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:


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:


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


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:


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!).

On letting go to make time

So I’ve been reflecting a bit on last week’s lrnchat on narrating / showing your work. This is a topic that was very timely for me, as I was setting up this blog and writing about this very thing last week. Although I wasn’t able to participate in real time, I reviewed the feed after the event. It was very interesting.

Something that came up a lot was not having the time to narrate. I totally get this. ‘Time’ is one reason it took 2 months for me to start this blog.  But whilst we often think we don’t have enough time to do certain things, it’s actually more that we’re not making the time to do the things we want or should be doing. Making time is about deciding what’s important, and letting go of some of what you’re currently doing to do the important things.  This is a theme I’ve seen in some of what I’ve been reading lately:

  • Harold Jarche writes about finding the time for PKM by reducing wasted time (through effective utilisation of social networks) > letting go of existing unproductive practices to make time for more effective, more personalised learning
  • Elliott Masie says innovation requires stopping: letting go of some of our existing learning programs and habitual practices to make room for more innovative ones
  • Julian Stodd talks about the importance of learning what to leave behind, what to handover, and what to stop doing, in order to remain relevant, add value and succeed in the social age.

So I’ve been reflecting on what I can let go of in order to make time for some of the things I now regard as important: narrating work, exercising creativity, and building more effective social learning networks. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been letting go of sleep to make time for this. But I don’t think that’s very sustainable :p. Some better actions for me would probably be:

  • letting go of perfection – being comfortable with showing work or thoughts in progress (as pointed out by @espnguyen in the lrnchat), to write freely without constantly editing and re-editing my sentences
  • letting go of ideas in my head – writing them down, in order to develop them further, and to make room for new ideas (rather than driving myself crazy turning them over and over in my head)
  • letting go of control and sharing responsibility for more things (I’m thinking housework here! But it’s certainly relevant in a work context – appropriate delegation is important)
  • letting go of wasted time – being more organised in my personal life, thinking and planning ahead more (I never did grasp the concept of weekly shopping trips, for example – though I think this could save a lot of time)
  • letting go of the compulsion to be constantly connected – at least once in a while. We went away for a couple of days to a place without internet or phone access recently. It’s great for the soul. It allows time to just be. To have actual face to face conversations. To rest. Whilst I think social technology can be great, the constant chatter it generates can also be exhausting.

That’s what I’m going to work on letting go of. What about you?