My PLN Can Beat Up Your PLN

The notion of a personal learning network (PLN) is being pushed pretty heavily these days. In fact, there are some that claim all educators must have a PLN.

On some levels, this makes little sense to me because every teacher I know has a PLN though maybe not in the context of being dominated by social media. But I get it. I see many people breaking free of the isolation (physical and mental) that is all too common in many schools, which is often in the form of a desire to connect with other like minded individuals.

I found this to be  true when I was student teaching and met frequently with other student teachers at night. I found this to be  true when I was teaching in a rural school and connected with educators via list-servs. I find this to be  true today because I am the only administrator in my building with instructional technology duties and I have deepened my PLN through social media.

For all the positives that have long come with having a PLN and the great advantages to adding social media pieces to deepen and broaden one’s connections, there is a side that few like to discuss: tunnel vision.

It disheartening to see the level in which egocentric thinking can become acceptable and reinforced by the “PLN” effect.

Dr. Richard Paul defines egocentric thinking as the belief “in our intuitive perceptions [as an objective and intellectual look at life]  however inaccurate” and letting that thinking guide our decision-making.

Call me cynical but I am always on guard for egocentric thinking and the my PLN can beat up your PLN tone. For better or worse, I am quick to dismiss anything or anyone I’m reading, watching, and listening to if I see egocentric thinking start to dominate. But, I know that I’m easily a victim of thinking this way myself in all facets of my PLN, online and face to face, and I’m always working to be the critical thinker — sometimes to a fault that makes me seem abrasive.

It is why I use Paul’s five standards when engaged in reading, writing, or communicating in my PLN:

  1. Innate Egocentrism “It’s true because I believe it”
  2. Innate Sociocentrism “It’s true because we believe it” (echo-chamber concept?)
  3. Innate Wish Fulfillment “It’s true because I want to believe it”
  4. Innate Self-Validation “It’s true because I have always believe it”
  5. Innate Selfishness “It’s true because it is in my selfish interest to belief it”

Think about your conversations of late in your PLN. How much is egocentric thinking involved and maybe even supported/reinforced? How are you guarding against this? How are you growing as a critical thinker not an egocentric thinker? How do you work to see the healthy and problematic sides of a PLN? Is there a time when egocentric thinking is beneficial? When you promote a PLN, do you help people to understand how to work through the problems?


Paul, R. (1999). The Miniature guide to critical thinking: Concepts and tools. The Foundation for Critical Thinking.

(Image: tunnel vision, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from zakgollop’s photostream)


  1. Great writing. Very good things to keep in mind to help keep yourself in check. I think it is very important any chance we can to open up more understanding of our unconscious self as stated in the Johari Window.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kyle. Well done on bringing in Johari’s Window to this piece. It is perfect addition for this discussion!

  2. Ryan,
    I have had the tunnel vision discussion again and again over the last few years. We tend to follow and interact with people who think like us. We feel better about ourselves when we write a blog post or send out a tweet and numerous people are quick to tell us how brilliant, right, and wonderful we are. But as good as all of that ego stroking makes us feel it doesn’t do a darn thing to help us grow intellectually. It is easier to interact with people who agree with our point of view because we like to avoid conflict. However, all this does is create one big echo chamber that just reinforces what we already believe to be true.

    I finally took a stand on a very controversial issue on my blog last night. I knew it would cause some people to push back pretty hard. I also knew people would probably take a few shots at me, but I knew in the long run it would be worth it because it would help me gain a new perspective and hopefully allow me to develop a better understanding of the issue.

    For the longest time I used to be the first one to jump onto the newest bandwagon because that was what the “A-Listers” (I hate that term!) were promoting at the moment. I have made a conscious decision to make decisions based on common sense and what will work for my students at my school. I have also tried very hard to remember that just because something works well for me does not mean it will work for everyone.

    Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts.

    • @Beth

      Thanks for contributing your thoughts. There is a lot of strong thoughts coming out in your comment, and I was particularly drawn to how the ego stroking does little for growth and that there is a return to the practitioner pieces NOT what A-listers claim is best.

      I am personally one that won’t read or watch the A-Listers that can’t provide me examples of where “their” ideas are happening in places they’ve worked. I don’t want them to give me examples they gathered from Twitter or blogs. I want to see their ideas in action where they’ve personally worked.

      Great thoughts!

  3. Thanks for this thoughtful post. My PLN tends to shift around a bit depending on the project I’m focused on at the moment. Some of them are online; some are on-site.

    Yes, the parochial idea of trumpeting one’s PLN in order to one-up somebody else is just silly, but I’ve seen it. How does that help students or one’s own teaching?

    The biggest advantage of developing a PLN is the fact that we can go beyond the walls of our schools in order to gain expertise and support. Those who are mandated to use the PLC format need to also develop a PLN. With all due respect to the folks assigned to be on a PLC with me, my PLN is far more productive. In some situations, they are the same people, but we are more productive when we are in PLN mode rather than in PLC mode.

    I’ve now used up my daily quota of acronyms. Thanks again.


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