Research has proven that Professional Learning Communities are one of the most powerful educational paradigms. The Professional Learning Community takes the individual teacher and hooks them into a network of their grade level or department level peers. This network, in turn, makes it possible for teacher to leverage the power of those present at the table to do more for students.
I have advocated that technology and other key drivers have created an environment in which individual Professional Learning Communities can be networked with, not only other Professional Learning Communities, but useful individuals such as specialists, district personnel, researchers, etc. I call this model the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative. The essence of the PNLC is that the “who” of potential members and collaborators is increased exponentially because of individual members networking through collaborative technology platforms, the “what.” Educators working together in the ongoing purpose of increasing student learning and achievement while sharing physical space, virtual space, or both simultaneously. The Professional Networked Learning Collaborative makes use of what network researchers call a “small world network.” Keith Sawyer, author of Group Genius, explains that small world networks consist of, “…many densely connected small groups with less strong connections.”
Technology Enabled Collaboration
How is that technology has changed collaboration so greatly? First, technology enables different types of relationships. Virtual relationships are now possible and have become commonplace outside of educational settings. Networks of all sorts (Facbebook, Ning, Twitter, etc.) webcams, Skype, etc. have changed the very definition of presence. Second, technology has changed who is part of the team. Team members can now be virtual. Members no longer tied to geographic limitation can provide input, ideas, and collaborate in real-time for any location on the globe. The Professional Networked Learning Collaborative enabled through technology expands the borders of membership to include specialist, consultants, district staff, etc as part of the team.
From Community to Network
The person is the portal to the network. The person is an autonomous communication and collaboration node. Each member can potentially leverage not only their network, but also the network of others who are in their network. This principle is known as Metcalfe’s Law. The number of potential connections between nodes grows more quickly than the number of nodes. The total value of the network where each node can reach every other node in the network grows with the square of the number of nodes. In other words, when PNLC members connect their networks, it creates more value than the sum of networks independently.
The essence of the PNLC is that the “who” of potential members and collaborators is increased exponentially because of individual members networking through collaborative technology platforms, the “what.”
As sociologist Barry Wellman said, “Each person operates his networks to obtain information, collaboration, orders, support, sociability, and a sense of belonging”
So, just at the individual educator has become networked, so too must the Professional Learning Community. And when a PLC becomes networked, it becomes something different. The PLC becomes the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative.
PNLC members will fluidly move between the physical and virtual networks to communicate, collaborate, and share ideas, data, strategies, and information. Each member being a portal or node to their individual network makes the PNLC exponentially stronger, knowledgeable, and wise.
PNLC are able to maximize individual members’ networks to the advantage of the whole.
Networks have now become so much a part of our lives that physical presence is no longer necessary for a member to “present.” Howard Rheingold calls this “presence of those who are absent.” PNLCs can call on a district specialist, consultants, teachers, and staff who are in different physical locations (even different time zones) and who will be able to collaborate, contribute, cooperate, and share just as if they were present physically.
As anthropologist Mizuko Ito puts it, “As long as people participate in the shared communications of the group, they seem to be considered by others to be present.”
Virtual participation = presence = collaboration = results
But why is this important you might ask. It's the social learning enterprise.
This excellent video from Internet Time Alliance (via Jane's Learning Pick of the Day) provides an excellent explanation of what the social learning enterprise is all about. The social learning enterprise is a core concept and driver of the need to move from PLC to PNLC.The PNLC is able to best harness the power of "wirearchy" and if, as this video states, 90% of the knowledge we need to do our work is not in our heads, the PNLC model is able to leverage the power of the network to find the best source of knowledge through high levels of cognitive diversity.