I recognize that a lot has been written about PLNs and echo chambers already, but some recent dialogue on Twitter got me thinking lately…

My blog posts are often inspired by what comes my way from the people I follow on Twitter and what they share – be it from blog posts, news links, or thoughts tweeted.  I also learn and reflect a lot from comments from others on blog posts and in the twitter conversations, whether I am participating directly or not.  As people share their thoughts and experiences from their contexts, I can learn and reflect about my own context, decisions, and actions.  Twitter and other social media platforms also create spaces for meetings of the minds.  I see agreement and disagreement, as well as many ideas challenged and debated in the online spaces where I participate.  I am also a member of a moderating team of an online education forum and I find the interaction and participation online intriguing.

Sometimes I worry about the time I commit to online interaction, but I really am there because of people.  I think we continue to always learn from and with one another – whether in person or online.  If we can keep clear about our purpose in that, I think online connections have a huge potential to enhance learning from others, as well as awareness of the things we want to be more aware of in order to grow personally and professionally.

Is my online network my “PLN”?  I don’t know – I am not sure there is a consistent definition of such.  Purposes for such networks may vary and change from individual to individual and over time.  Do I feel like I am in an echo chamber or too much group think online?  Sometimes, but mostly not.  Do I converse more with like-minded people?  Yes, probably often.  I don’t think we could be motivated to interact online if we didn’t find this – just as we do in many face to face situations.  Online spaces may allow us more control to block out opposing voices, but the significance of that may depend on what purpose we use these spaces for.

If one sets up a PLN for specific resource sharing within shared and similar roles, a diverse network may not be as essential.  If one sets up a PLN to be a part of conversations for influencing change and practice, the collision with diverse voices and perspectives may be more essential.  But there is no perfect formula to this.  A deliberate attempt has to be made.  Sometimes I think we could create an echo chamber without realizing it.  Time constraints can lead us to create groups and lists organized in different ways or we follow certain threads of conversations  eg. a hashtag on Twitter.  We may follow and/or be a part of a diverse network, but not have time to read all that is shared, or what they share from their networks, which may also be diverse.  We may also be reluctant to share forward some viewpoints or topics for different reasons.  We may also worry about sharing too much (either content of our own or of others).  I appreciated a tweet by Marco Campana (@marcopolis) recently as he was signing off, “Remember, sharing is caring.”

It can also become easy to question and wonder where these online conversations and connections lead us, or what difference it makes.  Not everyone will experience the same interactions or be able to sustain them in the same way.  But opportunities are always possible when efforts are made.  Unless one actually participates in a committed way, it may be hard to understand what is being reciprocated.  It can seem like a few opinions get shared, and a few ideas get challenged and hashed around or reacted to – so then what?  What is the value?

I recognize and relate to the frequent concerns about echo chambers and the possible lack of diverse voices in networks, or shortcomings in how we interact with networks.  But I think it is important that we are sharing perspectives and raising voices in new ways, as well as connecting with those in decision-making roles that was not possible in the past.  Whether this is good, bad or pointless, it does mean something, if not many things.  Is participation in online forums and with social media allowing us to be included in what we have always wanted to be included in?  And lastly, are walls coming down, or new ones being built with online interaction?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenny-pics/3734424634/”>jenny downing</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photo pin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>