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Month: October 2013

Personal learning networks: the value proposition, work as service and a general foray into unknown territory #xplrpln

First of all, I think I ought to warn you that for me this post is somewhat of a foray into unknown territory, but it’s where my thoughts and readings have taken me this week as we consider, in Exploring Personal Learning Networks, the organizational context. Although I read the main readings for the week, which considered organizational culture and the power and politics inherent in networks, my thinking follows on from the comments on my last blog post and the reflection that is posted in the introduction for this week (week 3).

Considering my reticence to define a PLN, Jeff wonders if we might indeed be doing ourselves a disservice by trying to define them, and in thinking of them as some kind of “intervention” that can be implemented. That being said, he makes the point in reflections that defining, creating and maintaining a PLN is the work of an individual, and it’s not dissimilar to investing in the development of knowledge, skills and abilities. So in that case, might we now safely add network “klout”, “know-how” or “nouse” to that trinity?

You can certainly see how an individual with an effective PLN can bring value to an organization, but what are the politics of allowing an organization to appropriate such an asset. Yes, a PLN is an employee’s asset, something of value, and it’s interesting to think about the “value proposition” that a PLN represents, the power dynamics, or labour relations, that are implicated and the type of organizational structures that are best equipped to reap the benefits.

As I was thinking about this, a fellow participant posted that she does indeed work for an organization where certain staff are required to develop PLNs. It’s an interesting example, and nice to see how new ways of doing things evolve.

However, this brings me to another point, one that I think echoes Gordon Ross to some extent when he asks in his article “Intranet Strategy: Understanding the Impacts of Networks, Power, and Politics“, “who is included in this so-called digital workplace and who is excluded”? What I mean is, in this day and age does everyone actually “belong” to an organization, and if so, to what extent? What does that really mean anyway, and do you even need to “belong” to an organization? So with this in mind, it was with great interest that I read the article by Terri Griffith and discovered the term Work as Service (WaaS). The notion of Work as Service is an adaptation of the idea of software as service (SaaS). Just as software used to come in a box, now it’s generally available online for download. Equally, work might become “free of the box” too, that is free from the organization and available through options such as contractors, mechanization, and/or crowd sourcing. The phrase used in the article is “a people cloud”, and it goes on to mention “people cloud”companies such as oDesk, which I was surprised to find I’d already heard of, and via a local source to boot! Any way, such companies aim to support the process of quickly and flexibly matching talented individuals with workplace opportunities.

"people clouds" and new organizational structures
“people clouds” and new organizational structures

I think it’s interesting to consider all this as organizations endeavor to create new, agile structures and “knowledge workers”, or “artisans“, take stock and adapt to these changes. Like Jeff, I’m wondering if PLNs can become a way for employees to maintain their value and to secure working conditions that are consistent with their talent and their contribution.

Well, I’m not sure if I’ve exactly addressed the question set out his week, which asks what would it look like for an organization to somehow “adopt” PLNs, or some aspect of them, and what would the likely barriers be? Moreover, I’m not sure from what perspective, or scenario, to consider the overall course project from. I’m interested to consider PLNs from the point of view of organizations and freelance or contract workers, or PLNs as they relate to higher education and adjunct staff. I’m just not sure.

Image source: Peter. Lorre


Griffith, T. (2012) Work as a Service – Is There a People Cloud? Accessed at

Ross, G. (2013) Intranet Strategy: Understanding the Impacts of Networks, Power, and Politics. Accessed at

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Personal learning networks: what’s love got to do with it? #xplrpln

It appears at this stage that PLNs are pretty loosely defined, so it was interesting to consider the question posed in Exploring Personal Learning Networks this week (week 2).

Are PLNs absolutely “personal”– meaning that everyone will have their own version or a definition? Or will there someday be clear marks to know where a PLN begins and other types of networks or communities end? And, if these two questions were terminal points at the opposite ends of a scale, where would you land – closer to “personal” or to “there are clear defining attributes?”

Instantly I thought, PLNs are deeply personal, everyone has their own version. And what’s more, I’m not sure that I want to define it either. I mean, it’s a bit like how do you define love? It’s impossible to define love in a concrete way because everyone experiences love differently. But hang on a minute, if you think about it, love must have certain traits that characterize it across time and space and endow it with universal similarities, how else can you explain why Shakespeare’s sonnets, and the like, still resonate today.

So, maybe a PLN does after all have clear defining attributes, to some extent or another.

In that case, perhaps the question shouldn’t be posited on linear thinking, and this echoes some of the thoughts Maureen posted in the comments to her blog.

In her blog, Maureen interestingly poses the question “can a network be owned?”. The conversation moves to favour the notion that networks can’t be owned, seeing as they are after all “just a number of relationships or connections”. Upon which the question is then asked, “if PLNs can’t be owned, then do you think that your employer can rightly demand that you provide a list of the people who are in your personal/professional learning network” Now there’s a thought. Can your PLN be co-opted by your employer?

When I looked it up, co-opted has four meanings. Here are 2
  • appoint summarily or commandeer
  • to take or assume for one’s own use

No, this doesn’t sit well. After all, a PLN is personal. It’s about sense-making; that is my sense making, and my sense making for me. In his post, “the knowledge sharing paradox“, Harold Jarche admirably addresses this aspect. Using frameworks such as PKM, he says that individual workers can develop sense-making skills to learn continuously and to apply their learning to their work. Individuals care about what they need to get the job done, or about what makes sense to them. As such, knowledge is a very personal thing, and individuals are more likely to invest time developing their knowledge networks, and more likely to share their knowledge, if they remain in control of it. He says, organizational knowledge sharing will never be as good as what networked individuals can do. Hence, the challenge is how to connect the two.

This brings us to, what’s been posed in this open seminar as “the PLN problem“, basically how to leverage PLNs for organizational success. In the final week we’re to make our case, as advocate or otherwise.

This is tough, especially as I’m not enamored of conjuring up a definition of a PLN in the first place, but as Jeff Merrell points out, unless you have a general definition of a PLN it’s not possible to tell if PLNs and organizations are in  “structural conflict with each other” (or “structural alignment” for that matter). And therefore you won’t be able to determine the kind of changes, if any, required in the organization to effectively incorporate PLNs and create a business advantage. Thanks, by the way, to Kay for mentioning this point in her blog. It was particularly helpful.

Still tough though. So far, I’ve got as far as discovering that I’m wary of defining a PLN but will probably have to, not being convinced that you can own one and that individual knowledge making practices trump organizational ones.

So, the challenge, it appears, is to see if PLNs can bridge the individual-organizational knowledge sharing divide to become a match made in heaven. Hey, we’re back to the theme of love. Not quite, but something reciprocal or mutual anyway. Until next week, where the topic is barriers to PLNs.

PLNs and organizations: are they a match made in heaven?
PLNs and organizations: are they a match made in heaven?

References: Jarche, H. (2013) The knowledge sharing paradox. Accessed at

Image source:

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Personal learning networks: the power and the glory #xplrpln

An open online seminar, “Exploring Personal Learning Networks” started this week, and I’ve been looking forward to participating ever since I was alerted to it by, yes, you guessed it, my personal learning network (PLN).

This week is introduction/orientation week and it’s been suggested that participants relate something of their stories, either, what does having a PLN mean (that is, if you’ve already got one) and how has it changed the way you learn and practice in your professional field, or if you don’t already have a PLN, maybe, what’s the attraction?

Any way, I think I can safely say that I’ve got a PLN but, most likely it’s the same for a lot of people, it started to take shape before I knew what was actually developing. I first came across the term PLN whilst researching the use of Twitter for teaching and learning in higher education. I can remember reading one paper in which two ‘early adopters’ mentioned that they used Twitter to connect to their personal learning network (PLN). Although I registered the term, I guess I largely equated it at the time with a rail network, or some other piece of infrastructure. Akin to plumbing, probably. But then, as I began to use Twitter and to comment on blog posts and participate in discussion forums, I started to realize that I wasn’t just gathering useful information but I was actually getting to know something of real people. Avatars and headshots were coming alive as peepholes opened up relating snippets about work projects, world views,  conferences, commutes, pet hates and various passions etc. It’s this kind of interaction that builds trust, which in turn opens up opportunities for mutual learning and mutual benefit.

Agreed, engaging in this way and developing a PLN has really opened up my learning and created possibilities that I couldn’t possibly have had otherwise.

At first, my PLN developed by just observing how others interact online, but the really crucial factor has been my participation in a number of connectivist style MOOCs and the connections that these environments have enabled, connections that continue beyond the event to keep a sense of community and create chances for future collaboration. At this point I’ll direct you to Sheila MacNeill’s blog, “after the mooc has gone – the real collaboration and connectivism begins” so you can piece together the story for yourself.

Now, seeing as my personal learning network developed ‘organically’, what I’m interested to explore for this seminar is how others can best be supported to develop personal learning networks of their own and, seeing as I developed my personal learning network outside of any organizational context, how personal learning networks figure from their point of view.

But, before I leave this post, I’d just like to add that introduction/orientation week of Exploring Personal Learning Networks entreats us to try something new: share goals, experiment with new tools or reach out to people we don’t really know very well and maybe share our thoughts about a topic of interest. Well, in line with the anaology that cMOOCs are “like being in a pub“, I’d like to reach out to @JeffMerrill and @MattGuyan who, I notice from his #xplrpln tweets and Twitter bio, is a Pale Ale drinker to say “cheers, here’s to a successful PLN seminar”.

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Underlying the development of a PLN is the need for individual learners to be able to have the capacity for self-direction, which requires a higher level of learning maturity— – See more at:

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