to come Tanya – I am sure.

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for your thoughts! It HAS been fun! so much so I developed a slight addiction to reading people’s posts, following the xplrpln stream, and thinking about the issues….funny the energy you get from a highly intellectually stimulating experience like that (though there was clearly a social / emotional connection too). I guess it’s a form of flow.
      I have been so impressed with the pool of people you attracted to this – they have been some of the smartest, most open, supportive and engaging people I’ve met. And impressive that we were pretty much able to maintain that heightened level of engagement and interaction over the 5 week period. Part of it lies in the characteristics of the participants: self directed learners, all intrinsically motivated to just explore the issues and engage with each other. But there’s also the design of the learning experience and environment – and you and Kimberley did an outstanding job in that respect.
      I’ve actually come out of this really inspired by the potential of open online experiences like this, and the interesting things that seem to be happening in the higher ed / open ed space (and on the flipside, slightly depressed about corporate learning, which is nothing like this…!) – and certainly keen to explore this more. I’m really interested in looking at how learning occurs through the combination of building social connections, conversations and reflection – and it’s perhaps an area I may explore further one day through research.
      I definitely agree that these experiences help to build and strengthen a PLN – this experience has been a real revelation for me on that front – it’s something I’ve experienced first hand, and I can also see that there’s a small and strong community of MOOCers out there who have continued to build relationships through ongoing participation in MOOCs. Thanks for the opportunity Jeff, and really looking forward to more!

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