How My Personal Learning Network Sent Me Over The Edge

21 Oct

A few weeks ago, there was a comment made in class by a student who worried she’d be frustrated in other classes by not being allowed to use her Personal Learning Network (PLN).  That comment confused me because I think of my PLN as first and foremost my personal network that I can tap into for anything at any time.  The people in my PLN come from all walks of life and from all walks of my life.  They are my friends, family, coworkers (past and present), fellow students, roommates from college, marathon training buddies, dog rescuers, educators, consultants, friends of friends, neighbors… okay, you get the point.  Much the way we read about how Suzanne used her PLN to complete coursework, find an upholsterer to fix the sofa the puppy chewed, and score a photo of the Galapagos for her daughter’s school project, there isn’t much I do without tapping into the resources of my PLN.

For example, last December I attended a retirement party for one of my bosses at SunTrust.  A friend and former colleague introduced me to a gentleman from the Richmond office of Special Olympics, and we got talking about one of their annual fundraising events called Over the Edge.  The premise is that if you raise a minimum of $1,000 for Special Olympics, you earn the honor of rappelling down one of the tallest (maybe the tallest) buildings in downtown Richmond.  Not only had I never rappelled, I’d never raised $1,000 for anything, but that evening a seed was planted.  I kept that gentleman’s business card on my desk, and six months later, I made the decision that I was up for the challenge.

I decided to use Facebook as my primary tool to get the word out that I had finally lost my mind… I mean the message that I wanted to raise $1,000 for Special Olympics and be able to rappel down my former workplace.  While not all my friends are on Facebook, the majority are, and so it seemed the best way to blast out a request along with a link to my fundraising page.  Additionally, I sent a few emails and posted tweets about my endeavor, but the height of my fundraising was before Twitter really began to click for me, so I wasn’t expecting much from that effort.

To my surprise, I reached my fundraising goal in exactly one month.  Apparently there are a lot of people in my PLN who wish to see me step off a high building!  I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing.  I was a little nervous putting out such an ambitious request for donations for something other than my beloved Golden Retriever rescue group, but the first donation came from the president of the rescue!  In fact, the single largest group of donors were people I knew primarily though the rescue group.  Results of my fundraising as they breakdown in my PLN (by primary association) were:

  • People I know through the Golden Rescue: 7
  • Friends: 6
  • Current Coworkers: 3
  • Family: 2
  • Former Coworkers: 2
  • Other: 2
  • VCU classmate: 1
  • Undergrad connection: 1

My “Other” connections included a friend of my parents as well as a friend of my college volleyball coach who doesn’t know me at all but made a donation because my Coach promoted my fundraising page on her Facebook page.  True network in action!

Upon reaching my goal, reality set in — I was going to rappel down a really tall building!  Once again, my PLN came to my rescue, and I discovered that I know several people who are avid climbers.  Tremendous gratitude goes out to my fellow M.Ed. classmate Lindsey for taking the time to meet me at Peak Experiences and introduce me to climbing and rappelling.  Without that, I would not be able to say that this moment pictured below was when I stopped being nervous last Friday.  Yup, that’s me on the right, perched on the edge of the SunTrust building in downtown Richmond, some 400 feet above street level.

Over the Edge

And this is me — smiling — passing the windows on the 20th floor.

Passing the 20th Floor

An unexpected outcome of this latest installment of my insanity is that through this event, I was able to expand my PLN by making connections with other rappellers as well as strengthening some weak ties in my PLN who have now seen a different side of me and have become a more active part of my network.

I would say this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – except I want to do it again!  I hope my PLN will continue to expand so I can continue to meet the donation challenge for Special Olympics and be rewarded with the experience of rappelling again… and again.You can do anything!

To tie this all back to my journey through learning, I hope that this story illustrates that your PLN is truly at your disposal for any new learning experience you desire and that assistance may come from a subset of your network that you had not expected.  Anything that you do can be an opportunity to use and grow your PLN.


Posted by on October 21, 2012 in ADLT 641


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12 responses to “How My Personal Learning Network Sent Me Over The Edge

  1. boundlesscognizance

    October 21, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Wow! That looks like quite a feat! I am very impressed. I have climbed in my past (just at an indoor climbing place) but nothing like this! I love how you connected your PLN to this!

    So now the question is, do you think you will rapple again?

  2. jshill2

    October 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    This is an excellent blog post, Joanne! Wonderful connections here. I am with you 100%– I think the opportunities for learning are limitless and available in places where we least expect. And when I think of my own PLN, I include not only the technologies that I use, but also pretty much every interaction that I have with every person in my life. It’s ALL learning. 🙂

  3. bwatwood

    October 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    When I think of PLN, I think of networked connections…but maybe “safety net” is more appropriate for stepping off a building! Well done…for taking the risk, for raising the money, and for hitting the ground on your own terms! 🙂

  4. MelKoch

    October 22, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Joanne, awesome post! First, I am SO PROUD OF YOU for rappelling down that building. I would pee my pants. Second, I loved your detailed description of how your PLN got you to that goal. You are really inspiring to me, because of your death defying feats and how you embrace your PLN and social media.

  5. Lindsey

    October 23, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    What an amazing adventure to share! Of course I love this post but also like how you tie it back to one of our earlier readings, the PLN vignette. Once again your story speaks to the power of Facebook and social media…imagine trying to disseminate information about this event 10 years ago!

  6. Wally Wallace

    October 27, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Your experience serves as a great illustration of how digital media connects people in ways which can make a difference. Think about it – PLN have probably existed for years but social media proliferates them in ways which once could not have been imagined. Great story of what must have been an amazing experience!

  7. lsniestrath

    October 28, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Congratulations! This is something that I never could have done. I woke up thinking about you last Saturday after seeing your photo on Twitter. I wondered how your mother was doing after seeing you?

    It’s amazing how networks begin to spin when we least expect them do so. I have found the people have been the strongest networks for me, however, the weak links that I am making through the internet are interesting to watch unfold.

    I am convinced that volunteer work can produce some amazing results where you least expect them. I have one in the works right now that I hope proves to be a positive professional move for me.

  8. Joanne Even

    October 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    Thanks all for your kind words. It was an amazing experience made possible by a great network of people I’ve amassed over the years. And Laurie, Mom did much better than even she expected and was able to take some great pictures instead of burying her head in Dad’s shoulder as she claimed she would do. I think Mom, Dad, and I each learned a little bit more about how brave we can be. “The spiritual journey involves going beyond hope and fear, stepping into unknown territory, continually moving forward. The most important aspect of being on the spiritual path may be to just keep moving.” ~ Pema Chondron

  9. rhettwilcox

    October 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    First of all, I think you’re crazy (or just gutsy and the coolest person I know). Second, I like how you’ve described your PLN to include not only your friends, family, and coworkers, but also associates of associates. It truly is a network that connects you to others for both learning and communication. Amazing to think how much harder it would have been to raise donation money thirty years ago, or at least the time and effort it would have taken to reach out to everyone you describe in your PLN.

    • Joanne Even

      October 30, 2012 at 10:55 pm

      Wow… the coolest person you know? I don’t think anyone has ever described me that way!

  10. K Tucker (BoeBear)

    October 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Congrats on another successfull adrenaline-rush!
    Your blog definitely reveals some of the benefits of the Personal Learning Network – you used it to network with new people in your personal endeavor, and you learned while doing it! I think that a PLN can be a seemingly ethereal entity, but once you find it, once you ground it in experience, you can see the concrete results it provides.

    • Joanne Even

      October 30, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      The funny thing is… we’ve always had our PLN, we just didn’t know it had a cool name.


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