Week 2: Exploring technology, networks and communities in the service of learning

In the video

Time: 6:30 mins.
A few thoughts as we head into week 2 of the 6-week open section of #msloc430 (video recorded Feb. 1, 2015).

  • Where we are on the #msloc430 roadmap
  • A suggestion: Continue exploring – but let’s add a wee-bit of convergence.
  • An example: What are the unique features of Community of Inquiry? What makes it distinct from a cMOOC?
  • How we might approach building out the shared Google document for weeks 1 – 2.

(And for those of you not familiar with Chicago winter weather – yes, that was a joke about today’s blizzard being a “surprise.”)

Twitter Chat Feb. 5

A reminder that we’ll have our first Twitter chat (hashtag #msloc430) from 8:00 PM Central Time U.S. until 9:00 PM Central Time.

Graduate students in the Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change class (MSLOC 430) will join in and help facilitate the discussion. New to Twitter chats? So are many of us. You’ll be in good company. An expert? Join in and help everyone find a little gem of an idea or new resource.

Highlights from Week 1

We introduced ourselves. (Who wouldn’t want to hang out with this community? Really.)

We have a Tagboard as well as a Storify that captures much of the discussion of week 1 (thanks to my colleague and constant source of inspiration, Keeley Sorokti).

Nona Gormley created a shared Google document table to help define distinctions among concepts we’re covering. Maureen Crawford dissected the term “MOOC;” Mitra Emad debunked the MOOC monster under the bed; Sahana Chattopadhyay made an argument for “cognitive diversity” in our personal learning networks; and Jennifer Rainey contributed to the diverse-voices theme by sharing Ethan Zuckerman’s Ted Talk “Listening to Global Voices.”

And criss-crossing all this were many threads and bread crumbs (as Tanya Lau might say) laid down across blogs and discussion threads. You all know who you are. Thank you for providing the sparks that light the community.

Week 2: One path to follow

A suggestion on how we might move toward a wee bit of convergence as we close out our 2-week exploration of technology, networks and communities in the service of learning:

Perhaps 2 or 3 or 4 of you might want to co-write one small section of the shared Google document that is designed to capture definitions of the concepts we’re exploring as well as additional resources and readings. We’ll set up a discussion thread in MSLOC430 Enterprise Social Networking so you can find out who might be interested in collaborating on particular topics.

Let’s say we’d like to get a first version of the document completed by sometime on Tuesday, Feb. 10. The document can serve as a footprint in the sand (or snow, if you live in Chicago). It’ll show where we’ve been, at least up to this point.

Week 2: Lurking and following your own path

It’s still ok to just lurk. And explore. And don’t feel bad if you feel “behind.” There is no “behind.” There are just footprints and paths.


The next thing: Learning and Change

Exploring PLNs: Practical Issues for Organizations was a wonderful 5-week adventure. Now, of course, we want to do more. Who wouldn’t want to, after all of the positive, encouraging remarks from our participants?

We’ve started by opening up a new Google+ Community called Learning and Change. We invite you to join. Our presence on Twitter (#xplrpln and other hashtags) and here on this blog also will continue, with an expanded focus.

The new Learning and Change community is designed to allow us to continue exploring the questions and issues we considered during #xplrpln — and we have created three additional topic categories that are of interest to us as we explore the intersection of learning and change, and how best to prepare organizational leaders and learners for the future.

Much like how we started #xplrpln, these topic categories are driven by questions we think are worth exploring together:

Networked Learning. This is the community category under which we will continue to explore personal learning networks and other forms of digital networked learning (MOOCs, virtual communities, communities-of-practice, etc.) as they apply to workplaces.

Designing for Change. This is both about the designed thing (workplace practices, systems, spaces) and understanding how the design process may impact how we approach continuous change. How does “design thinking” help us create more sustainable approaches to workplace learning and change challenges?

Learning and Strategy. How do we rethink the relationship between “learning” and an organization’s capability to both develop and execute strategy (or mission)? At the macro level, the relationship between individuals and their workplaces continues to change (e.g., contingent work force, knowledge workers who are more tied to their profession than the organization, etc.). “Learning” as a field of practice also is evolving. What does this mean to the relationship between learning and strategy?

Horizon Watching. What else is out there – new trends, emerging practices or modes – to which we should pay attention? In our Conference Board Future Leaders Conference presentation, we made the point that we should be looking ahead not only to Web 3.0, but preparing for Web Whatever.0 as the constantly evolving learning landscape is difficult to predict.

Of course, these questions simply help us create a starting point. Through our new, expanded community and on-going sharing via Twitter and blogs, our intention is to identify a more focused topic or question that would draw enough interest to convene another open, online seminar modeled after #xplrpln.

Why? Because we like the adventure.

Many thanks again to everyone who participated in #xplrpln!

Jeff Merrell & Kimberly Scott

Week 5: A call to the full community to crystallize our thinking (well, at least for the moment)

We’ve reached our final week. It’s been a great, engaging learning journey for us. And what we mean by “us” is all of us – from the lurkers (“samplers?”), to the well-intended (“I wanted to participate more but…”), and to the intrepid #xplrpln’ers who are putting the final touches on their case artifacts.

This week we invite all of you — all of you — no matter what level of participation you represent, to help us crystallize our thinking about PLNs and organizations. Our call to the community:

For those of you who complete an artifact in answer to our case problem. We aren’t awarding badges or certificates. But you will become the inaugural members of Kimberly and Jeff’s XPLRPLN Hall of Fame – and recognized on this blog. (We know – pretty amazing isn’t it? Won’t your now-PLN-knowledgable-mothers be proud?).

Seriously we all owe you a round of applause. We invite the community to join us in sharing appreciation visibly in our Google+ Community and on Twitter.

For those of you who do not complete an artifact in answer to our case problem. Share your thinking. Where did you start 5 weeks ago? Where are you now? Make a point of attempting to crystallize your thinking. Commit to a point of view – even if you truly believe there is more to be discussed and you will ultimately modify your point of view.

For everyone. Share your reflections by posting directly to our Google+ community or linking to your blog (or whatever) to the Google+ community.

Post final case artifacts to the category: Final case artifacts

Post all other thinking or reflections to category: Closing reflections


  • Final video broadcast/virtual classroom session at 8 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Tuesday, Nov 5. See the Event notification in the Google+ Community for the link and instructions.
  • Final #xplrpln Twitter Chats at 8 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Wednesday, Nov. 6 and 1 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Thursday, Nov. 7.


  • By Monday, Nov. 4 (preferable – but post when you can), post final case artifacts to the category: Final case artifacts
  • Post all other thinking or reflections to category: Closing reflections

Our Reflections – and a note about continuing community

The “well, at least for the moment” reference in the headline on this blog post is in recognition of two things.

First, we certainly continue to evolve our own thinking about the topic of PLNs and organizations. The topic fascinates us because it raises so many questions and issues about learning, organizations and change that are worth additional exploration. But we find that creating these moments where we must openly reflect – to crystallize our thinking – is one of the most important learning activities in which we can engage. Even if our point of view is modified by “at the moment…”

Second, we are contemplating how we might continue this community. Our plans have always been to make the current Google+ xplrpln community a temporary space. At the conclusion of the seminar (end of next week) we will stop adding new members to our G+ space. The community will remain open to all of you as an archive, and you may certainly re-share content as you wish. However, we will not maintain the current site as an on-going community.

At the same time, we are very interested in building upon the conversations started here and sharing resources, research, and inviting new voices into the network. Another (different) on-going Google+ Community that is more broadly scoped (networked learning and beyond) seems appropriate. Help us think through this. What would be valuable to you? Please share your ideas in a post on our #xplrpln G+ Community Closing Reflections space.

Week 4: Articulating Our Point-of-View on PLNs

cross roads

We’ve arrived.

After hundreds of posts and comments, more than 2200 Tweets, dozens of new-things-tried, it’s time to start crafting our responses to The Problem:

Your CEO (or equivalent organizational leader) just heard about PLNs at a cocktail party and is excited about gaining a competitive advantage (or improving impact on mission) by leveraging PLNs for the organization’s success. But, she/he knows little about PLNs or what to do with them to support organizational success and strategy. Is the organization set up to benefit from and support PLNs, so it is more than just an individual thing? She/he is going away on vacation for one week, and upon return wants you to explain what PLNs are and to provide guidance for what to do. You have a one-hour meeting to facilitate a conversation.

Our challenge for this week: What would your response be – for your specific audience? Advocating for PLNs is not the only possible path here. We encourage critical thinking about this problem. And, what would you prepare (briefing document, visual, talking points) to make your case?


  • There will be no live video broadcast/virtual classroom session this week – but we will post a short recorded version before Tuesday, Oct. 29. A link to the recorded session will be posted in both the Problem: Case for PLNs? category in our Google+ community as well as the new Archive: Video and Chats category.
  • #xplrpln Twitter Chats at 8 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Wednesday, Oct. 30 and 1 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Thursday.
  • Your final artifact should be posted to the Google+ Community Final case artifacts category by no later than Monday, Nov. 4.


This is the week that we begin crafting a final artifact that helps you explain your case to your leader. We are looking for something succinct – a 1-page position paper, a visual or infographic, a short video – something you would be confident presenting to your leader. However, we also would like you to use your blogs or the Google+ community to give us some background and insight into your thinking behind your artifact. Who is your audience? What would you say to your leader as you are sharing your artifact? Why did you choose this approach for your leader/organization? What are your lingering concerns or questions?

Three things will prove useful for this week:

Making sure you have a clear vision of your audience. Who specifically is the audience for your case? Our problem scenario focuses on an individual leader in your organization. Who exactly is that person, in your case? We don’t need to know real names and identities – please do fictionalize your scenario. But it may help to think about a real individual, or a composite of leaders you’ve worked with in the past.

We also know that some of you are thinking about a case for PLNs that would be appropriate for larger professional communities, or for situations that are not clearly “in” a single organization. Spend some time getting clear about a realistic scenario in which you might be making a case to these larger communities. Giving a talk at a conference? Sharing your thinking with a key group of thought-leaders? Be explicit enough about your specific audience so that you can actually visualize the situation.

Nancy Duarte (author of Resonate and slide:ology) offers effective ways to focus on audience. The article The Presenter as Mentor  summarizes many of her insights.

Working together on common organizational contexts. This is an idea we proposed earlier this week and several of you already have started exploring collaborating on ideas for common contexts – libraries, higher education, large corporate environments, not-for-profits. Consider using the Google+ Community category Problem: Case for PLNs as your space for thinking out-loud in your groups. For example: Start a discussion post on your area of interest and use the comment thread to share ideas, links, etc. If you instead choose to use some other space (your blogs, example) to share ideas – post a link to your thinking in the Problem: Case for PLNs category so that your thinking becomes visible to the entire community.

Decide on a format for your final artifact. This is really a two-part challenge. First, decide what type of artifact would fit the audience scenario you choose – but we also encourage you to focus on something that would truly be useful to you in your professional work. Some ideas:

  • A 1-page document, including visuals.
  • A visual representation of your case – a framework, model, or one-page infographic. See A Darn Good One Page Summary of Good Boss, Bad Boss for a great example.
  • A concept map or mind-map
  • A short video – you simply explaining our case, or for the more adventurous, a video narration using visuals (see the Dave Cormier video on success in a MOOC as an example)
  • A few slides you would use for your presentation

The second challenge is in deciding what tool to use. Our guiding rule is this: Just make sure it is something that can be easily shared (via link) in our Google+ Community. Some ideas:

  • Craft your case in a Google doc or presentation. This is especially helpful if you collaborate with others on creating your artifact.
  • Create a presentation and share it via Slideshare
  • Collaborate on a concept map using Cmap Tools
  • Post your video on YouTube

During the week, we encourage you to share your ideas on fun tools to try out, as well.


  • Watch the Week 4 video  (posted by Tuesday, Oct. 29)
  • Participate in one of the two Twitter chats (Wednesday edition or Thursday edition)
  • Make your thinking visible – individually or in groups – by posting to the Google+ Community category Problem: Case for PLNs
  • Post your final artifact by Monday, Nov. 5 to the Google+ Community category Final case artifacts (In our final video broadcast and final week of the seminar, we will reflect on the output and try to draw insights from our work)


We designed this seminar with the intention of inspiring new connections and to benefit from the learning that emerges from thinking out loud with each other. Our approach was to create a safe, open space for reflection, for interaction, for trying something new. For many of us, this has come true.

It’s certainly proof of something – that a group of self-directed learners, who don’t really know each other, can come together and energetically unpack a complicated, ambiguous issue. What have you learned as a result? We look forward to unpacking that together too during the next two weeks. What we experienced here so far may be viewed as the building or maintaining activities described by Rajagopal et al in our Week 2 readings. Some of us may become a part of each others’ PLNs and choose to activate meaningful, learning relationships.

We eagerly await your answers to the questions that led the two of us (Kimberly and Jeff) to initiate this venture. How can organizations provide a landscape where PLNs can openly thrive, to the mutual benefit of both individuals and the organization? Is this even possible, or do we need to look elsewhere? And ultimately – Did your #xplrpn experiences help you achieve the goals you created when you set out on this open online journey?

photo credit: Julia Manzerova via photopin cc

Week 3: PLNs and Organizations

As we head into our third week of our Exploring PLNs online seminar, we continue to define and redefine PLNs for ourselves–and for our mothers, CEOs, principals, or another significant person who might be interested in understanding what they are. Within our Google+ Community, our Twitter Chats, and participant blogs, we’ve debated whether and how to put boundaries around the concept of PLNs. This discussion will continue into the next week when we layer on this consideration: What would it look like for an organization to somehow “adopt” PLNs (or some aspect of them) as part of its innovation, learning or knowledge sharing strategy? Would this be a good idea, or a bad idea? Would it even be possible given the barriers that we likely would encounter?

To facilitate a debate about these questions, we believe it will be helpful for us to first think about how an organizational “implementation of PLNs” (not something we’ve yet seen or heard of happening) might be similar to other types of learning and development initiatives that have been used by organizations. For example, one can imagine such an intervention being similar to implementing an Enterprise 2.0/social technology platform within an organization, or an organizational redesign to facilitate sharing across networks, or introducing communities of practice, or rolling out formal mentoring or an individual development planning process. There may be others that come to your mind, so feel free to share them. What do we know about these types of organizational interventions that might shed some light onto our questions about PLNs? There also are likely to be unique challenges that organizations would face in trying to “leverage” PLNs, so much so that we may decide that it would be a really bad idea to even consider it! This will be the topic of conversation this week. Are you up for it?


  • Video broadcast/virtual classroom session at 8 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Tuesday, Oct. 22. Note that we will continue to use an Adobe Connect meeting room (rather than a Google Hangout on Air) for this session. See the Event notification in the Google+ Community for the link and instructions.
  • #xplrpln Twitter Chats at 8 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Wednesday, Oct. 23 and 1 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Thursday.


This week we have a few items that we ask everyone to read as well as other optional items that you may wish to explore depending on your work context. Our initial readings focus on learning from the organizational change lessons of “Enterprise 2.0” and implementing social collaboration software in enterprises with the goal of inspiring beneficial sharing and networking.

As we noted, however, you can look at how an organizational “implementation of PLNs” might be similar to many other types of learning and development initiatives that have been used by organizations. So look for more optional readings to be shared during the week in our Google+ Community – both from us and from you. Wrapping our brains around the change challenges here is a big task; the more resources we can share from experienced/expert points-of-view, the better.

Readings for the week:

The first two readings come from thought leaders who are immersed in the implementation and use of social, collaboration technology within organizations. These posts share insights into the dark side of social networks and sharing within organizations – power, politics, culture and old routines do not magically disappear in the face of some apparently beneficial innovation. In both of these readings, remember that the authors are in fact evangelists for sharing and social collaboration.

The Wall Street Journal article highlights the typical challenges and guidance commonly provided to organizations thinking about using social collaboration technology within their enterprises.

Optional Readings

The following readings provide additional depth on social networks and information sharing in organizational settings.


  1. Complete the readings from Suarez, Ross and the Wall Street Journal.
  2. Share other PLN readings or resources you discover by posting them in the “PLN Resources” category of our Google+ Community.
  3. Attend the live virtual session on Tuesday at 8 pm Central Time (U.S.) and the Twitter chats on Wednesday at 8 pm Central Time (U.S.) or Thursday at 1 pm Central Time (U.S.)
  4. Write a blog post on your own blog, and/or post your reflections on this week’s topic in the “Barriers to PLNs in Orgs” category of our Google+ Community.
  5. Comment on someone else’s blog post or Google+ Community posting.


By definition, PLNs are personal. As we think about potential practical issues for organizations, let us not forget that an individual’s work to define, create, and maintain a PLN also is similar to an individual’s investment in developing knowledge, skills and abilities. While employers may wish for their employees to openly document and share all they know for the benefit of the organization, including who their key connections are, a PLN is something of value that employees may want to think twice about relinquishing to employers. Consider this example described in a blog post by Prof. Terri Griffith [see Work as a Service–Is there a People Cloud?]. As organizations attempt to create new, nimble ways to structure work and “knowledge workers” adapt to these and other shifts in the global marketplace, can PLNs become a way for employees to maintain their value and secure working conditions that are consistent with their contributions to their organizations?

Next Week

Our plan is to dedicate Week 4 to reflecting on what we have learned and applying those ideas to the problem scenario we’re using to facilitate our learning. Next week we will discuss tools we can use to create an “artifact” for sharing our understanding of PLNs. We also will encourage participants to form groups to work together on creating this artifact, allowing for more connecting and sharing if that is your goal.