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Jan 20, 2017 Jennifer Hofmann

Giving Back to Your Personal Learning Network

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Personal Learning Network

Last week, we discussed ways to manage your Personal Learning Network (PLN) without becoming overwhelmed. Once you have constructed your personal learning path, and identified the experts, resources, and websites that support your goals, now it’s time to create a plan that maximizes your learning while minimizing distractions.

Remember, this is a NETWORK, and that means that information flows in more than one direction.

Almost 20 years ago, I started InSync’s first learning community. The focus was on virtual classrooms, called ‘synchronous’ classrooms back then. It was a listserv called “SyncTrain” (Synchronous Training) with the following tag line: “Get on the Sync Train!”

I thought I was being very clever.

I did my best to post relevant articles, opinions, and send questions out to the community to start a discussion. But it was very rare that any of the several hundred other community members contributed anything. They had joined in to receive content, but didn’t feel they had anything to contribute.

That network failed.

Reasons to contribute to your PLN

With time at such a premium these days, it can be difficult to justify taking the time to contribute your ideas to a learning community. Or, you might feel that you don’t have the expertise to make contributions worth reading. These roadblocks don’t maximize the potential of your network. Contributing to your PLN, especially content that relates to your personal learning goals, enhances your experience for several reasons:

  1. When you contribute ideas, resources, and questions, other members of the network are more likely to respond to you and give back. You aren’t there just to take advantage of free expertise; you are recognized as someone willing to help grow and shape the knowledge base in the area.
  2. The best way to internalize an idea or concept is to teach it to someone else. This is called the Protégé effect. (Check out this YouTube Video: Protégé Effect: Learning By Teaching.) If you shared curated content, write and share short blogs, or actively participate in discussions, you will cement your learning.
  3. By participating, you will inspire other people to participate and contribute. They will see that this network is worth their personal time and attention, which means more curated content, blogs, and discussion. Everybody wins!

“While we teach, we learn” Seneca, Roman Philosopher

How to be a valuable contributor

Many of us are cautious about contributing to a learning community because we are not confident our contributions will be valued. Here are a few ways to give back:

  • Share content, and give credit. When you find items that resonant with you, be sure to share them with your networks, including references. Use hashtags and other identifying information whenever possible. Share the love, and share the credit.

@PhyliseBanner shared #tools and apps for creating knowledge-based content. Perfect, because I was trying to select the right tool for publishing video, and her considerations helped me.

  • Make it easy. Include hyperlinks, summaries, author contact info... Make the network, networked!
  • Curate that content. Content without context is lost content and a lost opportunity. Don’t just share a resource, take the time to tell people why it was interesting and why you recommend it. That’s content curation! And your opinion counts.
  • Respond to questions and participate in discussions. Your insight is valuable and can shape the learning experience for all. Believe that you have something to share, and then generously give back. You might not think you’re an expert, but to a novice you might be.
  • Recognize and acknowledge other members of your network. People like to feel appreciated, and will give back more when they realize that their contributions are valued.
  • Ask for more! There will be gaps in the content. Identify them, and work with other network members to fill the gaps.

When it comes to participating in a Personal Learning Network, the more you give, the more you get! As you develop professionally in the modern blended learning field, you will develop a reputation as a valuable resource to your peers.

Related Resources

Blog: What are Personal Learning Networks? 
Sh!ft's blog post provides an excellent, comprehensive introduction to personal learning networks. As an added bonus, the author provides links to additional resources that provide models and recommendations for navigating and leveraging your own PLN.


Published by Jennifer Hofmann January 20, 2017
Jennifer Hofmann