It's great to have a PLN (or multiple PLNs for that matter). However, as I've learned, being part of a PLN means nothing if we don't make use of it. Regularly, it seems we're much better at making use of the "P" and the "N," and not necessarily the "L." Here's why:
- As leaders and learners, we tend to look for connections we can build with others, and we often look for these connections in the form of relationships that are tied to either professional or personal goals. This makes the "P" and the "N" portions of a PLN fairly easy to hit.
- The "L," the true learning portion, doesn't appear to be incorporated into PLNs as easily (in my humble opinion). Take Twitter chats, for example. Being a regular participant in many as well as a facilitator and moderator to a few, I often relish the opportunities to share my thinking and hear the thinking of others. But, as I've learned, PLNs using this format of collaboration don't always breed action. Sometimes it is an opportunity for us to spout thoughts and ideas, without really any accountability to getting better from the experience.
How do I know this happens? Simply because I've been guilty of it. I have a wonderful PLN that contains folks who I engage with virtually as well as those who I work with closely. I've found that my deepest learning happens with those in the F2F realm of my PLN, rather than my virtual colleagues. It seems, at least for me, that I hold myself accountable more when it involves tangible work, and experiences that I'll be exploring F2F, then when ideas come up that are powerful in a Twitter chat, for instance.
While I'm sure this isn't true for everybody, I'm sure it is for many. So, what can we do? How can we make sure that all aspects of our PLNs honor all three letters? Here are two thoughts:
1. Make sure your virtual PLN doesn't stay virtual forever. Find opportunities to meet with those in your PLN at a conference, convention, PD opportunity, or just when you're in the same city. Get to know the person as a real-life person rather than an avatar or Google Hangout feed. When our relationships move beyond the virtual, we tend to raise the stakes of working together.
2. Make promises. Twitter chats, as an example, tend to be very philosophical and pithy; after all you only have a few characters to make an impression. This "big picture" structure can make it tough to drill down to actual next steps, even when colleagues are sharing resources (ever try to explore a link during a Twitter chat? Ever try to then catch back up to the chat feed? Exactly). So, by making "I promise" statements to members of our PLNs, we hold ourselves accountable for taking the steps we talk about. This means that we have to be willing to do something more than just talk about change. We have to promise to do it. Nothing impacts a relationship more than breaking a promise; if we're serious about the "L" in PLN, then we have to be willing to make and keep promises of learning.
I regularly do number 1, but not so much number 2. So I can practice what I preach, I promise to submit the proposal for the book I've mentioned to some of my PLN members by the coming Fall. Promise made. Now I just have to make sure I keep it.
Now it's your turn.