Making it social

In this section you’ll learn how to optimize your Personal Learning Network (PLN) by adding a social dimension. To optimize social networks, you’ll need to develop awareness of licensing concerns, effective syndication, social engagement, and awareness of privacy concerns.

In previous topics, you’ve learned what tools to use when you build your PLN and what to consider as you build it. This topic builds off of these concepts to give you a picture of what implementing and optimizing your PLN might look like. For examples of others’ PLNs, feel free to check out the topic PLNs in Action at any time.

Licensing content

In the topic “Build Your PLN,” you learned about Creative Commons (if you want to refresh your memory, why not go back and reread?).
These copyright issues come into play again when you share your PLN. One important thing to remember is that the way you share your PLN must be compatible with the content inside it. So for example, if everything in your PLN is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license, you can share your PLN however you like. On the other hand, if even a single item in your PLN uses a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, your PLN must be shared using a license with a NonCommercial aspect. To make this a little more clear, here’s a comprehensive chart:

This probably won’t be an issue for you, since you most likely won’t be using your PLN for commercial purposes. Nonetheless, it’s important that you’re aware of these issues, because even if it doesn’t affect how you share content, it affects how others share content around you.
It is in the spirit of Personal Learning Networks to share as openly and freely as possible. Creative Commons Attribution or Attribution-ShareAlike licenses might be best for your PLN, since it allows others to share and rework your PLN to better suit them and their PLN.

Your social network

Now that licensing’s out of the way, let’s take a look at how social networks work. In the topic Tools to construct your PLN, you learned that one function tools may have is to syndicate, that is, to let other people subscribe to your content.
Your social network lets you do two interrelated activities: syndicate and socialize. In doing one, you’re necessarily doing the other to some extent. Everything you share has an audience, and your audience can in turn respond to and reshare your content. Likewise, you are your social network’s audience, and you can respond to and reshare your network’s content.
You can think of it like a conversation. A conversation by definition is between two or more people. There’s a back-and-forth exchange of ideas, and the topics that have been discussed influence topics that will be discussed in the future. It’s the same way with social networks, especially when social networks are being used in your PLN.


In the topic Build your PLN, we touched on the subject of privacy. Just as it’s important to consider privacy to protect yourself, it’s equally important to protect the privacy of others. Always be conscious of what you reshare. Ask yourself:
Would this person want me to reshare this?
If I reshare, who will see it?
Never assume that just because someone posted something, it’s okay to reshare it. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reshare anything at all. In most cases, resharing is probably fine. What’s important is that you are conscientious and think about it.

Putting it together

When we put all these factors together, we get a cycle of sharing content between you and other users. Here’s a presentation that might help you understand.
Your social network is an integral part of your personal learning network. Without it, there would be no PLN. As Howard Rheingold said in his tips for PLNs, “it’s not just about knowing how to find experts, co-learners, but about exploration as invitation to serendipitous encounter.” When you share your PLN with others, you open yourself up to feedback and suggestions. Community allows learners to put their resources together to enrich their own PLNs and the PLNs of others.
Writer Howard Rheingold (@hrheingold) offers some tips on how to build up your social network for your PLN.
  • Explore — it’s not just about knowing how to find experts, co-learners, but about exploration as invitation to serendipitous encounter.
  • Search – Use Diigo, delicious, listorious, to find pools of expertise in the fields that interest you.
  • Follow candidates through RSS, Twitter. Ask yourself over days, weeks, whether each candidate merits continued attention
  • Always keep tuning your network, dropping people who don’t gain sufficiently high interest; adding new candidates
  • Feed the people you follow if you come across information that you suspect would interest them.
  • Engage the people you follow. Be polite, mindful of making demands on their attention. Put work into dialogue if they welcome it.
  • Inquire of the people you follow, of the people who follow you. But be careful. Ask engaging questions – answers shd be useful to others
  • Respond to inquiries made to you. Contribute to both diffuse reciprocity and quid pro quo

Responding to Rheingold, technologist Alan Levine (@cogdog) tweeted:

  • @hrheingold Also the fractal branching effect- when you find someone worth following, see who they follow, lather, rinse, repeat. #pln