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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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?