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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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  1. Janet Webster Janet Webster

    I think for education, the idea of ‘work as service’ is all part of the general disaggregation of the ed services provided by the institutions. We already have a large unstable corps of contract faculty at most universities ( generally over 55%). This percentage is likely to increase in the next 10 years with looming retirement of tenured faculty. This trend does not bode well for those interested in making teaching a career, but could result in decreased costs for the ed sector.

    • Hi Janet, you’re probably right, in that WaaS is part of the dis aggregation of education. It’s not a topic I confess to know a whole pile about. It’s just that the Pln conversation we’re having here seems part of the mix.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Helen

  2. My mooc journey started with one on PLNs in 2012. I’m still working on my definition. It’s on my bucket list. For my particular purposes, the organizational perspective looks promising ~ even better, useful. Not all organizations are businesses, gov agencies or institutions. They include national and community public service and advocacy groups. I am default social media whatever (slave, content curator) for a national casual faculty advocacy organization. Community and local news blogging/social media networks and various projects involve.

    I also find myself thinking of organizational PLNs as distributed networks, participants as connections, nodes, hubs, outliers, etc and their PLNs as part of the organization’s distributed networks-as-PLN.

    That could change. I have already experienced the rub of ownership and loss of .personal voice/autonomy Then there is also the perennial scalability issue. At the very least, I hope to get closer to getting a handle on the PLN (digital identity too), although Zeno may be yet another player here

    • Hi Vanessa, firstly apologies for my tardy response to your comments on this blog; I went away for a for a few days pretty much as soon as I made the post. At the time, your mention of loss of voice/autonomy intrigued me. Then I caught sight of a conversation on Twitter and a blog post by Bonnie Stewart which I had to chase up once I got back on line. I found the Bonnie Stewart post in the FB #WEEOpen13 group, and hey presto, what do you know, you too had found and commented on exact same post. Interesting to think how all this fits together. Thanks
      Now back to thinking about PLNs and organizations, and you’re right not all orgs are corporate businesses.

  3. Helen:

    If you really are, as you said, feeling as if your post “is somewhat of a foray into unknown territory,” then you’re not alone. You’ve done a great job of pulling together initial thoughts that I, too, have been struggling with as we consider the idea of taking personal learning networks into the workplace. Tackling one challenge that you mentioned: many employers enforce the idea that work done for them is the property of the employer–which creates an obvious dilemma for something like personal learning networks that are, by definition, personal. I don’t see an easy resolution of the tension between an employee’s (or independent contractor’s) feeling that personal learning networks are something personal they are willing to share with employers and employers’ feeling that what they are paying the employees or independent contractors to do during work time belongs to the employers. An obvious starting point is a shift in the entire concept of ownership so that each side (employees/independent contractors and employers) somehow doesn’t give up anything essential to the nature of what it needs and provides while, at the same time, finding some way to acknowledge, accommodate, and support the idea that some resources developed by employees/independent contractors (e.g., personal learning networks) benefit both parties and therefore need to be nurtured rather than constrained through what up to now has the sort of work as a service/work for hire situation you’ve so accurately cited and which leaves the employees/creators of the PLNs at a distinct disadvantage. (A somewhat rhetorical question for us to consider: what value does an individual’s personal learning network have to an employer without the employee at the center of that network? It’s not the names of the people in the network that have value; it’s the relationship between those members, and the employee who creates and nurtures the network is the central element holding that network together.)

  4. Cedric Cedric

    Thanks Paul/Helen : very interesting thoughts indeed about PLN ownership – and about the shared benefits for employees/contractors and employers. The “value” for the employer could be the knowledge/resources created into or captured through the network that can directly apply to a given business issue in terms of innovation/information/solution… Agree people names don’t represent the value, the relationships do (even more in a commercial deal) – but not sure about “pivotal” role of one single person in a network, which by definition is moving and reshaping in organic way? Here I see the employee like a “bridge” between her own PLN and her organisation to transfer in the knowledge/resources at defined moment in certain context ? Sorry if even more rhetorical / conceptual – Will be thinking of a more concrete situation…

  5. […] And there is our motivation to make it work.   Which leads me to Helen Crump’s blog posting, “Personal learning networks: the value proposition, work as service and a general foray into unknown …elen shared a link to another blog that was quite interesting for me, WORK AS A SERVICE – IS […]

  6. Thanks folks for reading, sharing and commenting on my post, which I have to say was probably one of the hardest blog posts/pieces of thinking I’ve had to do in a long time. This is not a straight forward/neutral topic, and it was quite a surprise to get such a reality check. Clearly, there’s a lot of new thinking to be done on this topic; isn’t it great though that we can do a lot of it here in #xplrpln community. I appreciate your input, and hats off to Jeff and Kimberley for designing and facilitating such a great learning opportunity.

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