— Ady Howes (@adyhowes) November 5, 2015
Yesterday, Ady Howes asked me this question, and I told him I need to blog about it as it’s quite a big question.
Your Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a concept I became familiar with a few years back bu virtue of Twitter, later LinkedIn, and mostly through attending events like unconferences. Your PLN are the people you connect with, interact with, talk to, and debate with about any range of topics that’s of interest to you.
The value of the PLN is quite hard to define as it’s intertwined with what I as an individual bring to the table as much as it is about how the people around me can help me. So here’s my examples of how my network has brought value to what I do:
I have had ideas that I’ve not known how to progress or take forward. Talking with others, sharing my thoughts with them, and finding a place for this thinking to happen in a safe way has allowed me to develop my ideas into action. L&D Connect happened because of an idea. #ldinsight was the brainchild of David Goddin and happened because of an idea.
I learn about new technology because of my network, and they help me to understand what it could mean, how it could be used, and what I could do with that technology. As an example, I became aware of a piece of technology called Periscope – a Twitter owned product. It allows you to livestream anything, people can comment live and also provide live feedback on the poignant pieces of the content. I didn’t really understand how to use it, until this week when Tim Scott demonstrated its use at the CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition. It immediately helped me understand it’s potential, and I subsequently asked Michelle Parry Slater to Periscope the panel session I was in with Andy Lancaster and Julian Stodd.
When I hear about new ideas and theories, I often need to read more about the ideas and the concepts in order to help me know how to do something useful with them. Things like neuroscience and mindfulness are hot topics right now, and there are just as many people writing and sharing useful content on these topics as there are people writing rubbish on them. My network helps me wean out the good from the useless. If they find it of value, they share it. I trust their opinion and use that to inform how I consume that content.
When I am working on a project, one of the really beneficial things I find I can do is to do what they call ‘working out loud’ and share an update on what I’m working on, and asking for input from people in my network. Often the input is highly valuable as other people’s thinking prompts them to comment and provide insight which I previously wouldn’t have arrived at myself. That kind of sharing is powerful and helps me create better solutions.
I challenge my own thinking because of the people in my network. I became aware a long time ago that I follow a lot of people who I agree with, who think like me, who are good people in my opinion and who provide me with insight I value. In that there is an inherent trap that you only talk to the people who support your way of thinking to the point that it’s hard to know what other opinions may need to be expressed, but don’t have a way of being heard. So I set about to purposefully connect with people who challenge my thinking. Not with abhorrent or abusive people, but with people who think differently to me. It makes sure I don’t stay stagnant, that I have to articulate what my position is on something and that I have to be clear about what I’m suggesting and why I’m suggesting it.
I find humour because of my network. We humans are a clever bunch, witty and full of good humour. I enjoy good humour – not just jokes and banter but also clever thinking and light hearted conversations. It keeps the network vibrant and enjoyable to be around. People have fun with each other, support one another and are happy to have conversations on all manners of topics, and that’s helpful in building relationships.
I don’t ever formally categorise people as being in my PLN or not. They just are. If I’ve connected with you in some way, interacted with you and had a conversation with you, then you’re part of my PLN, just as much as I’m part of yours. We don’t have to agree on everything we share, we don’t have to be in every conversation that is taking place, and we don’t have to be included in every update. The value of the PLN is it simply exists.