Great PLN Backlash of 2010…

*dusts off The Technorate Teacher*

Thank you @nashworld for bringing me back out of my blogging shell…it’s been too long since I had a chance to stretch my fingers a bit

A short while ago, this tweet floated through my TweetDeck stream:

And there it began…the Great PLN Backlash of 2010…You had a good run there Personal Learning Network…but now, we must inevitably march on to some other “better” form of online learning.

The strange thing is, I totally get what he’s saying. While a learning network, be it personal, professional, online, offline, real, or imagined is an infinitely powerful tool…it’s still just that. A tool.

That’s one of those things where education tends to get very cloudy. Taking A tool and trying to turn it into THE tool. During my session at Middle Level Essentials, I shared a number of slides showing the “March of Technology Tools”. No doubt there were people throughout the last 50 years of education heralding one hardware or software tool after the other as THE tool which would “revolutionize” education.

The conversation continued on with tweets from @mbteach, @mattguthrie, and @jswiatek among others chiming in about the various benefits and issues with these networks, as well as the dangers of trying to make them required or giving them too much power.  It seems to me, that almost inevitably, when we make anything in education a “required” practice there is more pushback than when someone comes to an idea out of casual conversation.  I’ve witnessed it firsthand in discussions of fair grading practices, parent communication practices, etc.  When these practices are imposed as “required” in the classroom, people lose sight of their merit.

I’m wondering if all the talk about how great it is to have a “PLN” is making it seem like required practice for many teachers.  Matt then asked how you get the folks who are always late to the game or never get there to adopt good ideas.  And there we are again, back at the idea that something is unequivocally “good” while other things are “not as good” or “bad”.

How have we wound up in this spot in education where we are constantly looking for THE silver bullet? Yes, A PLN or alternatively a NIHCTTAR (Network I Have Come to Trust and Respect) is a powerful tool for some.  Attending “real” conferences with planned sessions and presenters is a powerful tool for some.  Attending unconferences with conversations about reform are a powerful tool for some.  And at the risk of having my technogeek card removed: Textbooks, tests, and lectures are a powerful tool for some.

I don’t want someone building my house with just a hammer…I don’t want a teacher with only a PLN teaching my kids…

Not sure I want my builder or teachers to lack those tools either…


7 Responses

  1. Great post. Very thoughtful. I would generally agree that PLN’s may be passe for some. Certainly, a PLN should not be the one and only method of professional development. However, how many teachers truly understand the possibilities that now exist? You end with saying that all teachers shouldn’t lack those tools. Just how prevalent are those tools really?

    • I’ve been having some discussions with folks about the prevalence of the “PLN” building tools today. I agree that they may not yet be at a level of adoption that we would like to see but I’m also less convinced that they can support that level of adoption. I actually compared it to the last 6 years of the Grateful Dead’s touring where the number of new concert-goers outstripped the community’s ability to bring them up to speed with community expectations. I’m just not certain that Twitter was ever designed to facilitate the kinds of connections that we’re attempting and needing. FWIW.

      • Interesting analogy. I think that we agree quite a bit. I’ve been frustrated with the lack of conversation on Twitter. I don’t believe that it is a fantastic tool for Professional Development. It does provide some great links, but it is very difficult to have actually have conversations. I’m interested in checking out Buzz…to see if conversations can be developed.

        It will be interesting to see how and which tools develop. I still think that we are very early in the development. For some, PLN’s have “jumped the shark” because of shouting in the echo chamber. Move outside of that echo chamber however, and how many “regular” (ie non-techie) teachers know what a PLN is? How many are actively developing other ways to increase their knowledge and skill set?

        Thanks for bringing up the topic and opening the discussion.

  2. Interesting post, & couple of points that I think are worth making spring to mind…

    Firstly, I think people’s definition of what a PLN is can vary quite a bit. For example, some people seem to define it in terms of how many people they follow on Twitter, whereas others define it in terms of people they engage with and learn from and the quality of interaction, rather than follower numbers.

    I accept the point that Twitter is perhaps not the best medium for engaging in debate; however that is not to say that it doesn’t often act as a springboard for taking discussions elsewhere to blogs and nings and such or via email, where it is possible to have a more in depth discussion and exchange of views.

    I also think that there is probably a fair bit of deep and meaningful conversation happening on Twitter that people don’t get to see because it goes on via DM, rather than in the public Twitterstream.

    How much you get out of an online PLN I think depends on your situation. For a freelancer such as me it has enormous benefits, as I didn’t have anything in the way of an offline support network before I joined Twitter and I often felt very isolated, both personally and professionally.

    Whilst I don’t think people should have PLN’s foisted upon them, I do think that if you choose to be part of an online PLN then you need to be prepared to put a bit of effort into it and give back as well as take, and also be realistic in terms of what you are likely to get out of it. A PLN can be a useful tool, but you shouldn’t expect it to be a magic bullet.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Sue! I think quality of the connections in the network is of utmost importance as well. Interesting that I made the same point about Twitter being a springboard in my follow-up post just before I got your comment. Always enjoy these kinds of conversations that push the thinking beyond the oft-repeated “PLNs are the greatest thing ever” and really get to the heart of what a PLN or networked-community or whatever really mean for people.

  3. […] Path is to jump in, start following some people and engage with them.  After my recent rants here and here I had an encounter today that has totally cemented in my brain that network formation is […]

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