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My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever!!

We wrapped up our open course on Personal Learning Environments and Networks a few weeks ago. I want to address a few aspects of the discussion about personal learning networks (PLN). Often, on Twitter, blogs, and Facebook, I’ll read some variant of “my PLN is the most wonderful thing evar!!!” “It meets all my knowledge and emotional needs” “It’s better than getting a university degree” “It makes my toast in the morning” “It cleans the oven and the toilet”..and so on. From reading these posts, a reader uninitiated in the land of PLNs would quickly conclude that the key failing in politics, currently in North and South Korea, is the failure of leaders to build their own PLN.

Let’s tackle this in a bit more detail.

Connecting with others is a satisfying experience. Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter greatly reduce the friction to connectedness. I’m still periodically surprised when I come across a former colleague, friend, or classmate on Facebook. Friend suggestions on social networks can sometimes jolt me into an afternoon of reflecting on experiences in grade 6. Connectedness is crazy stuff.

Where things get a bit more confusing with PLNs is when we fail to advance beyond those warm fuzzy feelings about being connected to others with more substantive knowledge and action. Being connected is at best a conduit – a suggestion or hint of potential value in information exchange or general interaction. Perhaps we share YouTube videos, interesting articles, and break into the odd spontaneous debate with political extremists (both lefties and righties are good for much mileage on this topic). Or perhaps we get together and create something – an article, a list of resources on a topic, and so on. These are important “social glue” activities in strengthening and maintaining our connection with others in our PLN.

But, to use a dating metaphor, this is really only the love & infatuation stage of a PLN relationship. Once we get past the thrill of “ooh, I love my PLN”, we can get down to something more practical (and yes, boring). What’s important with a PLN is not “what it does for me” but rather how I can use it to change things in education, society, or the world. Learning networks give us potential for action. For many educators, these networks function on a gift-economy basis. We’re involved in a type of social contract where we share freely with others and, in turn, we receive freely from them. Once the sharing stops, the network collapses. Which is why I’m pushing back against this notion of “what does my PLN do for me?”.

Consider your PLN – perhaps you have a dozen (or many dozen) Twitter followers. Or a handful of readers for your blog. Or a few hundred Facebook friends (for the record, Facebook friends are the Pesos of friend currency – the numbers look big but are largely useless). Think for a moment. What can you do with and for those people in your PLN? Mobilize for a cause? Run an open course? Create something of significance (an image, a video)? For example, Alan Levine is good at producing idea artifacts for his network, such as his Twitter Life Cycle. His work in creating and sharing this image has helped me in many a discussion with educators about how Twitter works. Wendy Drexler’s Networked Student has been viewed by over 80 000 people. Creation, collaboration, and sharing are the true value points of a PLN. It’s not what it does for me, but rather what I am now able to do with and for others.

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state. I’ve ranted about this before, but there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding. We noticed this time and again in CCK08/09/EdFutures/PLENK: a resource (image, blog post) created by someone trying to understand a topic is often more valuable than instructor-provided readings. Why? Well, novices and experts have different approaches to topics and tasks. A novice who is grappling with an idea is likely better able to connect with another novice than an expert who advances a more nuanced, pattern-based assessment of a topic.

Online, we are obsessed with size and numbers (Twitter followers, open courses, number of blog hits, Google alerts on ourselves/blogs, etc). But you don’t need to run an open course with large numbers of participants to make an impact. An open course for five people is just fine. It’s the act of giving, not the subsequent impact, that is most significant.

59 Comments

  1. Hi George. Long time lurker, first time poster :) .

    I agree with your premise that “being connected is at best a conduit”, and at some point those connections have to be turned into action for the network to be a truly useful tool. But I’m interested in why you feel legitimate peripheral participation is a negative? To me, I see legitimate peripheral participation as a necessary first step, especially for those who are new to the terrain, in order for them to get their footing. For some, this moment of feeling comfortable enough to participate in a community, or put something out there, will be different. Some may feel comfortable moving out of the periphery earlier than others, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they never will contribute. It’s just that perhaps the conditions are not yet right.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  2. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Clint – I’m negative about LPP because the concept of not participating because someone is new defies what learning is all about: involved, engaged, experimenting, socializing, etc. I think we can better get our footing in new topics by sharing our development. Learning transparently=teaching.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  3. Elaine MacKenzie wrote:

    Hi George,

    I’m in agreement with many of the points that both you and Clint posted above.

    I can certainly understand why you might feel negative toward LPP. However, everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to their own learning. If we tolerate that in our students, shouldn’t we be equally tolerant of how we as educators learn?

    I’m new to the world of PLNs. I certainly don’t post as much as others but I’m learning and contributing as I go. Could I be considered a “lurker”? Perhaps, but I’m getting more and more involved as I go and as my comfort level increases.

    Using Twitter as just one example, it sometimes feels like a pissing contest for me…let’s see who can tweet or retweet the most or let’s see who gets the most love back, i.e., “I just love what so and so is doing in their class!)

    PLNs, despite best intentions can be quite cliquey (sp?) and as a newcomer, that can be quite intimidating. Will I get more comfortable sharing and experimenting? You bet! However, I need to do it in an environment where I feel supported and not judged for my perceived involvement or lack thereof.

    You’re right in arguing that PLNs are perhaps not what they should be. However, we aren’t all on the same page with what that should look like.

    Do we have to be? Isn’t a PLN about creating a learning network that works for you?

    Okay, that’s my rant(or rambling)done. I’m off to try and teach economic systems to grade 8′s who are more interested in the falling snow.

    Elaine

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  4. Hi George, I think you bring up some great points in this post and it pushes the PLN discussion quite nicely. I’d suggest that with regards to LPP, lurking needs to be looked at a bit more holistically–lurkers might position themselves on the periphery as you suggest, but they are also positioned by others. Not all networks are happy, inviting collectives, and a number of factors (perceived or not) influence a person’s ability to participate–language, academic status, gender, etc, for example. Can we really talk about LPP without talking about identity and positioning and what this means in the context of a PLN? Wenger certainly has explored identity in his discussion of LPP.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  5. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Elaine – no, of course we don’t all need to be on the same page on what a PLN is or isn’t. And I can certainly understand your frustrations about “pissing contests” on Twitter (any space where people gather will result in motivating those enterprising souls that can’t exist without being the centre of attention and dialogue :) ).

    My criticism of lurking is based on the value that all learners can offer each other. It’s a mistaken assumption that only people who are experts should voice and share their opinions (which is the core of LPP, i.e. we lurk until we are comfortable to contribute to the conversation). Newcomers can, by making their learning transparent, teach other newcomers.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  6. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Tanis – identity and positioning are very different things in networks than they are in community. I don’t want to get into the whole community/network debate here (we do that annually in CCK courses), but networks have different social structures than most communities do. A community has general rules, guidelines, and soft social pressure. We get these in networks to a lesser degree. In networks, for example, we can have parallel conversations where I follow you, I know what you’re writing and thinking about, it forms my development, but I don’t have to focus explicitly on what you (and others) say. Conversations are abundant, diverse, fragmented, and complex. In a community, stronger protocols exist. For example, in a virtual community, if everyone is blasting out random thoughts and ideas, we conclude there is no engagement. On Twitter, I can contribute, create a few resources, post them…and maybe people will respond. Or maybe they won’t. But it’s ok, in a network, to contribute and not be explicitly acknowledged. In a community, contribution has stronger social norms – i .e. it needs to be acknowledge, discussed, and so on. As a result, the identity of individuals in social networks has a different impact than it does in communities. But I need to think a bit more about what exactly that difference is…at this point, it seems to me that identity is more fluid in networks and therefore has less requirements of expected behaviour or roles than we find in communities.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  7. To clarify, I’m coming from a discursive view of positioning and identity(along the lines of Davies & Harre, 1999 and Linehan and McCarthy, 2000 ). Regardless of whether it’s a network, PLN, commmunity, online classroom, these are practices which involve discourse. Too much for a blog comment, but I appreciate that you challenged me with your response.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  8. Ruth Howard wrote:

    Hi George I have enjoyed this provocative post thanks. I understand that you are gifting the proverbial foot from behind to educators in order to counter the passive aggregation and recycling of information with which education has us so entrained.
    During #CritLit2010 @Downes often emphasized creating an artifact. I found as you will be familiar it was through my not knowing and trying things out that
    others responded the most. It was when I did something for me to help me understand that I drew peer feedback.I wasn’t trying to ‘teach’ I was trying things out. Just as you point out my beginner’s mind connected with some fellow students.
    Just in case some might
    feel they need to only make artifacts of
    authority on a topic it’s not necessary to be a Wendy or a Cogdog!

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  9. Ian Woods wrote:

    I enjoyed PLENK2010 but because of time commitments, wasn’t able to engage with the entire course. I had a brief spurt of activity in the middle (which coincided with our September holiday) but was too busy either side of that. As a consequence, I spent much time just trying to get my head around the readings and spent a lot of time ‘lurking’. I’d do the occasional post, but because the bulk of the active PLENKers had already moved on to the next week’s activities, my comments did not receive the size of audience that the more active PLENKers did.
    I blogged about this last week (http://iwoods2807.blogspot.com/2010/11/most-of-big-discussion-on-plenk2010.html) and suggested that many lurkers are probably just struggling to keep up. It was a problem with the course in that, while it was easy to read the discussions after the fact, it wasn’t as easy to contribute and so some people felt left behind or ignored.
    Of course, this is going to be difficult in any form of organised course when the activities are designed around a timetable of events (as the vast majority of courses are), especially when the course participation numbers in the thousands.
    Having said all that, I did learn a huge amount about PLN’s and am currently involved in trying to run a course for my fellow staff about them.
    I love my PLN becuase I feel that I am actually expanding a body of knowledge by both actively engaging in research about best practice and also spreading the word by introducing it to new people.
    While lurkers may not contribute to the body of knowledge generated within the PLN they are lurking around, they may still take that knowledge and use it elsewhere. They will still be contributing to the field of human knowledge and I can’t see that as anything other than positive.
    My artefact was “the duck”, and was extremely gratified at the time that it received the attention it did. I’m not sure how I feel about it being used without my permission, but if it creates interest and encourages others to find out a bit more about PLN’s then waht the hell, that’s a good thing, right?
    Your point was that lurkers should contribute, regardless of their level of understanding as their contribution points out the holes in both their and our knowledge and the network is then encouraged to fill the gaps. However, I disagree with the sense I get from some people that lurkers are parasites (at worst) or useless (at best). They may be passive learners, but they are still learners and in that they should be encouraged to continue to lurk until they feel confident enough to participate in a discussion, even if it isn’t the one they are learning from.
    Ultimately, we don’t want to alienate people from learning by branding them negatively.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  10. Alan Levine wrote:

    UR PLN RAWKS!

    I like your tough stance on (OMG a new TLA!) LPP. We’ve all gone through the shy stage, and I can still find the scarred skin of my first flamed attack in 1992 on a listserve.

    But yes, let’s raise the stakes of the game, because it can become a crutch (“oh I am just LLPing”). We should all be on a path of elevating our participation- leveling up per se, not every place all the time, but if we dont take that one, we promote passivity.

    Well, I did not even lurk on PLENK2010, I didnt even show up.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  11. Rodd Lucier wrote:

    I couldn’t help but smile as I read this ‘most awesomest’ commentary.

    Exactly a year ago I wrote a shorter but similarly themed post, asking teacher-learners to see themselves as ‘collaborators’. http://thecleversheep.blogspot.com/2009/11/collaborative-learning-networks.html

    One of the things I’m passionate about, is leveraging the expertise in this growing ecosystem of educators. The UnPlug’d project we’re currently undertaking, is one such challenge that will become public in the new year.

    While folks new to Twitter, are often referencing their interactions as the greatest professional learning experience they’ve ever had, we do need to recognize that it’s the first time many of these teachers have openly shared with a large group of colleagues (even if only 140 characters at a time).

    Maybe Twitter can be the entry drug to more significant network collaboration? In all likelihood, it will take others to invite their participation in richer experiences such as EDUCONs, MOOCs, and UnPlug’d events.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink
  12. Thanks for sharing delicious food for thought, George! Lurking is a complex activity. You are probably right in that lack of participation/contribution does a disservice to both the individual and the community. Yet, an individuals may be part of numerous communities (some overlapping, some not). In some of these communities, this person may be a lurker and in others s/he may be a regular contributor. Therefore, a lurker may act as a broker of information/knowledge between communities. One community’s lurker, may be another community’s regular contributor. The implication: While the lurker did not contribute any knowledge and enhanced understanding in the community in which s/he was lurking, s/he may have contributed to a second community’s learning as a result of his/her lurking in the first community. As a simple example: I lurked in CCCK 08/09 and PLENK, but I shared what I learned from that community in other communities (e.g., in my class, on our program’s listserv, etc). Implicit to this discussion is the fact that I am familiar with the topic(s) in the moocs, so I could afford to lurk. Would the situation be similar had I been a novice lurker? I’m not sure…. Thanks again for sharing.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink
  13. I’m not so much interested in the lurker discussion, but in efficient and effective learning. We can all learn from a book without co-authoring it. Is this lurking too? What about imitation – the most common form of learning?

    Where I’m getting cynical is when you write:
    “a novice who is grappling with an idea is likely better able to connect with another novice than an expert”

    Would you then rather learn a foreign language from another beginner than from a native speaker?! – Good luck.

    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 2:06 am | Permalink
  14. @CreativeEdu wrote:

    I highlighted your post in my Daily Digest of Education related blogs today as I thought other teachers would find it of interest. You can see it here: http://ow.ly/3iFAi

    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink
  15. This my first time to post only because I read through the article. First, I send it to OneNote so I could highlight some concepts.

    First concept: What’s important with a PLN is not “what it does for me” but rather how I can use it to change things in education, society, or the world. Learning networks give us potential for action.

    I’m a bookseller on ebay but often when I am about to list a book (esp. one published before the 60s when social change is a topic in many circles)I want to encourage the value of the fiction in my possession. Personally I have a hard time reading fiction due to my prejudices of current fiction. What I did find is an aarticle about Toronto literature and the author tracing a history of predecessors that influenced one author’s work. The book I owned was that of the predecessor…Phyllis Brett Young. I took a chance and read a couple of chapters and found a passage that jumped out at me after making comments on the attraction I had for the dustjacket design. What I found myself doing was guessing how the author was going to tackle a subject that was already resting on my mind. I blogged my true thoughts and re-read them without censorship. The blog was a strong post, but I still had a fear that it may influence my customer base in a negative way. However, I wanted to invite customers to understand that my process of posting novels for sale did not just rest on making a buck, but invloved sharing a classic that I didn’t know myself was a classic…and what is a classic anyway?…one requirement for me is when I read about the characters I’m already looking ahead to what they are going to do next because the author has introduced me to the characters thoughts and if I had those thoughts I’m definitely curious about the events that are about to transpire. Thank you for the opportunity to participate. I don’t know exactly why I did other than you mentioned “action” and I believed I needed to act.

    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  16. Ruth Howard wrote:

    MIT’s Mitch Resnick’s keynote for Alan November
    http://vimeo.com/16053537

    On the risk takers the doers and the makers of things who think creatively.

    Mitch Resnick is emphatic that it’s not enough to interact or consume…educators must prepare people to be risk takers, makers doers and creative thinkers in order to be full participants.

    Demonstrate how to create, build, invent to be the makers of artifacts and even better how to create these together. So I hear the call is really to live it as educators. I would like to see academic courses emphasizing these artifacts rather than drafted tomes?

    Friday, December 3, 2010 at 3:39 am | Permalink
  17. Jacques Cool wrote:

    Re. LPP. Maybe one way of looking at learning rhythms and involvement in PLNS is to consider the value of “contributive lurking”. Diigo sticky notes, for example, is one way to highlight/reflect on elements of the ongoing discussion (such as this comment thread), without really getting up on stage but still adding his/her own thoughts of the subject debated. Like Clint, I consider myself a long time lurker of Elearnspace but somewhat feel (the verb is important here) uneasy of providing coherent and structured insight to the discussion. As a francophone where English is my 2nd language, maybe linguistic barriers hamper me from firing up the keyboard and “speak my mind”. But with these sticky notes (made public), I can write to myself and also share with others.

    Friday, December 3, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  18. Asif Devji wrote:

    Let’s do this sans technologie.

    Let’s say you were hanging out with a group of acquaintances discussing something — maybe work or politics.

    Let’s say an unknown individual pulled up a chair at the periphery and listened in on your conversations, never coming closer and never saying anything.

    (How) would this affect your group? (How) Would it affect your discussion?

    Lets say that individual then quietly got up, walked off to join another group at another table and either (i) spilled the beans on the discussion happening at your table, or (ii) started a discussion of their own there using talking points gathered from your discussion.

    What would this do to your group’s ability to trust that individual? How legitimate would you feel that their ‘participation’ had been at your table? What would you do if that individual ever returned to the periphery of your table?

    Lurking in the physical world is done by thieves, spies and ethnographers.

    Just because the technology (like the table) renders the group more public and the individual more private or masked, it doesn’t alter the sociological dynamics of trust-building via interaction.

    A gift economy is still an economy, which requires both give and take to function well. It also requires adherence to contracts, be they explicit or implicit.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink
  19. Wolfgang Greller wrote:

    Interesting thought on social dynamics. Not sure, a person would be very welcome to join your table, break across a discussion you have with your acquaintances and tell you what they think about politics, work, etc.

    That maybe one area where technology breaks down social barriers!

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  20. Ed Webb wrote:

    I like George V’s point about different roles in different contexts – the lurker who shares in other networks. I think Asif’s point shows us what is different about networks mediated by digital technology (and Wolfgang seems to be saying this, too) – lurking is shady behaviour in physical social spaces, but perhaps less so online.

    But in the main I want to support your argument, George. The emphasis on comfort in learning that some raise is misplaced. Learning often happens most effectively when we are out of our comfort zones. So the challenge we should take to all in our various networks is to be push ourselves into infamiliar roles and less comfortable spaces.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink
  21. Gillian wrote:

    There’s much in this discussion that caught my eye – not least the idea that LLP is an invalid concept. For several reasons, I am comfortable with LLP. As Jacques says, linguisitic barriers (both tongue and register) can mean people are uncomfortable just jumping in. Not understanding the cultural context can also be a problem, especially in education where systems change from one contry to another and it may take a while to figure out which version of ‘college’ (for example) is under discussion. Add to that that some people just aren’t ‘out front’ learners and like reflection time and LLP space can be seen as very necessary. True, it is better to give and to add to the learning pot but softly, softly (and a big smile), catchee monkey …

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  22. Lisa M Lane wrote:

    It’s like the students who sit in the back and just listen, but they learn a lot.

    We can encourage them to participate, and if they do they might learn even more, but I’m not sure chiding them for not talking will engender the behaviours we want.

    Love the analogy to the “infatuation” stage. The hype cycle plays in here too, yes?

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  23. Hi George,

    As someone who is becoming more and more comfortable sharing within my own burgeoning network, I would say that I agree with most of your statements.

    I feel a strong connection when you say, “Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding.”

    It is one thing to do this within our small comfortable networks, ones that we have built strong connections and relationships. I have no problem with sharing much of my life online and have built a healthy supportive network of people with who I interact quite well. I love the idea you present of moving beyond the warm fuzzy stage and pushing our networks. Here is an example: http://www.jabizraisdana.com/blog/2010/11/peak-out-from-the-edges/

    I think of myself as someone who feels quite comfortable just jumping in, but I was and am often times intimated by writers and educators like yourself, people who are experts in the field and somewhat academic. Perhaps it is because I have not yet built any kind of relationship with you online. As I mentioned I have been participating online for a while now and have met many of the “big” hitters in the field and am starting to feel more comfortable interacting with their work online, but this has taken time and effort to make the connections human. I guess what I am saying in this round about way is that people will stop lurking when they feel safe and supported and needed.

    I hope that we can create environments to help lure them out so we can connect our networks and really see what we can do. It is a pleasure to finally meet you and I hope that I can participate here more often.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  24. Elaine MacKenzie wrote:

    I’m in agreement that very often learning can take place when we challenge ourselves and place ourselves out of our comfort zone. However, I do have a problem/ concern with the argument that the emphasis on comfort is learning is misplaced. I would argue quite strongly, in fact, that authentic learning takes places in situations where “learners”, be they children or adults feel comfortable, safe and free from condescension. If I put my grade 8 students in situations where they didn’t feel “safe” to take risks, many simply wouldn’t. I work to create a learning environment where they can feel that they can take risks. How many PLNs out there do that? Maybe people wouldn’t “lurk” so much if they felt comfortable enough to join in the discussion and that their opinions would be respected and treated the same no matter whether they were novices or experts? Just saying.

    I also think we need to remember (as some have pointed out) that some learners are introverts and some are extroverts. As an introvert, I need to ponder things (sometimes for quite some time) before I comment. Am I ever going to be someone who posts or comments 500 times a day? Nope, but when I do it will be meaningful, at least for me.

    As a shy,introverted person by nature, I certainly couldn’t see myself plopping down to sit with a bunch of strangers to have a discussion of some consequence. However, online communities allow me to hang out in the periphery and listen, ponder and reflect. If I feel I have something to contribute, I will. I don’t need to told to do that. Sometimes, it’s enough for me to listen, get some direction on issues that concern me or for some personal learning to take place. For some of us, the contribution is in the way we take that learning back to others in our own communities whether they be online or in the physical world.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  25. Jeff Ross wrote:

    I’ve stopped using the term “lurkers” when referring to those present in online communities who rarely if ever contribute in favor of using the term “listeners.” It’s more positive, doesn’t attach unwarranted and unfounded negative connotations about some sinister intent, and gives the listener the benefit of the doubt that individuals know the purpose of their participation and they are under no obligation to announce that to the group.

    That said, I still agree with George that the greater good in PLNs comes from the fact that they can expand the learning network for others by active contributions rather than remaining only as listeners. With the larger network of networks in mind, I think it is valid to be primarily a listener in some communities and more actively engaged in others.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink
  26. David Truss wrote:

    I was a CCK08 dropout. I did one assignment (Linked to my name above) and decided that I’d taken on too much and was being ‘inefficient’ (as my slide #4 suggested).

    On the topic of ‘lurking’, I think Alan Levine sums it up well, “We should all be on a path of elevating our participation…”

    What inspired me to comment now is a sidebar point on the theme of networks -vs- communities. I wonder if there can’t be a marriage of the two in large distributed courses? Would it help some people to contribute more if they were part of a sub-community within the bigger (networked) course? …A learning community that they had to both support one another and feel a commitment to share with?

    Can a large course benefit from having small learning communities, without taking away from the benefit of being a part of a larger network as well?

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  27. Jody Watson wrote:

    Thanks for the post. My personal feeling is many times I don’t feel like I have anything to contribute to the community. I have a great PLN but do admit that at times I feel like a lurker. The feeling that there are no more original thoughts becomes more and more evident in many of the posts I read tweets, I follow and people I talk to. At times it seems like a race to post information because if you don’t do it as soon as you find it someone else does. I think lurkers all want to contribute to the conversation, but don’t think that their thoughts are something new, that they have been remixed by someone else already.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  28. @David Truss Yes you can join a smaller learning community. Autonomy is one of Stephen Downes Principles of Connectivism

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  29. David Truss wrote:

    Ah, yes Eduardo, we all can choose to create our own smaller communities… I’m wondering though, can this be part of the structure of the course? Or will creating smaller communities in a purposeful and planned way actually hinder the greater network?

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink
  30. David, since it is a distributed network, smaller groups will be part of the structure of the course. But you should also network/show up on the main forum to become more visible

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  31. I agree with George that “Learning networks give us potential for action”, and so we also need some strong ties on our network

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  32. Very interesting discussion. One question I am struggling with of late is how do we differentiate between being connected and being linked? For the most part, I’m linked to a number of people but I would not consider that being the same as being connected since when I am connected I have a sense of wanting to contribute while, if I’m just linked, I don’t. So with some of the people who have commented, I could be linked through this discussion while some others I am connected in a number of ways which is how I ended up here at this discussion. Can we not be linked, to enhance our own learning, with a great number of people while developing a deeper connection with others with whom we develop and explore and discuss? Are we always obliged to be a participant? Won’t such an obligation be overwhelming? Is it realistic in a world where our ability to link and connect is beyond what many people can really comprehend?

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  33. Great post – a breath of fresh air. I was recently wondering if there might be such thing as a tragedy of the (personal) commons and your commentary above seems to speak to that.

    I’ve never really liked the term PLN because I don’t see my twitter (or other) networks as a “personal” network. In fact, the irony is that this space is definitively public – inhabited by publics (rather than audiences). The people I engage are indeed in “my” network so much as they represent my own choice to follow and engage specific people (and those they engage) but no more so than I am part of “their” network – as one individual. I don’t ever view these individuals as a part of “my” anything except that our value to each other is subjective. I suppose this is partly due to my emphasis on these spaces as collectives/commons for information and ideas sharing (as well as learning). I guess the key thing I’m getting at is the difference between “shared” or distributed goals/inquiries versus a sort of personal branding approach to people and spaces where they function as stagehands or audiences to what is essentially a performance rather than a conversation. but this is symptomatic of a larger ideology that promotes a consumer vision of engagement (audience/performer – consumer/producer) rather than maker, DIY or collective engagement (publics/collectives).

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  34. Rita Kop wrote:

    Hi George, this is the comment I wrote on Jenny’s blog post at http://bit.ly/ifAHz5 that she wrote as a response to yours:

    Hi Jenny, that’s a great post. You are spot on with your assessment of lurking. The PLENK focus group of ‘lurkers’ highlighted their activity in different ways than by producing on the course: they actively aggregated, they actively read, reflected and conceptualized, they actively shared with other people on their network (which might not be the PLENK network). Where they were not so active was by producing so others on the course might have learnt from them.

    Of course there is a plethora of reasons why people didn’t do this: lack of confidence in sight of lots of knowledgeable people, being very autonomous learners, who do not need to participate in the activity that George liked them to participate in. To me it seems a little short-sighted not to understand that people are different in this respect. An interesting read would be ‘Social Cognitive Theory in Cultural Context’ that Albert Bandura wrote in 2002, which explains also how the cultural context of people might explain their non-active participation on the course http://bit.ly/ep6Vd0.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  35. @Kelly Strong ties vs weak ties!!

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  36. Great point Eduardo!!!

    speaking of network ties, one thing I wanted to add here was the importance of nodes. Some folks greatest contribution to my network is their disconnection from education. And I try and exploit my experience and capital within these other sectors to help educators connect with them and vice versa.

    To this end, I created lists in Twitter – not only to keep track of my research interests but also to help some of my front line teacher friends find folks in those fields to follow and engage.

    Some of the people included on these lists are folks I have built long time and meaningful relationships with – as colleagues and friends. I feel that sharing these ties in public is a contribution of sorts of the time and energy I put into those relationships – and my feeling that others might similarly benefit from connecting as I have. This is the strength of weak ties.

    Here are my lists …

    http://twitter.com/#!/melaniemcbride/lists

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  37. Great post George and great responses.

    In terms of network learning you are free to do as you please, for me the key thing to keep in mind is that you learn (more) by contributing and creating. (And others can learn from you)

    Other key point is do you have a mindset of giving or taking? For me if you have a giving mindset this is the right approach.

    Point to ponder.
    What do you get with a course full of lurkers – not a lot, actually nothing :-)

    In relation to networked learning within a formal course situation. What irritates me is the notion that it is ok to promote traditional non-participative approaches because some people aren’t comfortable participating.

    I say that the participant and his/her fellow learners will learn far more from participating than individual self study. Within the right environment after good explanations as to why participating is good for learning and with some social bonding and gentle exposure to what might be a new concept i believe most people will be happy to contribute and participate.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  38. gsiemens wrote:

    Appreciate the comments, extensions, and push back to the initial post.

    Each comment validates my assertion that learning requires participation and creation. I understand the points being made about how we can’t tell learners what to do (Jenny, George, Rita). I personally balk anytime someone wants me to follow their rules. It’s rarely a good idea to tell people what to do or how to do it. But, I don’t think what I’m suggesting is at odds with autonomy. Creation is important – it helps people to learn, it enlarges the conversation, and it’s more effective than only consuming (Sawyer has a good chapter on the value of peer-based learning/teaching as compared to traditional instruction in the cambridge handbook of learning sciences (ch 12 – analyzing collaborative discourse)). Many things in life are optional, including breathing. If we desire a certain outcomes for ourselves or our learners, I think it’s acceptable to demonstrate (and encourage) active participation. Think of how much richer this post is with the numerous voices and contributions. The discussion is more significant than my initial comments. So, the more you disagree, the more I’ll feel validated that participation is central to learning :) .

    (Quick point, Rita: I understand that people and societies are different with regard to their levels of participation. I’m not arguing for the rightness/wrongness of that. People can do exactly as they please. My point is: learning is a richer experience when we create and share – transparency in our learning is also an act/process of teaching).

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  39. Rita Kop wrote:

    Hi George

    The problem is that you might like something to happen, but there are clearly issues inhibiting people from doing what you would like them to do: actively producing artifacts and contributions to the discussion. There were between 40-60 of the PLENK participants who did this, the other 1580 were active in different ways that I described in my comment to Jennie’s post. Several of the ‘lurkers’ indicated that they needed time to think and digest before being able to respond and write. That is one of the reasons that assignments in a traditional class room course are set at the end of the course. Clearly, not all people in class room based learning participate in class room discussions. There is enough research to highlight the problems with power relations on discussion boards that inhibit people from participating.

    If you look at the rate of people reading blogs, producing blog posts and producing comments, the rate is not likely to be any different as participants on PLENK producing and responding.

    It is just wishful thinking to expect that all people want to participate in activities that you feel are most conductive to the learning of all.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink
  40. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Rita you state “It is just wishful thinking to expect that all people want to participate in activities that you feel are most conductive to the learning of all.”

    To clarify – it’s not just what I think or feel about “learning for all”. It’s what a growing body of research emphasizes.

    I’m not trying to force everyone to participate all the time. I am, however, stating that lurking does rob others of insight that you have (if you had lurked on this conversation, I wouldn’t have gotten the value of your comments on lurking…I don’t have to agree with you, but it leaves a conversation trail that others can engage with at a greater level than if had remained as only my blog post).

    I agree with Alan’s statement: “We should all be on a path of elevating our participation- leveling up per se, not every place all the time, but if we dont take that one, we promote passivity.”

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink
  41. Rita Kop wrote:

    Hi George

    I take your point that there is research that says that active participation is important in learning. My own research and experience as a practitioner say the same thing. But they also say that teacher presence is importance to achieve this active participation. Perhaps four facilitators on a course with 1600 participants is not enough to create the right environment for this. There is also more and more research that says that affective issues and the creation of a place where people feel comfortable and trusted will foster active engagement, that the fostering of strong rather than weak ties will help in this.

    I don’t think it is good enough to say that learners should participate actively on the course, as they might be sharing outside the course, or be active afterwards.

    I think if you want them to do it on the course that it would be more meaningful to figure out the conditions in which people might actually want to participate actively by creating, and then producing the environment and the conditions in which participants feel comfortable doing so.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  42. Ruth Howard wrote:

    I welcome that suggestion Rita and I don’t know how important it is to get people to participate at a higher level in Connectivist courses?
    But I would like to see more participation in social political economic civic etc community activities.

    I wonder if you may know where is the research that links higher levels of participation in educational activity with mature participation in society? Is that an assumption that educators make could
    it be the inverse? Those who don’t comply with education goals end up creating their own outcomes and artifacts which they may or may not share with others but I don’t know the stats on that?

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  43. Don’t forget the “90-9-1″ Rule for Participation Inequality: Lurkers vs. Contributors in Internet Communities . It should apply to MOOCs

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  44. Bon wrote:

    you could’ve mentioned the legitimate peripheral participation irk factor in the MOOC report, you know. before, say, i wrote it in and reified its legitimacy. with your name on the document. sorry about that. apparently i ought to have been reading previous rants. ;)

    i agree that contributing nothing is…well…contributing nothing. the emphasis on intrinsic value and judgement that frames PLNs and MOOCs, etc, says that what i as learner “take” from the experience is what is important, not the pre-assigned ways i’ve traditionally been TOLD to perform or regurgitate learning. thus that freedom to “take” matters, but mostly b/c of a cultural tendency to place it as a pole in the free vs. institutionalized learning binary sweepstakes. we then forget that the opposite of “take” is usually “give,” not “do homework,” and so we fear losing the freedom to take what we value from an experience if we apply any conditions to that taking.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Permalink
  45. gsiemens wrote:

    What report? I don’t know what you’re talking about, Bonnie.

    Of course you weren’t expected to read my previous rants on LPP. This is an ongoing and somewhat changing perspective – partly egged on by that @davecormier character. We started this chat during our first emerging tech course, and carried it on in edfutures…i.e. to what degree is lurking appropriate in a course? For that matter, what does lurking offer individual participants that participation does not? Chris Lott, on Twitter, rejected my binary view of “lurk” or “participate”. And, he’s right, it’s not that clear cut. For example, I may observe activity in one part of my network and participate in another. For daily activities this is most likely fine. However, in a course where we’re all trying to “give” of ourselves and our understanding, I *believe* that active participation makes the course richer for all participants. Again, I’ll reference this discussion thread: the value is in the comments and the multiple perspectives, not the original post. We don’t get diversity if we don’t hear multiple views of a subject. Then, after we’ve been exposed to a wide variety of for/against/neutral/whatever, we can settle on a view that, in its conclusion, accounts for the messiness of knowledge.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 3:22 am | Permalink
  46. I’ve been wondering if lurkers actually prevent tipping points. Are they not in fact paving the way for the silent majority to pay lip service to the power of connectivism?
    If non-users take their cues from lurkers (one of my self-imposed roles is to develop connected teachers), will we ever see the reforms we need in education? The few PLN contributors in my school are quite vocal, but in meetings and work groups, lurkers prevent us from reaching the all important tipping points. In this regard, there really is no difference between a lurker and a non-user.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 6:24 am | Permalink
  47. Nicola wrote:

    I dug back into some old technology networking notes – all networks have the following three basic elements:
    - protocols – rules of communication agreed on by network participants
    - transmission media – media that enable all network elements to interconnect
    - network services – resources shared by all network users

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink
  48. Jane Bozarth wrote:

    I think we need to clarify what me mean by “legitimate” peripheral participation. I don’t mind when someone joins a community and spends a little time watching to see how/what/with whom communication and contribution occurs. But I DO mind when that goes on for very long. I’ve had bad experiences w/ grad school courses, CoPs (see my dissertation)and Twitter chats w/ people only taking and giving nothing back. In my view “legitimate” (well intended, with eventual movement toward more full participation)peripheral participation is ok. It’s the not-legitimate (illegitimate?) intention to only take and never give back that bothers me.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  49. Gillian wrote:

    George: you have certainly set up a discussion! I pick up on Melanie’s comment which, I think, has a lot of truth in it. PLNs can be very public and it takes a huge amount of courage (or naivete) to put out half-formed thoughts when a) wider society (and most existing academe) expects ‘answers’ b) the internet records everything and c) that everything may be held against you for forever by a less open/sharing employment system.
    Alternatively, those of us who are less worried about such things and who may have years of experience to back a belief or approach may throttle back for a host of reasons. Sometimes it is because jumping in too soon could be damaging to an open discussion. Sometimes it is because we want to test beliefs against newer, perhaps sharper minds. Sometimes it is simply because we are plain busy!
    Whatever people’s fears or motivations, my own view is that as long as so-called lurkers eventually acknowledge the group and their source of knowledge, they are really just ‘quiet’ learners and there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is lurking and then republishing or retelling without acknowledgement. We used to call that plagiarism but TII has rather quantified and systematised that in a way that does not adequately cover the value of a PLN.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  50. Chris Hall wrote:

    Wenger argues that good Communities of Practice should encourage different levels of participation http://tiny.cc/7jy4r

    Core members at the centre with lurkers around the edges but with people being able to move between different levels of participation.

    There is more here http://tiny.cc/25h1j with a nice diagram

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  51. Jim Stauffer wrote:

    I came to this by way of Jenny’s “In defense of Lurking” response. I just HAD to check if I really disagreed with you as strongly as I agreed with Jenny. I’m glad I read your whole post. You make a very good point about “first love” with a PLN. I’m still waiting to see how long my enchantment with it lasts.

    Besides having provoked and nurtured a very stimulating discussion, thanks for giving me a the boot in the rear (or was it a bug in the ear) to contribute something. Getting my colleagues to at least become lurkers is one way I hope to contribute.

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 10:16 pm | Permalink
  52. Calian wrote:

    Like you said, “connecting with others is a satisfying experience” be it be texting, emailing, blogging or the popular Facebook and Twitter. I have encountered several old friends and classmates online but that does not surprise me a bit. Social networking is the in-thing and everyone is on the bandwagon.

    PLN is the wave of the future. Great discussion.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  53. Leah wrote:

    I understand all these points, well made by everyone above, and why you are impatient with the “lurkers” like me, George. And we should commit to contributing more within the course. Especially if we can get some help with the tools we’re not familiar with.

    But isn’t teaching an inherently *giving* occupation/avocation?

    If I created an online course that anyone can access, if I call it “open” to everyone, then as a teacher shouldn’t I be wondering what I could do (that is, give) to make it safer/easier for contributions from all of the students I’ve invited? I wouldn’t expect my students to send their first attempt at writing a poem to the Paris Review. Nor their first piece of literary criticism to the New York Times Book Review.

    Friday, December 10, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  54. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Leah – I’m not sure I would say that I’m impatient on this, I’d like to think that I’m trying to encourage a level of learning that doesn’t exist in lurking :) .

    Do you have suggestions about what we could do to make open courses safer/easier for participants to contribute?

    Friday, December 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
  55. Leah wrote:

    Hi George,

    Perhaps I’m projecting. I’m a little impatient with my own (watery) participation. :)

    I have been thinking quite a lot about your question, and I know there are many ideas, arguments, and theories I should cite. I even wandered around online collecting them. But I’ll stick with my own experience and try to learn from that.

    I consciously entered into the community with a voice when I was invited to participate in the focus group of so-called “lurkers.” As I examine it, two parts are important to me as an entryway into the larger discussions:

    First, it was a specific activity that I was specifically asked to contribute to: an email came to me asking that I participate, and it gave me a time and date I could schedule. Somehow, that invitation rolled out a carpet for me in a way that the openness of the course’s and colleagues’ blogs/wikis had not.

    Second, the activity was clear that I could be directly helpful to the research on the course that would contribute to the structure and design of other courses. I could offer a piece of knowledge that I knew that the course conveners didn’t have–my experience as a participant.

    (I’ll note here, I don’t think the requested knowledge has to be so subjective. For instance, I would enjoy being helpful by bringing my editing skills to some of the materials that the course conveners have written. I’ve thought of offering copyediting help because the mistakes and typos drive me crazy as a reader and student, but I thought it would be perceived as insulting. But if someone had asked, hey could anyone edit this/lay this out for an e-book, etc., I would’ve raised my hand. I know I could give back to the community in this way.)

    So that entryway allowed me to comment a couple of times on the discussion wiki (about roughly the same subject). And then keep reading everything else, including the last Daily I was sent…which had the link to this post…and started our conversation.

    The interesting question is, suppose I take another MOOC? Will I be more mindful of trying to find entryways where I can?

    Thanks.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink
  56. Sounds all too familiar. I agree with even conflicting parts. Although less active MOOC-wise (if not by owl-light), my normal course behavior, online and off, is active. Teaching online, lurkers frustrate me, especially when I am volunteering my time or using a class for a course development project (i.e. designing a open, rolling admission self-paced writing course). Writing courses and writers benefit from posting, commenting ~ participating in a writing group. I repeat the obvious: learning to write requires writing.

    So in a sense, lurking has given me new insights onto a frustrating student group. I agree with the value of PPL *BUT* still want (expect) writing students to WRITE. So here I am working on wrapping my mind around options, considering the spectrum. Trying to decide what to do with a closed writing group blog in which I do most of the writing. I too have “wandered around online collecting them.”

    On a personal level, aside from the writing group, I learned how to approach the next MOOC ~ a learning how to learn experience. I also carried ideas, perspectives, readings back to my online writing group. As a result of the MOOC experience and walking in lurkers shoes, I decided against participation requirements and am considering changing blog settings to make it more open.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Permalink
  57. Nick Kearney wrote:

    Lurking=taking?
    In that case I am obliged to comment.

    You seem to be demanding that we all share. Sharing doesn’t work that way. In making that statement, you are turning comment into currency.

    Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  58. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Nick, could you clarify “comment into currency”?

    Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink
  59. Ironically I am watching the movie Zodiac during a scene where a prisoner describes a lurker at drawing parties held by a victim.

    Is that where are fear stems from? If someone is sitting in a group not participating do we believe they are gathering information for their self-interest that will later violate ours?

    People can do more damage with deception than with silence.

    Why do I speak now? Only because I have a opinion. Most times I don’t. Most times I just listen to the argument until…until I have a valid, personal opinion based on MY experience. That takes time.

    Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Permalink