"No offense.....but who cares?"

Bluntly stated, and with almost comedic dead pan, that line was delivered during a session on Web 2.0 tools and Social Media that I was presenting at the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools Annual NCAIS TECH conference a few weeks ago. The attendee, a development professional, was clearly struggling with the conversation that morning as it turned toward personal learning networks and the role that social media tools, like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook play in the lives of those who have succumbed to the allure of these trees of knowledge.

In that moment I certainly could have gone in a variety of directions with that comment; either looking to dismiss the question or prove a point. Rather, I gently offered the analogy that personal learning networks are simply the best of what the six degrees of separation has to offer. And while I probably did not do it justice at the time as I've reflected on that day I've come to realize that that is exactly the proper  way to address the doubting  Thomas who has yet to come to grips with why people blog, tweet, or update walls.

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Why? If you stop to consider what it means to be part of a personal/professional learning network or as I prefer one’s “learning ecosystem”, you quickly realize that these ecosystems thrive because of four very distinct members. You have your contributors - who offer content, your connectors - who link people together, your lurkers - who take the knowledge and use it to better themselves without giving back and your casual passers-by – who fall between the contributors and lurkers. Without these four distinct and critical members any type of learning ecosystem would cease to exist and social media and P.L.N.’s are certainly no different.

Consider this; Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book The Tipping Point “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social skills.” The same holds true for learning ecosystems; where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole and without each individual member one’s own learning ecosystem would wither and die.

Therefore, the next time someone asks “who cares” when asking about social media and learning ecosystems make sure you tell them that while they might not, their best friend’s brother’s wife’s colleague’s sister just might find what you are talking about important to them. And if that’s the case make sure to remind them to pass it on…they just might make a difference.