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Welcome to the fourth step in our free professional learning series on building your PLN.

Now you know what a PLN is, and how people use Twitter to build one, we’re going to discuss ways of making time to build your PLN.

In this step you will explore:

  1. How PLN development can be overwhelming
  2. Get some tips for building your PLN and avoiding being overwhelmed

Sarah Poling

This information was written by Sarah Poling who is passionate about finding and using technology as a motivator and time saver. 


When I started to learn best practices in educational technology to share with pre-service elementary teachers I just wanted to quit!

It was completely overwhelming to know where and how to start.

A family member and fellow educator said the most important thing to teach new teachers is to create a PLN.

So as any good educator does, I set out to figure out the best ways to create a PLN. Even that was overwhelming, so many choices, and all seemed so new, I started with twitter, perhaps the livefeed was part of my problem- my first tweet, tweets came so fast I couldn’t follow ANY threads of conversation.

Every time I started, I quickly found myself overwhelmed and closing my laptop. In some ways it felt like reading in a foreign language.

But as a lifelong learner, I knew I couldn’t just throw in the towel. I decided I needed a better plan to cope with being a digital immigrant who will be teaching digital natives.

fifteen minutes

I remembered reading, if you do anything for 15 minutes a day, you will be a leading expert in a few years. So I decided that would be my approach.

(Perhaps my inner teenager remembered the movie “What about Bob?” and the ‘babysteps’ theory)

I started with what I knew!

I emailed the one educational blog author that I had been reading in my daily inbox for one month, and asked her for help. She told me NOT to be overwhelmed that the information was coming at me like a firehose of information, and that no one can keep up with it, so just jump in and enjoy what I can gain, use and share. She also told me that twitter had hashtag chats, invited me to join #edchat or #ntchat, and to try and attend an online conference that weekend.

I attended a session on twitter and the presenter said he’s only been an active tweeter for 6 months, thus confirming my suspicion. I could do this in small bites and I could even know enough in a few months to TEACH it. I think that was my real fear, that not only did I want to develop my own PLN, but I wanted to be able to train others in all things social media. But as I took small steps, I was hooked. I would just do a few minutes a few times a week when I could find the time. I also wasn’t going to let anything new intimidate me.

One tool at a timeFrom there I just took one tool at a time. I started by reading more blogs and looking for people to follow on twitter. These went hand in hand, many great bloggers, tweet!.

Through my twitter friends and chats, I learned about edublog and the 30 day challenges. I also found the list of the top blogs from 2010, and saw when I tried to set up my own blog, I could see how new other people were to blogging.

I also had a theory that if I could just find people that have time to specialize in different areas and follow them, I would save myself tons of time, by finding people, like I do in real life who are kindred spirits but also ‘experts’ in things I can’t claim to be an expert in. I was amazed at how many experts there are out there, how fast I learned lingo, and how helpful everyone was.

This perhaps was my best ‘aha’ moment. I want to be the best at all that I do, but in this area, I could just look for the best, and use their ideas until I’m ready to share something great, I’m okay learning from others and appreciating their work.

My Tips for Building your PLN

Here are some tips for building your PLN while avoiding being overwhelmed:

Learning styles and personal preferences

Think about your learning styles, your natural preferences or comforts in the options of social media, and start with what you know. You already have parts of a PLN both in face to face life and on the Internet. Look for similar people, styles on the cloud.

Set a goal

I wrote myself a note and sent it to myself at the close of my academic semester using futureme.org. I included my goals and my game-plan to accomplish them.

Set a routine

Choose a time to do this daily or a few times a week. For me it was after the kids were in bed while DH and I were watching DVR and I could multitask where if I became absorbed in the media on the cloud, I could focus and if it was too much, I could just stop for the day and go back to watching my show.

Find Resources that Help

Find resources to help you organize and that will help you stretch. I joined the edublog 30 day challenge, on my newly created blog, I listed my reasons for blogging and my ed tech goals. I found livebinder and put the button in my toolbar to save resources I loved and wanted to be able to use. I also started a googlereader file and learned I could ‘google’ just in my reader so I never had to be afraid of not finding a great blog again. I didn these as they were comfortable to me, I did not overcommit, I jumped in little by little.

Decide what works best for you!

Realize not everything is going to work for you at once.I joined the blog challenge, but my blog is not one that I use yet, instead I focused on finding other established blogs, and trying to determine a niche or angle for my blog that will be helpful to me and others in my PLN. I admitted I’m not going to be the foremost resource on free tech for teachers, or which apps are the best for the ipad. I also realized that I don’t need to be. I have expertise to offer in different ways. Use trial and error to find the tools that fit you and help you grow.

Don’t force it

Be grateful for the help you are finding, don’t try and give back at first, just thank those who are sharing with you with a comment on their blog, a reply tweet, or an email complimenting their work. Soon enough you will be able to add to the conversation with strength, but don’t force it.

Your Task

Personal Learning Networks are all about sharing, collaborating, and learning from each-other. So here’s your chance to ask a question, comment, and get involved!

We’d like you to add your voice and ideas to our ongoing conversation about PLNs by undertaking one or more of these challenges:

  1. Stop and think what type of PLN do you already have, for me it was money saving blogs and christian life blogs that I ‘went to’ automatically every day. I already had a facebook feed that showcased some of the people I wanted to learn from. Figure out which areas are you drawn to: following the person on twitter, reading a facebook status, looking at a blog each day, or reading email every day.  Leave a comment on this post to tell us about your current PLN and what areas of developing a PLN you want to focus on.
  2. Figure out what is the best time to commit to your PLN development. I learned that I couldn’t do my late night research on twitter and things that were brand new to me. I had to try the new stuff when I wasn’t dead tired. New things I tackled for 15-30 minutes first thing in the morning or as a mid day break.  Let a comment on this post to share your ideas on how you will make time to build your PLN.
  3. Leave a comment to share your top tips that have helped you not get overwhelmed and helped get you started building a PLN.

Also feel free to leave a comment to ask any questions or share your tips


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  1. Like I commented on the other step, I really like the use of Classroom 2.0 for a more private, yet global, connection among educators for my PLN. I only have about an hour to devote to this, two days a week. Kind of like my workout schedule…

  2. In order to build my PLN I will dedicate about 15-30 minutes each evening after my children are in bed.

    • Bill Caldwell
  3. Sarah,
    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I agree that the biggest obstacle to building an excellent PLN can be time. In the business of life, it can be difficult to take time away from the people in our lives in exchange for online interaction on a networking site such as Twitter. I like your idea of setting aside a specific amount of time each day to spend a few minutes online. In this way, I can see your perspective of how using your networking time wisely can actually be a time-saver. My struggle is sticking to a time limit and not getting sucked in and feeling overwhelmed by all the good ideas and suggestions! However, your practical tips of taking one tool at a time and modeling your PLN after your personal interests and learning style were helpful. Thank you!

  4. A good read ! I do get overwhelmed sometimes as I am a perfectionist. In terms of my PLN building, I guess I actually started as a student in my home country; Pakistan. I was a member of SPELT ( Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers) and used to organize and attend workshops as a student. After completing my Masters in Applied Linguistics, I moved to Saudi Arabia and ever since then (That dates back to 2005) I have been teaching and learning everyday. I am member at large of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Association of Language Teachers, Riyadh Chapter, so I get to meet with other professionals in my field on a regular basis. My E- PLN journey officially started with the Edublogs Personal Teacher blog challenge. Now I try to tweet, RT, attend Webinars and participate in MOOCs . Recently I had so much fun attending the British Council’s first ever YouTube Live Stream seminar. The only problem I have been facing lately is, not been able to write a new post for my blog 🙁 I mean ideally, I should have been blogging to share all that I have been learning from the webinarsm face-t-face conferences and seminars I’ve attended in this past year, but I didn’t. Reason: I get too exhausted that I just can’t find myself together enough to write a blog post. I hope I will come out of this phase by pulling myself together once again and be able to write something really soon. 🙂

  5. Thank you for a thoughtful post and for putting into words some of the internal battles I often deal with. My biggest challenge, as with most people, is “time”. I want to contribute to my PLN on a regular basis and I don’t want to simply be “re-tweeting” other people’s posts. I want to be able to contribute thoughtful articles, I want to read an comment on blogs, I want to be able to curate and cultivate my PLN. The challenge is always finding the time. I like your approach of a few times a week. Some folks that I connect with seem to do nothing but Tweet (don’t they have jobs?!) and so I feel that I have to mimic that behavior. With a young son and a husband who hates when I multi-task…well you get the idea. So thank you for the suggestion of a few days a week or as a mid-day brain break. I will give that approach a try.

    • Anne Schaefer-Salinas
    • Hi Anne

      Don’t feel the need to mimic others. There are different reasons why some share more than others. For some that you follow it may be part of their work. Others have a life style that allows them time to do what they are passionate about.

      Another important aspect to be aware of is many of those that tweet lots of articles schedule their tweets and may schedule the same link to share at different time, with slightly different wording, using a third party service. Tweetdeck is one way to schedule tweets – http://www.theedublogger.com/2012/02/13/the-updated-twitteraholics-guide-to-tweets-hashtags-and-all-things-twitter/#schedule

      Also they often have strategies that make it fast for them to work smarter not harder so it isn’t too time consuming.

      Time is a challenge. Whatever you decide to do — do it to fit your own personal needs.

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

  6. How timely that I read this now. Wading around in so many things, and trialling twitter to see if its potential is a match for me, this post gave my the green light to go easy! Small, regular sessions of doing something new makes so much sense. The post also helped me clarify what I might want to get out of something like Twitter and how I can meld my ideas with others to be more collaborative in this space.
    Thanks for the clarity!

  7. I try to go on twitter in the evening for a few minutes. I have connected with a few teachers on twitter who have helped me to build my first classroom blog. Thank you to Kathy Cassidy. My class is loving the blog. I am loving twitter to connect with other Grade 3 teacher.

    • Kelly Onyskiw
  8. Just like everyone else we all agree with Sue! Everyone who wants to build their PLN needs to invest in some time in their day to help build it. It’s like getting to know someone or family member more. In order for you to know them on a personal level, you want to keep in touch with them, that’s how i see it.

  9. My tips are:

    Don’t sink in the twitter stream, help manage your tweet-reading time by organizing your streams with a resource like Tweet Deck or Hoot Suite. Spend a limited time looking at your streams, like 15 mins, at various times during the week. Typically, from the people I follow, I notice a trend in posting from individuals at the same times each day. Varying your tweet reading time each day will give you a diverse reading experience. The blogs I follow (all 79) are setup on Feedly so I can quickly (again, 15 minutes a day) go through my latest postings and flag ‘Saved for Later’ for a time I can truly and thoroughly read the postings.

    • Dan Gallagher
    • Hi Dan

      Good tips regarding varying your reading time as lots of people do tweet at similar times per day and if they schedule their tweets they’ll often use the same times (or timezones).

      If you are reading Feedly on a mobile device then I recommend you consider also using Flipboard. You can pull your Twitter time line into Flipboard and it is faster to read the links shared via Twitter in the magazine lagout of Flipboard than using the app on the mobile device.

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

  10. I love the perspective presented here! I have been building my PLN for over a year and have just presented to our teachers the project of beginning to build their own this year. This message to take it slow and reflect when you first get started is right on!

  11. Hi there all,

    Finding TIME is surely an issue. I have found it overwhelming the information I have gained through the feedbacks.
    I am trying to build a PLN and do have a FACEBOOK feed with like-mined professionals. I still have not twittered much!#%@! I shall link into #edchat to explore the conversation. As I am a Secondary teacher librarian, I shall be looking for links that will broaden my knowledge and so I can share information in exchange.
    My learning style is, I guess, visual! This means I prefer to be shown the links – personable experiences.
    BEST TIME: The time I most catch up with professional ‘reading’ through blogs and links is after the dishes.
    This is the time I can come down into my office and truly lose myself for hours.

    • Helen Rowling
    • Hi Helen

      Thanks for sharing your reflection.

      As your personal preference is visual – have you tried Pinterest or Flipboard? Both of these are very visual tools and Pinterest is very popular with Librarians. Let us know if you would like any more information on either of these tools and how they are used by Librarians.

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

  12. Sarah,
    Many thanks for the suggestions on harvesting and processing and curating our PLN. I have a blog for my students to share their thoughts on books read, but I rarely add any comments under the “tab” “about my library”. The activities suggested via Connected Learning Month has me reflecting on expanding my presence.
    I still need practice with not going down the rabbit holes! I will start my day with the best intent of skimming over twitter, news feed etc, but something totally unrelated to my professional “viewing” pops up and before I know it, I go from pinning rubrics for makerspaces to a recipe for homemade apple cider vinegar.

    • Rosemary Bakhtiari
    • Hi Rosemary

      Glad Sarah’s suggestions helped!

      What are your thoughts on expanding your presence? I’m notorious for going down rabbit holes and I’m not sure that is a bad thing because it is also good to do things that you are passionate about. For example. I have Flipboard magazine for work but I also have Flipboard magazines for my own personal use — I love them all equally.

      I think the key is accepting you can’t do everything so working on what you want to do and prioritizing the taskes and tools that help you achieve your goals.

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

    • Hi Rosemary …. I would love to read your blog and “learn” from it since I will start my own “literary corner” with my students next week … you can share a link or tweet it to me (if that is possible 🙂 @AracelydeBech

      • Aracely de Bech
    • – Getting started or “continuing” getting started … that is the question when I think back about my PLN.
      – Facebook – use it mostly to connect with my family since we live in two different contntents (personal network)
      – Facebook at work – to administrate information regarding our classes/teaching subjcets and activities I opened a FB account just for work … my “friends” are growing and I take good care of not mixing family/acquaintance with work.
      – Tweeter – a real challenge to me since I had no idea I would EVER had a use for it in my life but now that I’ve learned I kind of like it. So far is the best way for me to expand my PLN. I belong that 90% Sue mentions … read a lot, share very little, comment even less 🙂 But I have got great links to blogs and information that will help me with my goal.
      – Time … well, I work full time have no time but to teach, correct, give feedback and participate in school activities when I’m at work … then I get home and there my private life is my priority but “when I can I log on and read” and it just fits me perfectly because then I am in the “mood” of connecting and learning.
      – Tweeter – I love the “favorite” button … because I can come back to read what I didn’t manage when I just scrolled through the feeds.
      – GOAL – an important issue. Just his year I am focusing on “reading strategies” and “feedback – peer review”. That is my goal for this academic year and that helps me “not to stress” feeling I am missing some great information when i “chose” not to read or follow certain feeds and blogs 🙂
      Agree with the comment that tweeter is quite overwhelming and it can scare you out of the challenge at this early stage but once you are in “the river then follow the flow” 🙂

      • Aracely de Bech
  13. Twitter overwhelms me, so the beginning of this PLN challenge was very overwhelming. I appreciated reading these thoughts that sort of gave permission for lurking, reading others regularly but not joining the conversation just yet. I started with TechNinjaTodd’s Daily paper which brings many different voices throughout the week. I try to read through it in the morning, opening things in tabs that I want to look at more closely. Then I come back to the tabs when I can. Sometimes one link leads to another and I allow myself to follow my interests which are varied. Right now, I’m not trying to be an expert at anything but just aware, versed and versatile. I want to take what I can use and leave the rest, for now!

    • Hi Terry

      Thanks for sharing your Twitter reflection. Twitter can be very overwhelming when you are starting out and I hadn’t considered that aspect when we developed the order of tasks. Great to hear that comments and advice from others helped you! We each participate and learn in different ways; more people read and lurk compared to actively engage in conversation.

      The ratio for online participation is 90:9:1 — 1 % of people actively participate in online communities and make up the majority of the conversation; 9 % occasionally engage in conversation and 90 % of participants interact with an online community by reading the conversations but never comment or interact.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

  14. I have two tips for building a PLN:

    The first is to search for a Twitter chat that focuses on a topic in which you’re interested. Follow the Twitter chat as a “lurker” for a while, but use it to find people to follow on Twitter who are active in posting.

    The second tip is to find and use an aggregator of some type to monitor blogs in one easy spot. I used Google Reader for many years until it went “away,” and now I use Feedly.com as my feed reader. Blogs I like to skim, all come in to Feedly as a “headline” I can skim and open for more information if and when I’m interested. I have Feedly.com set as one of the default tabs to open on my browser so it is always there to remind me to take a peek when I have time.

    • Hi Lisa

      Thanks for sharing your tips! Lurking in Twitter chats is a good way to get started with seeing how they work and are also a great way to find people to follow.

      I still miss Google Reader 🙁 I have Feedly set up on my Tablet and in my web browser. I prefer to do most my reading on my tablet and then used the Saved items in Feedly to share on Twitter.

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

  15. I enjoyed reading your post. It points out just how dedicated you have been to this learning journey and that is always a good thing to reflect on. You put a lot into the development of your PLN but you got a tremendous amount in return.
    I for one, know that it takes time. We can see more dramatic results if we want to give more of our time but even if we don’t we will continue to move forward with even a minimum of effort.
    With even more time, we find ourselves connecting with other tools and very often those are the ways we share with newbies and lurkers. Next thing you know, you have an enormous PLN.
    Those of us in education are not likely to be in it for the big bucks and our PLNs don’t have to be in the tens of thousands in followers. A good 100 people can provide plenty of material for exploration and interaction.

    • I forgot to mention my time of day for my PLN connections. That would be first thing in the morning. I read tons of posts, email, paper.li editions, tweets, and Facebook posts. I also curate a couple of Scoop.it topics and that takes time as well. Using a # hashtag makes a tremendous difference in narrowing down the focus of the conversations.

      • Hi Gail

        I find having specific times and routines in my day helps with developing PLN connections. Scoop.it is on my list of tools (still) that I want to look at closer.

        Sue Waters
        Support Manager
        Edublogs | CampusPress

  16. I share a lot of the same feelings about blogs that Sue mentions in her post. There are so many great bloggers out there on ed tech, that I don’t feel like I’d have much to add to the conversation. However, the idea of finding my niche really resonated with me. While I do search out a lot of ed tech blogs, I follow fewer bloggers who are librarians and even fewer librarians who are from the state of Pennsylvania, US. I might be able to add advice on my journey through the new standards or teacher evaluations from my unique perspective as a secondary librarian. Who knows, this might help other PA librarians out there who are experiencing some similar successes and frustrations. I’m excited to explore blogging further!

    • Ms K Kauffman
    • *I meant Sarah, not Sue! Sorry!

      • Ms K Kauffman
      • HI Ms Kauffman

        Lots feel that they don’t have any thing to share. My advice is never assume that others are aware. My approach has always been if I didn’t know something then others would be similar and I would share what I learnt. Some find watching this video on Obvious to You. Amazing to others – http://youtu.be/xcmI5SSQLmE

        As Sarah says in her comment. There are lots of amazing librarians leading the way with technology. Following them on Pinterest is a great idea. Twitter will help and I would also attend the TL virtual cafe webinar series – http://tlvirtualcafe.wikispaces.com/ It is an excellent way to connect with other librarians.

        Sue Waters
        Support Manager
        Edublogs | CampusPress

    • There are a lot of librarians leading the way in technology use! Sounds like a good goal to me! Look on Pinterest for some librarian posters as well if you want fellow colleagues to partner with!
      Sarah Poling

  17. Thank you, Sarah! I read this at the right time. I really needed to hear that it can get done, and doesn’t need to be done all at once. I have three other professional development things going on right now and I’m getting lost in the shuffle. I’m not fully committed to any one thing, because I want to be involved in everything. I get wrapped up in the whole beginning-of-the-school-year craziness and feel like it all needs to get done immediately. Thanks for the reminder that it doesn’t need to be that way!

    • It’s my pleasure. I think we so often are so hard on ourselves. We forget that 10-20 minutes a day can make us proficient in no time!
      Sarah Poling

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  20. Thank you, Sarah for all your information! I’m brining this all to my principal to see if he can get other staff members to take the Teacher Challenge!! You and the others make it look so easy! Baby steps sounds good to me!

  21. Thank God! I was overwhelmed and thn your post helped take a deep breath….

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  24. My thoughts are on my blog http://baeten5.edublogs.org
    I really like the baby steps idea and keeping firm in mind that Rome was not built in a day.

  25. Hi Sarah,

    Nice post! I appreciate the time you took to share helpful tips for building PLN. I like how you connect it to what already comes natural to them.

    One thing I did was identify the purpose for how I’d use the social networking tool. For example, I use Twitter for my professional life, and Facebook for my personal life. This helped me connect with my different circles, and somehow it helps.

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

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  29. Sarah,
    Thanks for your post! Your challenge was simple and attainable! I took to heart the 15 minutes a day – I can do that. So I started by visiting some of the established PLN Blogs to create a group of professionals I connect with and will now read those blogs everyday – take 15 minutes. I know once I start reading I will stay longer but I like the idea of starting with the media that I feel the most comfortable with.
    Here is my post at my new PLN Blog: http://lstolldses.edublogs.org/2011/06/29/establish-a-pln-routine/
    Establish a PLN Routine

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  31. Hi,

    I’m only 2 months into building my PLN, I have really enjoyed using twitter and the information that roles in through the feed. I am still in the ‘lurking’ phase of using it.
    I found following hashtag chats very difficult at the begining, but after reading a blog post by Kathleen Morris about ‘tweetdeck’ it has made following those chats a lot easier!

    As I’m in my final year of uni, I find I have a little more time to spend looking through my feed and my google reader. I have found since getting the twitter app for my iphone that I constantly drop in for a look and ‘favourite’ things to come back and look at later when I have more time.

    Thanks for the challenge


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  33. Thank you Sarah. I love this post, finding it both encouraging and soothing – a lovely combination. I am very new to all this, so am not sure if my website address as entered in your form will show up in the message. Apologies if I am duplicating, but I just finished a long post (my third!) in response to yours.

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  35. Hi Sarah. I can so relate to the ‘firehose’ analogy!

    I’ve written recently on this topic, exploring how I’ve tried to find a balance in my PLN interactions

    A Connected Teacher’s Balancing Act

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts as part of the Teacher Challenge!

  36. Thanks, Sarah for your wonderful reflection on your journey in building a PLN. I like your time limit strategy, and I have had to do that also because I so want to learn and share with others — to inspire as I have been inspired, and do my part in moving education transformation.

    Here’s my journey based on your suggested steps:
    Building Steps

  37. As an undergrad, I had a tech teacher who made it a requirement to join a listserv. This was back in 1999 (Netscape…Unysis anyone…?). By some grace of a goddess, I found the National Council of Teachers of English listserv (NCTE-Talk) and that pretty much saved my new-teacher arse.

    I find Twitter to be invaluable as a platform for sharing resources and the chats are fast-paced fun, but they do nothing for me in terms of the kinds of robust conversations I crave as a professional (like NCTE-Talk).

    Sarah, after reading your post, I’ve decided to set a goal for choosing maybe two or three learning communities (English Companion, Classroom2.0) and stop long enough to take part in the ongoing conversations.

    I definitely spread myself too thin and I never stop in one place long enough to feel a “part” of a community. I miss that.


    • I am replying to your blog as for an assignment in my Master’s class and I have to tell you that this is the first blog I have ever been involved in and have ever responded to. I saw your comment about NCTE-Talk and that was what piqued my interest. I’m also an English teacher at the high school level and love deep and meaningful conversations about literature and poetry. I’m interested in learning about English Companion as another learning community.

      Thanks for your information.

      • You’re welcome, and thank you for responding. :o)

        • Doh! Wrong emoticon…

          Embarrassing. lol

  38. Sarah,

    Great post! I’ll be working on this and will send link when finished.

  39. I agree it’s like running a marathon…just jump in one day at a time….

  40. Hi Sarah,
    Reading Sarahs response above, I think I was expecting too much too soon when I tried to start a PLN with twitter and blogs before.
    I have had some initial thoughts about my new attempt and posted them on my blog here.


  41. Hi Sarah,
    Great post! For me I think building a PLN is like exercise, you don’t go from couch potato to running a marathon overnight. You need to put in hours of training before the big race. I’ll reflect on what you said and post my own response soon.