Is your PLN too big?

I have a friend Ed who invites educators to chat with him through our pen pal networks.  The conversation is deep, but sometimes the viewpoint is too similar.  A few hundred people will join in and say essentially the same thing.  It's not that I learn anything different, but that I get a new vocabulary for the nuances of what I already believe.

I also have about a hundred plogs that I read.  I get the journal updates and flip through stacks of paper.  Sometimes I hold my binder and it feels heavy.  Pages go unread and I feel guilty.  I scan them quickly, attempting to extract a new idea.  Extract.  I'm pulling apart another's thoughts with reckless abandon, clear-cutting the nuances of language in my pursuit of knowledge.

I'm holding my heavy binder one morning when Mr. Brown walks in.  "How many pages are in that thing?" he asks.

"I subscribe to over a hundred plogs?"

"I admire you.  I can't read that many.  I stick to ten."

"What about developing your PLN?" I ask him.

"I'd rather have a deep conversation with five to ten teachers than try and speed-talk in a crowded room of a hundred.  I'm much more of a wallflower."

"Don't you feel that you are missing something?"

"Yes, but I would be missing something if I had a hundred plogs that I read.  The difference is that, when I read ten plogs, I know the people.  I've shared a pint with most of them.  Our conversations go deeper.  Sure, I miss out on learning the latest pencil developments, but that's a small sacrifice for depth."

"Can't you just subscribe to more and read less?"

"More options don't always mean better choices.  I'll stick to the tiny community I have and limit my numbers deliberately. I do the same with books.  I read about a book a month and I subscribe to only one education journal.  I keep my PLN small on purpose."

It has me wondering if maybe my PLN is too big.  Perhaps I need to step back a little from the crowded room and move closer to sharing a pint.


  1. My PLN is too big, my CLASS ENROLLMENT and SCHOOL STAFF are too big, but what of that? I cannot read it all either and just like you I experienced some angst over that. I was distracted over the weekend and spent less time keeping up. I see 233 items in my Google Reader. That includes suggested readings scribbled on paper scraps people keep leaving on my desktop. Just like you, I won't get to them all. I stopped worrying about it and I won't stop adding to the list soon. Some of the people I follow are very prolific. Most are far less so. Like everyone, I flip through the pages scanning for something new, or something said better. I have such thoughts, so many beliefs, and I rarely seem to articulate them well. My own plog is a place to aggregate my philosophy of education. Your friend Ed articulates a small-town attitude, live in a close community where you know everyone. Keep it snug. Been there, done that, almost shriveled away. If you live in a city you are surrounded by a mass of swirling strangers. You ignore the mass as you live in your immediate neighborhood. Occasionally someone new catches your attention. Its all good.

    I share your concern about the sameness of the comments. This is one factor leading me to wonder if I follow too many people. We are not really all the same, but we were drawn together by some shared beliefs. Knowing others who share our views is essential but are we growing?

    I wonder if we need to join anti-PLNs too. Attend to the voice of the others. Those educators and stakeholders passionately arguing for the things we devalue. I would gladly add another 248 items to my Reader list if they challenged my beliefs effectively.

    My only concern with your mass of blog reading is the incredible waste of paper. I've stopped reading newspapers because I feel guilty about all the waste paper represented by the pages I never read. Wouldn't it be nice if you could do it all without the waste paper? I guess we will have to wait for the bright future to solve that problem.

  2. I notice I began the comment with 233 items in reader and ended it with 248, good grief!

  3. The paper is indeed a concern. Some day, in another century, we can be mostly paper free and be entirely dependent on energy. Then we can live entirely off of coal and oil and we won't have any ecological disasters as a result. Right? Please tell me in your century of technological progress that you won't have environmental disasters based upon your use of electricity.

  4. Virtual grouping will be a very interesting subject for years to come. I think the best place to start is "The Rule of 150"

    I first heard of this rule in Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point." The rule is, people work best in groups of about 150. The group is big enough where there are enough people to fill every need of the group but small enough where everyone still sees people as individuals in a group. There is a sense of accountability towards the group, because the group is not just a group, it's Bill, Steve, Pam, Joe, Cathy, Ann etc etc.

    People's behavior starts to change once they are in a group larger than 150. You start looking at your group as a group and not as individual people in a group. Your behavior will be selfishly driven because you don't see any individuals holding you accountable to your function in the group. Ultimately, in order to keep the group working, there needs to be a formal hierarchy with ridged boundaries.

    However, I don't know how the rule of 150 would work with a PLN. PLN's are primarily based in the virtual. The 150 rule is based on groups in the physical.

    My guess would be, that number is reduced. What could take 5 minutes of "getting to know you time" in the physical could take days virtually. And quite honestly, most of us don't the time to commit days to get to know someone.

    In addition, virtual groups aren't like blocks. There aren't finite boundaries that separates one group from the next. Virtual groups are more amoeba like.

    Take Twitter for example. There is nothing box like about Twitter. It's a bleeding mess as far as organization goes. So it's hard to figure out where that magical 150 starts and ends. So the rule becomes hard to manage.

    I also don't think sticking to 10 Pint Pals is necessarily helpful either. Yes the conversation goes deeper, but you are stuck with the same 10 points of view in every discussion. You really impair your chances of having that "Ohh wow, I never would thought of that" moment for which every educator lives.

    So there has to be something in the middle. For me, I try to keep the people I follow at 100. I drop people who don't tweet, or I don't find interesting anymore, or if I am at the point of glazing over their posts. Chances are, if there is anything worth looking at, someone in my PLN will retweet it.

    It's working so far, but I'm sure there are better ways to do it.