I’ve signed up for Personal Learning Environments Networks & Knowledge, a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) from Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Rita Kop and Dave Cormier. I am not sure how much I will be able to participate, considering I am already in the throes of a thesis, but the topic is so perfectly aligned with my thesis research on PLN’s, informal learning and the role of microblogging that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to participate at some level.

Conceptually, there is a pretty clear distinction in my head between PLE’s and PLN’s. In very broad terms, I think of PLE’s as the technology, with the PLN being the people. The PLE enables me to build a PLN. Not that everyone who is part of my PLN requires technology to connect with, but technology has made my PLN much richer, more diverse, and instantly available.

Personally, I am more interested in the PLN than the PLE. Considering I am primarily a technologist in my day job, this is probably a bit off-kilter, but while I use a PLE (built primarily in Netvibes and good ol fashioned, still alive and kicking butt in my little world RSS) and find it invaluable to my learning, I realize I am not a typical user. I do wonder how viable the idea of learners constructing their own environments really is within the context of higher education, which is one of the things I hope this course will help me come to terms with.

But the PLN – I am much more interested in the PLN as a learning construct, both formally and informally, and how it is similar or different to other learning constructs, such as networks of practice and communities of practice.

About a year ago, I wrote about my casual search on trying to historically define the term Personal Learning Network, and came across a 1999 article by Dori Digenti called Collaborative Learning: A Core Capability for Organizations in the New Economy (pdf) in which she noted that reciprocity and trust are two crucial elements in constructing a PLN. I have thought about, and referred to, this article a lot in the past year, specifically when speaking about the idea of reciprocity and how it manifests itself in a network enabled PLN. The more I have thought about it, and the more I examine my own use of a PLN, the more I realize that the reciprocity in a PLN is not so much between myself and individuals within the PLN, but between myself and the PLN itself. I find myself both answering and asking questions to a relatively anonymous group of people whom I have weak ties with, with whom I have developed a certain level of trust with, based primarily on the ambient exposure I have to them and their ideas as a result of them being open and transparent on the web. How did I get to trust these people? Why do I think they know something that will help me? And what are the expectations of me of the people who choose to include me in their PLN? What are my responsibilities? Or are there even any responsibilities?  Oh, the questions.

The other point on PLN’s that I am interested in is a bit more grounded, and that is whether people who use PLN’s use them as a general tool, or segment them to professional development. In my view, a PLN is a general learning tool regardless of what I want to learn, yet I often see PLN’s used primarily as tools for professional development. But I realize that I only get a small glimpse into other people’s PLN’s based on who I am and the role they believe I play in their PLN, so this is probably not the case.

Okay, I need to wrap this up. Hopefully I’ll be able to articulate some of this more clearly in the coming weeks, and be able to contribute to your PLN’s in a meaningful way. At the very least, I am happy to be along for this PLENK2010 ride.

CC BY 4.0 PLENK2010 by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.