PLNs in PLEs

The Exploring Personal Learning Network Open Seminar I registered for is starting this week, and I will be presenting on the subject later this month, so I’ve been reading up a bit on PLNs. Mainly I’ve been trying to sort out the distinction in my mind between PLNs and PLEs. The two terms are often used interchangeably, and for good reason, they share a lot in common. Two qualities of a PLNs stand out, however.

  • PLNs are less about the establishment of connections and more about the development of them over time as they strengthen with trust. In what I’ve read, this is predominantly about person-to-person connections. I wonder, though, how the development of trust relates to other objects in the environment, such as bodies of knowledge, communities and ongoing events, for example. How much do you trust a weekly twitter chat? Or, perhaps the better question is to ask is In what situations and for what kind of questions do you trust this particular Twitter chat? The same could be said of the person-to-person type of relationship where I would ask my friend Bob the Builder about how to hammer a nail, but probably wouldn’t go to him for calligraphy advice.
  • A PLN is purposeful. In order to develop and maintain the relationships and trust over time there is a responsibility on the individual to provide actions that others’ can attach trust to. This can include sharing resources and information, creating learning opportunities, providing feedback, listening and probably countless other types of activities. This also means coming out of the default lurking state of online presence to actively participate in things like introductions and dialog, activities that are not overly natural for me, but I do realize the need to develop my purposeful activity abilities.

I tend to see PLEs as the presence of an element, where as PLNs are the quality of that element. Our learning environments exist around us always. And even online, it is quite easy to set up or sign in for some sort of learning environment. Knowing and using the different qualities of the different elements within that environment (including contributing to others’ environments) take more time and continual refinement.

Conceptually, I see PLNs as an aspect of PLEs, existing on the inside of them – perhaps as a type of central nervous system to the learning environment. Other might see this differently, as for example in the image on the right. Contrary to the circle graph, my perspective on learning usually includes a wide view on the definition of technology and the understanding that non-human objects undergo learning and thus are subject to trust (as they may change over time) – I wonder how others see it?

I enjoyed thinking about the distinction of the blurry line between professional and personal that Kimberly and Jeff bring up in their Introducing PLN resource. It’s a difficult distinction to make because the Personal functions of a PLN don’t necessarily exclude any Professional functions. I would suggest that there is a cultural distinction between Professionally and Personally accepted behaviors. The accepted norms and use of language would be a factor of trust more when interacting in a professional community rather than a more neutral personal network. Although, I do wonder if the two are even separable?



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