I found the first two chapters of Reach by Jeff Utecht to confirm and reinforce what I have (unfortunately somewhat slowly) come to understand recently in my professional life – that using social networking platforms to grow your PLN will positively enhance your own professional learning and growth.
For many years I never paid much attention to using platforms such as Google+ or Twitter for professional purposes. I had somehow mentally filed them away as social tools for connecting with friends and life outside of my career. I could say the same for Linkedin, even though it is marketed expressly for the purpose of building a digital network – I simply didn’t appreciate the potential that these platforms could provide in growing my network.
I think one of the main reasons that I failed to see the potential power of these tools is due to the fact I had been a “lurker” on these platforms, rather than a producer. I would consume the content and ideas produced by others, but not take an active role in producing my own work or adding my own thoughts or ideas to the mix. Perhaps it was a lack of confidence that I had enough perspective or experience to meaningfully add to the network. There was also the sense that I was too busy (aren’t we all?) to really get involved, and the idea of adding “keeping up with Twitter, Google+, etc.” to my plate didn’t seem very appetizing. But by not being an active member of these networks, I was also largely invisible, which didn’t lead to any exciting connections or opportunities to collaborate.
This began to change a few years ago in 2015, when I became involved in teaching a course with Global Online Academy. I was suddenly working and collaborating daily on teaching and course development with other educators who were thousands of miles away – and sometimes literally on the other side of the world. Through this experience of virtual collaboration via Skype, Slack, Canvas, and Google Apps, I began to realize that physical boundaries can no longer impede real collaborative learning and development. I could now easily connect with others, and that my network of colleagues was now beyond the campus boundaries of my school.
At the same time, some colleagues of mine at my previous school were taking the COETAIL courses, and they shared some of what they were learning with me. I began to realize that I needed to shift my thinking regarding professional networking, and learn to become an active contributor to my network, rather than a passive consumer.
This is one of the main drivers behind my decision to join the COETAIL program – I wanted to be part of a network of people that would push me to become a “prosumer”. The more active one is in contributing to these networks, the more one is also increasingly visible. And this visibility is what leads to collaboration opportunities, as well as connections with ideas and people. As Jeff notes on page 18 of Reach: “Activity = Visibility = Connection opportunity”. This is a simple, yet powerful point – that it really is up to us to become active and contributing members of our PLNs if we expect to also make meaningful connections and really learn from our networks.
By starting this blog, and by joining the COETAIL program, I’m taking the first steps toward doing this. When I read the blogs of some of my colleagues and peers, and see the positive and powerful connections they have made by being active members of their PLNs, I can’t help but feel a little late to the party. But late is better than never showing up. I’m very much looking forward to learning with everyone in Cohort 9, as well as other past and future cohorts as well!