As I have been cultivating my personal and professional learning networks online since the 2004-05 school year, I struggle with actually seeing online spaces as anything other than a learning network. The 15 years in the interim have so deeply engrained how I interact with connected learning, it has ceased to be novel or even, sometimes, observable. In fact, it is so pervasive in my asking of questions or responding to others online that I struggle to see how other people use the web as anything other than a networked learning environment. And yet, I am continually reminded of the fact that people do not see themselves as nodes to receive and send, as individuals who can reciprocally share ideas or build upon what has come before.
Whether this is because they are only consumers (or Visitors) within this environment, or because they have never had the pleasure of deep connection through textual communication or animated GIF-based discourse, I find that most often others do not see that the hyperlinks that hold the World Wide Web together could, in fact, support their next step in their own learning process, or could provide their next iteration of self within a network of amazing connections.
And yet, I can only speak to my own experience.
And that experience says that anytime I respond to a tweet, I am talking to a real person and building a relationship. Every time I post to this blog, I am doing so on the open web and I am making it easier for someone else to learn more to create in the future.
Sometimes I wish it were easier to show that a network exists.
Then people would not feel as isolated as they do. They would not feel like an individual in a vast sea of information that is overwhelming and far too easily influenced by companies and organizations that are not interested in social justice or empathy. They would see themselves supported by “the net” that catches me every single time I don’t know what I’m doing.
This is the network that I have cultivated over the last decade and a half, and it embraces me and has my back every time I want to try something new. But, that doesn’t change the fact that even though I feel the network of support, others cannot. They cannot see the relationships that I have built or the ways in which I use Twitter or blogs to build them. Unless I make them visible, everyone will continue to assume they are alone trying to do this. They will not understand that a network is available to them at all hours of the day at a moments’ notice.
But, what is the best way to make my network visible?
Is it in using tools like TAGS?
I don’t think so. That tool is great for visualization but not explanation. It doesn’t help someone to know “the how” or “the why”. The best way to show a network and the power of that network is through telling the stories of what a network feels like and what a network can do.
What a network feels like:
- Conversations that never have to end.
- An ever expanding group of friends.
- A party that you get to jump into at any time and you never have to feel bad about leaving early or coming late.
- Taking the lid off of your brain and pouring in to all of the synapses an energy that can connect things together for you, connections that you had no idea were possible.
- Holding hands and feeling the warmth of the other person reflected back to you in your unique pulses going back and forth.
What a network can do:
- Make a real life event (or series of events) into a massive success.
- Create videos within a community of practice.
- Fund projects that impact learners.
- Write documents and make presentations.
- Write books.
A network can also just make me happy. (Not sad and angry, as many others claim of social media.)
And, just because I can’t always see it, does not mean it isn’t there. I need to make sure I remember that and help others to remember that too.