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:
- Innate Egocentrism “It’s true because I believe it”
- Innate Sociocentrism “It’s true because we believe it” (echo-chamber concept?)
- Innate Wish Fulfillment “It’s true because I want to believe it”
- Innate Self-Validation “It’s true because I have always believe it”
- 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)