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What does your Personal Learning Network look like?

Our friend David Goddin recently invited me to join a blog relay team. This is not (yet) an Olympic sport but a fun way of generating and sharing ideas on social media. He passed me the baton (on twitter) to write about my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

The relay team so far

Before David’s tweet, I wasn’t familiar with the term Personal Learning Network. Thankfully, there are already three excellent blogs in this relay – by David, Ian Pettigrew and Fiona McBride, who fired the starting gun. You might like to read them to get a feel for the many different ways people build, manage and use their PLN.

Thinking about how I learn

You might describe me as a Magpie when it comes to learning. I crave shiny nuggets of thought and collect them voraciously from numerous sources. The TED speaker Elizabeth Gilbert calls this mindset the flight of the Hummingbird. But I’ll stick to Magpie, if only because I love this piece of music by Rossini for the way it captures the bird’s bold and cheeky attitude.

This style of learning suits my life as a business writer. Our clients operate across many industries and countries. They ask us to research, write and edit a variety of communications, ranging from engaging blog posts to strategically important reports. This means I have to be able to pick up subjects quickly and know where to go and who to ask to find the detail I need.

Unlike some politicians, I think experts are essential. However, becoming a subject specialist sometimes hampers our ability to communicate with a wide audience. Too much technical knowledge can narrow your perspective and leave you trapped in a world of jargon and group think.

I make a point of trying to remain an informed generalist. I try not to bury myself so deep in one subject that I can’t see when I’ve left my readers behind. Over the years, I have built (almost by accident) a Personal Learning Network that reflects this desire to keep an open mind.

I said ‘almost by accident’ because until now I didn’t think of it as a PLN. But I’ve always been conscious of seeking out many different strands of thought. Often I’ve gone out of my way to find authoritative sources that challenge my preconceptions – particularly on social and political issues.

The structure of my Personal Learning Network

My PLN has grown organically, often by following tangential connections. I tend to rely on serendipity and creative confusion to do much of the heavy lifting. However, on reflection, it appears my PLN has three main themes:

  1. Offline: active involvement in the local community,
  2. Online: creating engaging conversations on social media,
  3. Fusion: avoiding crazy by slowing down.
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Photo by Phoebe Sayer

  1. Offline: active involvement – or networking by doing

Engaging on social media can’t replace simply getting out and getting involved. It doesn’t matter whether you join a local business group, support a good cause or just take up a sociable activity. Nothing in the virtual world beats the experience and understanding you get from meeting and listening to real people.

I’m not particularly keen on old-style formal networking – where people give elevator pitches, hand out business cards and pass on leads and recommendations. It all feels too stilted – too forced. I prefer doing – taking part in an activity or engaging in thought provoking discussions.

Here are just a few of my favourite groups in Norfolk:

  • Hot Source – for creative inspiration (we like this group so much that Business Writers Ltd has sponsored it)
  • Sync Norwich – for insights into the world of tech start-ups and an amazing annual hackathon
  • Norfolk Developers – for brain-stretching talks from developers and agile coaches, as well as an excellent annual conference
  • Norfolk Chamber – for events that bring together business leaders from across sectors
  • Norfolk Food and Drink Network – to hear from other micro business owners.

Norfolk Food and Drink Network

  1. Online: engaging on social media – particularly when you can’t meet face-to-face.

Despite saying the real world still beats the virtual – I am a huge fan of social media. It has made our world smaller – by bringing people and communities (of geography and interest) closer together. It has expanded our intellectual horizons by giving us ready access to more sources of knowledge and experience than we can ever hope to master.

This is can be both exciting and overwhelming. You have no doubt experienced that feeling of drowning in information. The fire-hose of updates and alerts can at times seem unstoppable.

Some people (perhaps all of us to some extent) just seek out similar minded people online. We tend (unwittingly?) to enter echo chambers where conversations reinforce our own ideas and opinions. We can become trapped in a bubble of expectations – which the real world sometimes bursts unceremoniously (just think of how the Brexit vote surprised so many of us).

Yet social media can also break down barriers by introducing us to people from different backgrounds, cultures, and digital tribes. This diversity of opinion is healthy. It provides an antidote to the comfort of insular thinking by constantly challenging opinions and views you took for granted.

I try to use my online PLN to pop such bubbles. I’m particularly keen on using twitter lists and LinkedIn groups to focus on specific areas of interest. These also help me tune into fresh views and calm voices that I might otherwise not hear above the daily din of gossip and trivia.

  1. Fusion: avoiding crazy by slowing down

It’s important to stay positive in these challenging times. The news is frequently too full of Brexit doom and economic gloom, terrorism and other atrocities, political backstabbing and celebrity bitching. That’s when we all need something uplifting: something to recharge our imagination and love of learning – as well as our love of life.

At the same time, we need an antidote to the helter-skelter world of 24-hour news and instant punditry. We need calm voices that give us context, considered analysis and expert opinion – supported by facts and logical arguments. We need to blow the froth off the top of stories to find the real substance beneath.

Here to wrap up then are just a few of our favourite sources of such balance, distillation and inspiration.

Relay baton handover

Thank you to David Goddin for the invitation to contribute to this discussion. I hope you’ve enjoyed this leg of the Personalised Learning Network relay. Please feel free to post comments below – or to me on twitter @HuwSayer.

Now, I’d like to pass the baton to Damian Corbet – I hope he’ll accept the challenge. Damian is doing an excellent job of identifying and interviewing the best social CEOs for his Social C-Suite blog. I’m sure he will have an interesting take on the Personalised Learning Network.


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Thank you for reading

This post is part of an occasional series on business, social media and communications. If you found it interesting or useful, please share it with others. 

Please join the conversation by adding your views below or contacting us on twitter, LinkedIn or Google+

Kind regards

Huw and Wendy Sayer

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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