August 7, 2013 by

Confused Enough to Learn?

Will RichardsonWill Richardson, author of “Create Your PLN: 6 Easy Steps,” which appears in the summer digital-only issue of Educational Leadership, explains how we can experience even greater learning in our personal learning networks.

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion.

—Margaret Wheatley

Although personal learning networks (PLNs) play a crucial role in modern learning, it’s not quite as easy as “find other people from around the world who share your passions and get connected.” That’s a starting point, but PLNs are much more complex than that. In fact, I’m not sure that most people (including myself) fully understand the nuances of globally networked learning quite yet. We’ve only been doing this for about a decade or so, you know.

So, when author/philosopher Margaret Wheatley suggests that confusion is a key ingredient to change, I say, “Sign me up.” PLNs still confuse me on many levels. But that confusion motivates me to learn more about how to make the most of the many millions of potential teachers and learners the web has brought to my doorstep. The opportunities are great, but the challenges are many.

The challenge I struggle with more than any other is the one dealing with diversity. Not so much in gender, race, or age, although I’m fully aware of how many of my networks lean heavily on the white and educated. I’m more concerned with diversity of opinions. If we don’t interact with people who disagree with our world view, we end up living in an intellectual bubble, which—especially in education—is not a good thing.

Here’s Wheatley again:

If you’re willing to be disturbed and confused, I recommend that you begin a conversation with someone who thinks differently than you do. Listen as best you can for what’s different, for what surprises you. Try and stop the voice of judgment or opinion. Just listen. At the end of this practice, notice whether you learned anything new. Notice whether you developed a better relationship with the person you talked with. If you try this with several people, you might find yourself laughing in delight as you realize how many unique ways there are to be human.

Wheatley wasn’t writing specifically in the context of the online interactions we’re swimming in now, but her words relate nonetheless. So if you’re willing to be “disturbed and confused,” how are you engaging with those who think differently? Being able to answer that question will lead you to even greater learning in your PLN.