Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Curious Relationship between Ownership & Networks

Networks are about connecting, sharing, hosting, and accessing. They are not about hoarding, controlling and limiting. Given that - can a network be owned? Are ownership and networks mutually incompatible concepts? If networks cannot be owned, then what is the meaning of 'personal' in the term, personal learning network?

I think personal refers to participation, nurturing, guiding, building, tending to . . . all verbs rather than nouns. A personal learning network is a verb at heart! The closest a PLN comes to a noun is the other people in the network; people who actively,  “guide your learning, point you to learning opportunities, answer your questions, and give you the benefit of their own knowledge and experience.” – (Tobin, 1998


  1. I like your thinking on this Maureen...and I believe you've convinced me; whilst you can activate, create, cultivate and develop your personal learning network, 'ownership' of it does not really compute - a network is just a number of relationships or connections. You can't 'own' that. Thanks for your thoughts, Maureen!

  2. Tanya, this is a big one for me. I have a whole theory that as a society we have moved back to an epistemology of networks and live, multi-directional links where individual choice rather than ownership is in an evolutionary process of becoming our main reference point. A view that saw the world as an ecologically interrelated network was, for the most part, lost when humans discovered writing and recording and we started to see things as being linear sequential. Power, control and ownership became markers of wealth.
    The Internet, open sourcing, sharing, relating, accessing and concepts of environmental stewardship, are redefining how we know what we know and the actions we need to take. Research on the brain, quantum physics, chaos theory, connectivism . . . it all points to a fundamental shift in our thinking. I don't believe that ownership is even a relevant term when considering PLNs. We don't own our PLN and we don't not own them!
    The shift is so big that it is hard to wrap our minds around it and of course we are in a huge time of transition - all of us are struggling to understand the emerging future. As thought leaders who are grappling with the conceptual essence of what the new world will look like and how it will operate I think it is important to take the lead in understanding that when we start talking about ownership we have likely not shifted into the new paradigm.
    I could go on and on but I would be interested in feedback.

    1. This blew my mind the first time I read it and I've been sitting on it for days hoping to digest it. I'm reading it again, and it still blows my mind. I love how big you're thinking (PLNs as part of a fundamental evolutionary shift in our society) and I'm absolutely intrigued by your ideas.
      I can definitely see what you're saying about ownership.
      The other bits actually make sense to me too (why I'm intrigued!) and I would really love to hear the whole theory and how you see the full spectrum of ideas connecting. But I think it would have to be in a real life conversation. It's just too damn big for a written exchange! Only problem is that you seem to be on the other side of the world. (Seriously: look me up if you're ever in Australia!!!).

  3. If PLNs cannot be owned, then do you think that your employer can rightly demand that you provide a list of the people who are in your personal/professional learning network?

  4. PLNs are not static, they move and morph, so I don't think there is a definitive list that would accurately represent "a list of the people who are in your personal/professional learning network". But that is a bit of a facile answer.
    A PLN IS all about sharing not hoarding.The Twitter list of those you follow and those that follow you is already an open book. I also think that we all need to be aware that once we commit to anything digitally it becomes part of our story and that we have no control over who sees it and who does not. If you don't want something known, don't go digital in the first place. I operate on the assumption that anything I publish or link to has the potential to be known by my current or future employer (whether I like it or not). Ideally I don't think my employer should be asking for my PLN connections but at the same time I assume that my employer would not have too much trouble discovering any of them independently.

  5. When I say that I don't think my employer should be asking for 'my' PLN connections it is tied to feelings that I do not own the connections. I do have a relationship with the people (nodes) in 'my' network . . . but I do not own them and I have an interest in the ideas and opinions (edges) expressed within the network that I interact with but that does not mean I endorse all views expressed. I do learn from 'my' network and it is that learning and the actions I take in response that I need to 'own' and take personal responsibility for. I am willing to be accountable for my take on the network that I have built as a resource for 'my' learning.

  6. You've given us a bit to think about Maureen and I admit, I'm wrestling with it all. For me PLNs are about the relationships between members and learning from my PLN. I think that my uncomfortable-ness is perhaps around a (perceived) change in access once organisations become involved.
    Sharing is a big part of a PLN and while you can’t control the level of sharing of others, I find that I learn (and think more) by sharing and contributing. If you hoard information you’ll probably still get some benefit from your network but you’re essentially working in isolation which seems at odds with the idea of a network.
    I also agree that if we didn't provide the information to our employer about our PLN, they probably could find it out...

  7. Thanks for the post. It was very thought provoking. As well as pondering if a PLN can be 'owned' (yikes, by your employer!!!), I especially liked the idea that we're returning to an ecologically interrelated network. Probably why I waiver between seeing things as a network and a rhizome. Thanks