In a recent conversation with my colleague, Rick Weinberg, I came to some clarity about what PLN means to me. We’ve all heard the term PLN, and many people switch the “P” in this term to personal or professional without a lot of clarification as to what they mean by either personal or professional.
My conversation with Rick centered around my thought that–at least for me–I have two PLNs. That is, I have a Personal Learning Network as well as a Professional Learning Network. In my world, my networks have very little overlap, but they often utilize some of the same tools.
My Professional Learning Network consists of my colleagues at work, colleagues from the schools in which I work, colleagues from other BOCES, and the billions, and billions (insert Carl Sagan voice here) educational technology specialists I’ve encountered in the eduverse. I use a variety of tools in my PLN. I use the phone, I use email, I use social bookmarking (e.g., delicous), sometimes my blog (I’m a lazy blogger) and social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Plurk). My major goal for using this network is to keep myself sharp and connected to others in my field.
My Personal Learning Network has an entirely different purpose. It’s where I keep connected with old friends from high school and college, learn more about my hobbies and interests, and generally chill out. There are many people in this network as well, but most of them are not professional bakers, knitters, or boxer dog owners. For this network I also use a variety of tools. To keep in touch with my knitting friends and to get new patterns I use the sites Ravelry or KnittingHelp. Interestingly enough, there is a network of bakers on the knitting site, so I keep in touch with them there. I also use delicious, but I have a totally different account on which I keep bookmarks for recipes and knitting blogs. I use Flickr to upload pictures of my knitting and to look at the work of other knitters. I even have a different blog that’s my knitting blog.
For the social side of my PLN, I use Facebook quite a bit to keep in touch with old friends. Just recently I was contacted by a long, lost cousin (FOR REAL!), found a chum from high school and saw her in New York City, and made plans to meet some old college pals while they’re home visiting their families over the holidays. It’s safe to say that most of my friends in Facebook are not part of my professional learning network, but Facebook is the one place where my networks overlap and I have “friends” from both worlds.
All Learning Is Personal
In my debate with Rick, we got hung up on something Rick said that I totally agreed with. He said, “For me, all learning is personal.” It struck me that all learning IS personal for me as well, but that some of that personal learning is professional (pertaining to work) and some of it is personal (not pertaining to work).
I value the relationships I have in both my PLN and my PLN, and I even have personal relationships with people in my Professional Learning Network. The distinction for me is that even though all of my relationships and learning are PERSONAL, I’m not getting paid to learn to knit, or bake, or be a boxer dog enthusiast just like Rick is not getting paid to fish or hunt. On the flip side, I’m not interested in education and technology just because I’m getting paid to know about those things. I have always wanted to be a teacher, and technology has always been something that has fascinated me.
The Bottom Line
In the end the line between PLN and PLN is blurry. There is probably more overlap than I realize since I am a common thread in both networks. For me, the distintion really comes down to content. While I do have personal connections with some of my professional learning network colleagues, I have a strong feeling that if I plurked about my knitting to my ed tech plurk friends and fans, I might not get a lot of comments back. But if I plurked about a great new site or article about education technology, I would get quite a few hits.
I am always grateful when Rick pushes my thinking.