Exploring Personal Learning Networks: Open seminar begins October 7, 2013

So what is this all about?

We’re scholar-practitioners who are immersed in the topics of learning and organizational change. And this is our base camp for an open, online seminar designed to explore a question for which there is no single right answer: How might it be possible for organizations and individuals alike to benefit if individuals develop personal learning networks within and outside the enterprise–namely, their employers?

This question and the design of this seminar are intentionally constructed to take a walk through ambiguity. We will provide structure (a schedule, activities, resources) but our philosophy is that we are all learners who are eager to explore the complex world in which we live and work. This is a new topic. There are no real best practices, nor a sure-fire formula for success–exactly the type of challenge we, as organizational leaders, face every day.

“Open” means this seminar is free and offered purely for your professional interest and development. There will be activities we ask you to complete, and we will offer and encourage feedback, but you may participate as much or as little as you wish. We estimate the time commitment to be 3-4 hours/week if you fully participate in all events and activities. But we’ve designed this seminar to allow moving in and out as your schedule permits.

Open also means we will use tools that are readily available via the web: Blogs, Google Plus Communities, Google Hangouts (for video broadcast) and Twitter. We encourage participants to collaborate using all of these tools – but it is not a requirement. We do know from past experiences, however, that the most interesting learning happens when you take advantage of connecting and sharing across these web-based tools. See How to Participate for more details on what to expect in this course experience.

The backdrop: In a connected world, where are the new opportunities for the growth of organizational talent?

Let’s examine two things we hear about, a lot.

Growth and development of organizational talent is difficult and organizational leaders feel uneasy about their capability to meet this challenge. Recent surveys conducted by The Conference Board (.pdf of key tables here), for example, show that for CEOs and human capital executives alike, the growth and development of organizational talent is cited as the top challenge their companies face in 2013. Yet they also report a lack of confidence in meeting future human capital needs (Mitchell, Ray & van Ark, 2013; Ray, Mitchell, Abel, Philips, Lawson, Hancock, Watson & Weddle, 2012).

At the same time, business investments in social technologies appear to be paying off in both internal and external networking. Two of the top 5 reported measurable benefits noted by executives responding to McKinsey’s 6th annual global survey on the use of social technologies relate to knowledge sharing: increasing speed to access knowledge (#1 overall benefit reported by 71% of survey respondents) and increasing speed to access internal experts (#4 at 48%). The same survey reports that “fully networked” enterprises – those reaping significant benefits by using social technologies to interact internally and externally – grew from 3% in 2011 to 10% in 2012. (“Evolution of the networked enterprise: McKinsey Global Survey Results,” 2012). A Deloitte study reported similar insights: Enterprises that have moved out of first gear with social business technologies are using them to great advantage to “identify internal talent and key contributors,” to stay on top of market shifts and to improve strategic planning processes.

We see these dynamics intersecting. A talent development strategy of course requires multiple components and approaches. In a highly connected world where the lines between internal and external digital networks blur, is there an opportunity to entirely reframe how we think about growth and development of talent?

Talent development, meet Personal Learning Networks

One potential avenue to address this opportunity is to explore Personal Learning Networks as part of a strategy for individual and organizational development.

Personal Learning Networks (PLN) are the connections and relationships you create specifically to learn more about something of professional or personal interest. It is first and foremost personal to you and designed for your benefit. You own it. In a connected digital world, your network can extend anywhere and include people you know only online. (For more background on PLNs, see our Introducing PLNs in the Resources section).

By supporting the development of PLNs we help individuals become continuous learners – a plus for organizations. We also help individuals build productive, digital collaboration and knowledge-sharing muscles – again a plus for organizations.

At the same time we need to be comfortable with the tension this potentially creates between individual and organizational interests. Individuals own their PLN relationships. And these relationships extend anywhere – inside and outside the organization.

Are organizations really ready for this truly skilled, networked professional?

This issue is at the heart of our open learning event. Is it possible for PLNs to be fostered within organizations for mutual benefit – for both the individual and the organization?

We have designed this five-week open online learning event to invite learners who are new to PLNs to explore what PLNs are and to examine whether PLNs can legitimately play a part in a strategy to help organizations achieve their objectives. By the end of this seminar, participants will create a set of questions they can ask about their organizations to determine whether they might be ready to experiment with PLNs as a part of their learning and development strategies.

We also have designed this open learning event to help participants identify and enhance their own PLNs. By adopting elements of a cMOOC (connectivist MOOC) course design, we hope to encourage network connections and sharing among participants. Learners will have the option of collaborating or working independently to examine the practical challenges of leveraging PLNs for organizational development. Building upon our experiences using problem-based learning, we will offer a series of questionnaires and self-directed learning tools that participants can use to get the most from this learning experience.

Sample Learning Questions for Participants

We will encourage you to create specific goals for your participation in this seminar. Here are some examples you can consider:

  1. What are the different points of view about PLNs and their role in organizational development?
  2. What are the pros and cons of investing in PLN development, from an organization’s point of view?
  3. How are PLNs similar to (and different from) other organizational learning and knowledge-sharing interventions?
  4. What are the organizational barriers and facilitators for using PLNs as a “win-win” learning strategy for individuals and organizations?
  5. What questions should I consider to gauge my organization’s readiness for strategic support of PLNs? To pursue a vision of harmony emerging from individual and organizational networking interests?
  6. How do PLNs fit within an organizational landscape? What does that look like?
  7. What is it like to participate in an open learning course designed to foster connections and learning?
  8. What do learners need to do (and what skills do they need to apply) to get the most out of this type of learning experience?
  9. How well does a problem-based learning approach work when embedded within an open learning event format?

Interested in participating?

Register by October 1 to participate in the guided personal learning exercises that can help you prepare for this session.

The learning event begins the week of October 7 and ends by November 8. See our schedule and visit our home page regularly for more details.

— Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott