Third Place in Company & Conversation – A Place Where the PLN Gathers

This year will go down in my professional life as “The Year I Met my Online Personal Learning Network and Lived to Tell the Tale (Ad Nauseum)”.

On average, every month I have met at least two people from my wider personal learning network whose connections I made through Twitter, LinkedIn or Yammer.  I would get an email, direct message or a request to ‘have a coffee and chat’ with someone because they have a great experience to share, a story to tell or simply, they are want to learn what’s happening in our industry.

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Of course, the most unforgettable experience was meeting my wider network in London in August this year which escalated our Twitter relationship to a whole new different level.

Usually these meetings are over a cup of coffee or lunch, away from our respective workplaces and in a social or informal environment.  In the case of the London tweet up it was a lunch at a brewery followed by drinks at a nearby bar.

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A highlight of my recent trip to the UK was meeting Colin Steed, Lesley Price and Jane Hart in person (who I was in awe with to say the least).

If it’s a chance to get out of the office, get some fresh air and meet someone new in your line of work, what’s not to like?

But this got me thinking what have we actually achieved from meeting face-to-face after our online connection? 

If I had to explain the benefit to my boss, how would I explain the value of a network?

Before this year, I did not know @LearnKotch however, after meeting on Twitter, we realised that we had much to share and learn from each other.  Coming from similar backgrounds, we connected in not only our work but culturally.  From this meetup, we organised tours of our respective workplaces and got to meet each other’s work teams.  Our online learning content development team met his team and together, in a warm boardroom on a Friday morning in July, we shared our success, stories and frustrations with our respective work.  We shared tips and techniques of online courseware design and development and learned the challenges that go with working in different organisations and business clients.

This meeting culminated with an arrangement to share particular online course content that would have saved our organisation time, money and resources rather than designing from scratch.

Secondly, I met Jasmine Mahlki through Twitter.  She explained that her organisation was considering implementing Yammer and wondered if I had any networks whom she could speak to.  Our organisation has used this social networking tool for some years already and I had the perfect person in mind.  With a quick phone call to him, he was only to happy to help out and provide any advice for Jasmine.

These are just two of my stories on the value of learning networks that directly impacted my role – and they follow a pattern.

The first was the online connection itself through social media.  The second was the follow-up with a face-to-face conversation and then a third was an actual collaboration or shared project, task or action that resulted in some benefit and support.

The result of these three actions changed the relationship to one of mutual respect, trust, equality and collaboration.

A true peer-to-peer learning network.

So with these in mind since my return from the UK, I had been thinking about creating a ‘space’ where people who meet online can meet face-to-face in a social, informal setting away from work where they can freely converse on things that are important to them – much like what I did with my PLN when I met with them in person.

A ‘space’ where there were no formalities, no structure or agendas (because frankly, let’s face it, we get this at work and it does our head in) but just conversations because the actions and the stories will naturally evolve out of these dependent on the people taking part.

Last week I participated in two tweet chats.  The first one was the Educational Technology MOOC #etmooc which was a catch-up for those who had completed this cMOOC. The chat revolved around questions of what people were doing in their lives post ETMOOC and how they have implemented the educational technology tools they learned into their work.   The second chat was the weekly Learn Chat #lrnchat on Friday morning.  The topic of this chat was related to communities.

Paul Signorelli (@trainersleaders) had been in both of these discussions and he posted a link to the Wikipedia article on Third Places, a concept by Ray Oldeburg from his book, The Great Good Place.

Wikipedia says, “Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs.”

This is when the jigsaw puzzle fell into place.  I had my ‘space’ and I had my name.  It was exactly what I was trying to define in my own head and it came from someone who was in my Personal Learning Network from San Francisco.  He also wrote about it in his blog post, When Communities of Learning Discuss Community – and Produce Results.

The results were immediate.  I knew exactly what I had to do and how to do it because Paul had given me that piece of the puzzle that was missing from my jigsaw puzzle carton. He may as well have been in the same room and handed me the piece and said, “Helen, I do believe that THIS is what you’re looking for”.  

YES!

In the next hour, I set up a Meet Up group called Third Place – a place for Melbourne based learning professionals in all industries to converse and network in a social, informal environment such as cafes, library, pubs or restaurants.

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In the first week of going live, we had 27 people sign up many of whom I hadn’t connected previously but who may have read my blog or Twitter posts. Others had an interest in learning and wanted to connect with others in the field for networking.

Our first event will be held in a couple of weeks at the atrium in the Royal Melbourne Hotel for after work drinks. It will be an opportunity to meet some new faces in the one place and establish new networks and friendships with people in our line of work.  From there, we’ll play it by ear but the intention is to spread the events with morning, afternoon meetups in cafes as well as breakfasts and lunches.

Whoever rocks up will be warmly welcomed and the beginning of a wonderful network and friendships will unfold.

I can’t wait. Care to join me?

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
Aside | This entry was posted in Development, ETMOOC, Uncategorized, Work Narration, XPLRPLN and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Third Place in Company & Conversation – A Place Where the PLN Gathers

  1. Pingback: Exploring Our Personal Learning Networks | Activate Learning Solutions

  2. Pingback: Exploring Our Personal Learning Networks | Activate Learning Solutions

  3. Hello Paul, interesting. I hadn’t thought about it this way but it’s true isn’t it? I think we have already past that moment when we consider our onsite encounter when we meet someone! I hadn’t thought about it that way. Thanks for your reply, it’s greatly appreciated. Over time, I will add more posts about how this group is going and evolving. I think it will form part of the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC somehow….

  4. Kudos for the successful actions–and for inspiring example of the spirit of Connected Educators Month. And your observation that “He may as well have been in the same room” sort of raises the same question so many of us are asking: Given the immediacy produced with many of our tech tools (e.g., Skype and Google+ Hangouts), are we rapidly moving toward–or already past–the moment when we consider our first onsite encounter as the moment when we first “met” someone?”

  5. Thanks for your comment Tanya, really appreciated. You’re right. It may not be immediately used but it’s there at the back of your mind waiting for the right moment to spring up. We will see how it goes but I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about PLNs these last couple of years and how they’ve helped me and I’m keen to see how they can be used in peer learning.

    Are you doing the Exploring Personal Learning Networks cMOOC starting this week?

  6. Thanks so much for this lovely reply, it’s greatly appreciated. I believe we’ve come a long way to get others onboard and I think it will take a while. We just have to chip away at it slowly. I think the informality and the social side of the network may make people more comfortable with what’s happening in our field so that they can have a pool of people to chat with.

  7. tanyalau says:

    Hi Helen, really interesting to hear the story behind this initiative. I think your point about the value of unstructured conversations (with people who are practicing in the same industry) is key – and something I have also just recently realised the value of too. Because this is often where serendipitous learning or creative ideas germinate – when you’re not intentionally looking for them. And although you may not necessarily use or need a certain piece of information or contact from the conversation immediately, having it in your subconscious, ready to utilise when needed is never a bad thing. Look forward to seeing how it develops!

  8. kotch2010 says:

    Helen what a lovely post. Yes I recall our twitter connection , our meeting at LearnX Melbourne and our partnership with our two organisations in trying to make a difference to our staff and share our work. You also kindly undertook to provide a Twitter 101 session for our staff, which although was not very highly supported, it is still spoken about by those that did attend. Your idea of a 3rd Place is great idea and I for one Helen will be there all the way with you – let’s make this network a winner !!

  9. Exactly, you’re spot on! I was sitting at a cafe having breakfast with my dad last week and out of the blue he says, “you know, you can have all the technology in the world to cut your costs and make things go faster and cheaper but really, the company that masters the true face-to-face connection is the one that will always win out.” Maybe it’s a sign of the times that we are simply doing what comes natural to us.

  10. Nick says:

    We may be connecting through the net all around the world, Helen, however, meeting face-to-face is still a preferred way to interact with people one esteems and admires. It’s just human, isn’t it?

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