The Power (and Mess) of Social Learning

I recently spent a few days in Albuquerque, NM where we hosted an in-person event for Albuquerque educators to leverage the Social Learning Summit. We hosted a few in-person sessions and set up stations to listen in on all of the great sessions through the virtual conference.

I was trying to keep up with the #sociallearningsummit Twitter feed while running around our event and I tagged a few tweets to look at later. As I walked around our event and thought about the impact social learning has had on me in the past few years I began to realize just how much my professional learning network (PLN) has helped me grow and improve my practice. I don’t know where I would be without access to the thousands of Ed Tech leaders I have connected with to push my learning, inspire me and challenge my beliefs.

I’ve been Tweeting since 2008. Compared to most of the people I follow, I was late to the game. The moment I joined Twitter a few things happened:

1. I was humbled and even intimidated by the knowledge and talent of the thought leaders in my industry

2. I began to experience how messy, unorganized and fun learning can be

3. I realized I needed to jump into the conversation and put myself out there

The 3rd one was the most difficult. I have no problem putting myself out there when I’m in the comfort of my family, friends and co-workers. I don’t mind if my best friend disagrees with me or thinks I’m a fool for loving Toto, Air Supply and Billy Ocean. I’m OK with the fact that my husband thinks I’m crazy when we are trying to decide where to go for dinner and I say “You pick, I don’t care where we go” and then proceed to shoot down every restaurant he lists. I know I’m annoying to watch a comedy with (especially Anchorman and Christmas Vacation) because the likelihood of me quoting the entire movie out loud is 95% or higher. I feel comfortable telling my mommy friends that I sometimes feel like an incompetent mother because I can’t keep my 2 year old from throwing massive fits in public unless I bring the iPad to keep him entertained.  (God Bless you Steve Jobs.)

Putting myself out there for all to see was a different story. Going from consumption of information within my PLN to contributing thoughts, ideas and resources was a frightening process for me. In May of 2011, after a few years of thinking about doing it, I finally started my own blog. I haven’t written as often as I would like, but I’m proud of the fact that I finally did it. I remember the moment I clicked “publish” on my first blog entry. I had to silence the self-doubt and fear that presented itself in the form of wondering what on earth I have to share that this brilliant community doesn’t already know.

The process of social learning can be messy and unorganized, but it’s so much fun. My PLN has empowered me to be proactive with my professional growth. I no longer wait for PD to happen to me, I actively seek it out on a daily basis. Each week I’m grateful for what I’m able to learn as a result of leveraging my PLN. I consider myself lucky to have access to passionate educator communities like the DEN. I feel inspired by the connections I’ve made because I realize I’m not alone in my desire to help transform teaching and learning.

A few weeks ago I was at an education conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My colleague Dean Shareski delivered the keynote and talked about the importance of sharing. He asked the room of over 100 educators a simple question: “Can I find your best work online?”

This is a powerful question to ask anyone in almost any profession. How are you sharing what you know with others? Are you putting your best work out there? While it might be in your best interest to keep your recipe for success a secret if you are a professional athlete or a Navy Seal, for the most part sharing your ideas with a community of like-minded individuals can lead to powerful learning environments. Imagine the impact you could have on others who are just getting started in your profession if you shared your thoughts, resources and insights with them. We are all educators and learners no matter what industry we are in.

Trying to explain to someone the power and impact of social learning can be difficult. Many think of Twitter as a tool for narcissistic, self-involved celebrities where they can share with their 2 million followers what they ate for lunch.  Although this is true, I would argue that Twitter (as well as Facebook, Google +, Pintrerest, etc…) is just a tool- how you chose to use it is up to you.

You can’t build your PLN overnight. It took me a while to understand how to leverage social learning tools and how to find others with mutual interests. Once you find them, there is virtually no limit to what you are able to learn. To give you a taste of the powerful information that is being shared through my PLN,  here are just a FEW of the amazing ideas shared at the Social Learning Summit:

  1. The Importance and Seriousness of Silly by Dean Shareski
  2. The Digital Citizenship Project by Jon Orech
  3. Anywhere, Anytime Learning by Chad Lehman
  4. Becoming Social(er): Why does Community Matter? by Lance Rougeux (my fearless leader)

What can we learn from you? What are you going to share?