The use of search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing for research is commonplace in today's online world. In fact, many of us go to these sites instantly when the need to find something first arises, be it something as trivial as finding out when a movie is playing, or as part of a multi-million dollar workplace project. These search engines have redefined how we find information, and quickly become the primary way in which many people perform research.
But not for me.
I still use these search engines for low-impact searches. However, when there is more consequence to my research, I am increasingly calling upon a different type of search engine for my research: my Personal Learning Network, or PLN. This is a network of individuals consisting of family, friends, coworkers, and professionals that I have built relationships with over a number of years. We interact and share through many mediums, with social media usually being the primary vehicle through which we connect.
In a world of ever-increasing search engine optimization, my personal learning network still delivers in ways that Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other search engine never can.
Google and search engines like it are very powerful. They can search millions of resources in the blink of an eye and deliver a list of resources that match the terms you search on. What they usually can’t do is frame that search around the deeper data of my personality, my career, my family, and my passions. There’s no search option available labeled “Tailor this search to” in which I can enter my name. If John Smith and I both search using the terms “Bank elearning”, we’re going to get the exact same response.
My Personal Learning Network enables me to get to information that is more tailored to my preferences, because they have a better understanding of the lens through which I am viewing the world. In addition, the interaction with my network enables me to provide one additional ingredient that is often lost in an online search: context. Search terms are just that, terms; context tells the story behind those terms, which makes the search much more powerful.
I have lost count of the amount of times I have reached out to my network with a question that I could have also researched via a Google search. In almost all of those cases, I have attained more useful information and references from my network than from the associated internet search. In many of those cases, the most valuable resources I was pointed to from my network never appeared in the results of my search engine query.
There is a direct correlation between the importance or weight assigned to the research I am doing, and the likelihood that I would reach out to my personal learning network first. The more weight I assign to the research, the more I will count on my PLN. They are the most reliable search engine I have.
In short, my network often provides the ‘big rocks’ of my research. They help my build the map and framework for the journey, and usually enable me to jump-start my research. From there I will likely use additional research through Google to fill in the additional gaps.
Of course, the quality of response you get from reaching out to your personal learning network depends on the quality of the network itself. In my case, my network has grown more powerful than I could ever have conceived years ago, and grown into something incredibly valuable to me. I nurture my network by participating in it. I suggest you do the same - you'll be glad you did.