The personal learning network for educators
The title of this post probably carries more weight with educators who use Twitter as a key component of a professional learning network than those who don’t. At this point in time there are more educators not using Twitter professionally, than those who do. The “why” of that is what perplexes me to no end.
I recently watched an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers. His book sits unread on my shelf, but, inspired by what I saw in the interview, I am hoping to get to it soon. This caused me to consider where we are going with this idea of the connected educator. A number of education thought leaders have been promoting the idea of connected educators and professional learning networks for years, and although more educators have taken up the cause, we have not yet bowled over the profession with connectedness.
The keystone of connectedness is shared learning through collaboration. Collectively we learn and achieve more than we do in isolation. This has been true forever, but the factor that has moved collaboration to the forefront is technology. Today’s technological tools for collaboration now enable it globally, timelessly, and virtually endlessly. The key factor in good and effective collaboration is connecting with right sources. On Twitter who you follow is always more important than who follows you. It is all about connecting with those who have the most to offer.
According to Gladwell in his interview he cited research indicating that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill or profession. In education terms that would be a teacher with a career of ten years, or an Administrator who was so for ten years. Connecting with educators with that amount of experience in large numbers and in specific academic areas is not easy in many schools. On the Internet however, these connections are more easily obtained.
Contact with experts in education is also made more easily through Social Media. Before Twitter I met a handful of authors at book signings or keynoting at conferences. Today, I contact, and converse with many education authors on a daily basis. There is something to be said for the number of authors created as a result of social media connectedness. Twitter is micro blogging. Many educators Tweet for a while before they find a need, and ability to blog in real terms. That step exposes them to their profession in a way that validates their efforts, ideas, and philosophy, which leads them to authoring a book. This exact path has been taken by at least two dozen of my educator connections. Many of these educators have been elevated, by their followers, and fellow educators, to the “rank” of education thought leader.
With all of this positive connectedness, one would expect that all educators would be jumping on board to connect their own collaboration cars to the train. Well, I have been an actively connected educator since about 2007, and I am still waiting for that fully loaded train to leave the station.
Having discussions about specific topics within education with educators can be very different depending on their amount of connectedness. Those actively connected educators seem to need less relevant background information in order to address a topic. Discussions with the unconnected educators often get bogged down in explanations and definitions before the discussion of the topic can even take place. BYOD and Flipping were connected topics months before they became mainstream. Being connected seems to support relevance because of the ongoing discussion being framed around education. These in-depth discussions may not be taking place the same way in the hallways, or faculty rooms of schools.
Adam Bellow recently asked me if I could estimate how many educators were actively connected. I told him that that would be difficult number to figure out, but I would try. There are millions of people on Twitter, but we were only concerned with the actively participating educators. I looked at two areas where educators hang, Education Ning Communities, and Twitter. I used membership numbers on Nings and Follow numbers on Twitter. The largest Education Ning communities do not exceed 75,000 members, and many educators belong to multiple Ning communities. When it comes to educators following educators, I considered the followers of leading education thought leaders, and not celebrities. Sir Ken Robinson for example is a celebrity followed by more than just educators, but even he only has 186,000 followers. Of the education thought leaders followed by most educators, I could find none exceeding 70,000. That would lead me to believe that actively connected educators would range between 200-300,000 educators. That is but a calculated guess.
The part that really concerns me and led me to my original question is the estimates of total American educators. I looked at the last census numbers for educators and came up with a number of 7.2 Million. I have read posts that claimed 11 million to be an accurate number for education employees. The definition of educator might account for this disparity. Even with the most conservative numbers in those estimates, I struggle to understand why only 300,000 educators of 7.2 million would choose to be connected. Are the education thought leaders of the Twitterati really undiscovered progressive leaders of education, or outliers to be overlooked and ignored by the data readers who are determining the pathway for education today?
Who is determining that pathway? Could it be that the media that we as educators have chosen to voice our ideas and concerns is a media not yet discovered by our colleagues? Could the relevance we count on in the 21st century be dependent on a technology not yet accepted by the very people we depend on to support relevance in teaching and learning? Should we have Administrators mandate compliance? Who will mandate compliance from the Administrators?
The idea of connectedness and collaboration should be a topic discussed in every school in this country and beyond. It is of global interest to connect educators. If we want to educate our kids, we need to first educate our educators, and that must be an ongoing process in our ever-changing, tech driven society. Life long learning is not just a goal for kids in school. It should be a goal for everyone.