So Much More than a Personal Learning Network

A little over a week ago, my Dad passed away after a four year battle with lung cancer.  Wrestling with the loss, I wrote to him here on the Radical. 

For me, writing to my Dad made sense simply because he read everything that I wrote.  My post was one way for me to say thank you and goodbye to him all at once.  I felt better after finishing it even if I was silently crying in the back of the McDonalds where I was writing.

The interesting twist is what happened next.

Dozens and dozens of readers started sharing kind words and warm thoughts with me in comments that streamed in over the course of three or four days.  Word spread through Twitter after a few people shared my tribute to Dad there, leading to another steady flow of digital love.

Each comment and message meant the WORLD to me, y'all.  I found myself catching my breath during the whirlwind of the past week by reading a few new messages at a time — and every time that someone stopped by to wish my family well, it made me smile for a minute.


That got me thinking about the fact that what I've built using social tools in the past few years is so much more than a personal LEARNING network

Sure, we learn together.  I write and curate web resources connected to #edtech and #edpolicy for you.  You write and curate web resources connected to #edtech and #edpolicy for me.  We ask and answer each other's questions.  We offer just in time support that makes us all better educators.

But somewhere along the line, our togetherness reached a tipping point that goes far beyond learning together.  We went from a group of people who were simply learning from each other to a group of digital friends who genuinely care about each other as people beyond our profession.

I'm not exactly sure where or when or how that happened — but I'm jazzed that it did.  You are so much more real to me today than you were a week ago because I know that you care about me — not just the content that I create. 

Better yet, I'm more convinced than ever that today's kids need to learn how to build their own digital networks too.  Not just because digital networks can make them more efficient and effective professionals, but because digital networks are living, breathing places to belong.

And having places to belong just plain matters to EVERYONE. 

Any of this make sense?


Related Radical Reads:

This One's for You, Dad

Technology Facilitates Connections

The Importance of a PLN


12 thoughts on “So Much More than a Personal Learning Network

  1. Bill Ferriter

    You know, Mary Anne, I never made the connection between what Id written and the importance of relationships in our classrooms too — but you are 100% right. It is only once kids know that we care about them as individuals that theyll truly work for us.
    If the extent of who we are as teachers is people who care about the content that our kids create, then we arent likely to succeed — and neither will our students.
    Good stuff.
    And thanks again for your kind words, yall. They really have made my day more than once in the last week.
    Rock on,

  2. Mary Anne Lock

    When I read “This One’s for You, Dad, I had tears in my eyes the entire time. I really did stop to think that after reading so many of your blog entries, you really are not stranger. I felt like I knew you.
    You summed up today so many of my beliefs about the connection between academic success and human relationships in the classroom with these words, “You are so much more real to me today than you were a week ago because I know that you care about me — not just the content that I create.” …….. a powerful message for all educators to heed!
    Thank you always for both your insight and the thoughtful attention you give your words!
    Mary Anne

  3. Paul Genge

    It’s true. In PLNs and online communities of choice, the first lessons are about citizenship. Not sure many realize this benefit for student involvement in PLNs. Great post!

  4. Paula Naugle

    Yes, our PLN is sometimes about the learning, sometimes about the network, and sometimes about the personal. I love when it becomes a PERSONAL learning network. When you have experienced, it is so hard to explain this to others who have not had that wonderful experience. I started on Twitter to build a personal LEARNING network, but I’m so glad that the personal part of it comes to the forefront at times such as this. Keep writing for your dad and all of us in your PLN.

  5. teacher mrw

    I am sorry to read about the death of your father. My sincerest condolences. Additionally, I’m glad to read about the outpouring of love and support you received from your PLN in your time of need. 🙂

  6. Robert ryshke

    I also missed the news and would like to pass along my condolences. I read your post offered to your Dad but missed that his end was close behind. no doubt you are still grieving and we share in your loss. Sounds like your network of friends is providing you with a blanket to stay warm under. Thanks for sharing your personal story.

  7. Bill Ferriter

    Thanks for the kind words, David — they mean a lot to me.
    And youre right: There is real value in cementing digital relationships with face to face meetings. I feel I know you a lot better having had the chance to knock back a few beers with you, thats for sure — and Im thankful we had that chance.
    But at least for me, physical meetings arent the trait that matters the most in the quality of the friendship that I develop with people. I feel as close to Russ Goerend, who Ive never even heard speak as I do to you. He and I have shared enough personal and professional interactions for me to know that he matters.
    And thats interesting to me times ten. I like the fact that weve been able to be social without living anywhere near one another.
    Anyway…gotta run.

  8. David B. Cohen

    Bill, somehow I missed the news last week, so let me offer my slightly belated condolences. I recall some prior posts where you had talked about your dad reading your posts and I thought that was great. Extending the thought about the digital/distance networking, I’d just add that spending time with you in person has been that much more valuable, helpful, and enjoyable because of the opportunity to share with you and learn from you online prior to and in between meetings. Wishing you and your family strength and peace, David.

  9. Bill Ferriter

    Thanks again for stopping by, yall. Still more proof that digital spaces are real spaces.
    And Im with you, John — the personal side of PLNs has rang through all week. Im thankful for that times ten.
    Rock on,

  10. John T. Spencer

    I love the personal side of this post. I love the way you flesh out the value of digital relationships. I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I somehow missed the blog post and your posts on Twitter.

  11. Maureen Devlin

    So true. At a conference this week, I mentioned to a parent that her gifted child will need to seek like minded friends and colleagues in person and online to grow with confidence and care given his unique talents, extraordinary gifts and tremendous compassion. The PLN is a source of inspiration, compassion, direction and care. Thanks for bringing that to light in the midst of your profound loss. My thoughts are with you. – Maureen Devlin

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