What Can Corporations Learn from Personal Learning Networks?

plnA Personal Learning Network (PLN), very simply, is a way to connect with, learn from, and share with others. In education, this has been going on long before the Internet was a thought, but in far smaller ways. A few educators gathering in a faculty room over coffee, or in a phone conversation for extended talks about teaching, or just support, were the original PLNs. Today, with the Internet, and social media, an educator’s Personal Learning Network can be vast. Educators having hundreds or thousands of connections is possible. So, what can corporations learn from educators?

Corporations often wonder why good ideas don’t work. While there may be many reasons, clearly one is that corporations tend to talk to themselves. They are good internal cheerleaders, but most are not very good at sharing the great stories about their products and solutions outside—where it really counts. Part of the answer is that their employees either don’t know about or haven’t created Personal Learning Networks—and if they do, they don’t know how to use them—not just personally, but for the benefit of the company. PLNs can be the foundation for a smaller company being able to compete with a giant one. It is the first, best thing a corporation’s employees can do for themselves and for the company, too. This first step requires that the corporate team—as a whole—needs to know what a Personal Learning Network is, that it’s OK to have one, and that connecting to others is important—again, not just personally, but for the company.

Most educators already know this. Having a PLN—using e-mail, chats, and some form of social media, increases the small faculty room meeting to a much larger, virtual online faculty room. The importance here is that an individual’s network has more members, and those added members have connections as well. That means that one individual’s Personal Learning Network can grow exponentially. For an individual, that’s wonderful, and for a corporation employing that individual, it’s absolutely brilliant. If all the employees of a company have PLNs, the corporation’s web of contacts and influence grows exponentially. This internal and huge “marketing team” can be constant and consistent, and much more successful in sharing the company, its solutions, its products, and stories than one-off PR ventures. Just like education PLNs, corporate PLNs are dynamic.

Educators know that many and varied members of a Personal Learning Network are best. If you have a toolbox, wouldn’t you want many different tools? An individual’s PLN should include a diverse group of members. Asking those you don’t have lunch with, or those in different parts of the country, world, or dissimilar corporate channels is the beauty of PLNs, too, and it increases your sharing and knowledge base. The analogy of a game show contestant who needs an answer or suggestion works for PLNs. So, ask your PLN!

Building a PLN is as individual as the individual, so that can be a little scary for education and corporations, but today, with some guidelines and a little training, social media can be a trusted tool. The choices are many—LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and more. Many corporate types have already discovered LinkedIn; once considered a place just for job searches, it has become a completely acceptable way to share and join groups for discussions, too. It really is a generally appropriate way to create a PLN and gather connections. But let’s step back for now—the purpose of this post is not to go through all the social media possibilities and explain how to use them, but rather to suggest that everyone understand what a Personal Learning Network is, and that it is a necessity. The social media how tos are certainly for additional posts.

Personal Learning Networks are universally important. They should be a graduation as well as an employment requirement. To begin, forming a PLN can be done with a mobile device, a smartphone with e-mails and texting. With some simple social media training, PLNs can amplify an individual’s contributions, and increase an educator’s, or company’s, reach by further expanding their networks. The key is that everyone, and that means interns to VPs, heads, and CEOs are consistently involved in PLNs. In education, there is no reason why your administrator shouldn’t be a part of your PLN, and vice versa. In the corporate world, knowing company leaders are part of PLNs says that it’s OK, and that everyone is a participant in connecting and sharing.

Ken Royal

Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is an Education storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.
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