Welcome to our professional learning series on building a PLN.
This self-paced free course guides you step-by-step through the process of setting up your own PLN.
We have an optional PDF workbook that will help to keep you on track and focused as you work through the 7 steps of this course. Scroll down and click on the ‘download’ button under the document to save it to your computer.
The aim of this first step is to:
- Unpack the definition of a PLN and “connected educator”
- Help you understand why educators create their own PLNs and how they use them
What Is A PLN?
Back in 1998 when the internet was in its infancy, Daniel R. Tobin wrote an article about the term “Personal Learning Network” which was abbreviated to PLN. This term was used to describe a network of people and resources that support ongoing learning.
Whether or not Tobin actually coined the term PLN is up for debate. As Clint Lalonde has pointed out, others, such as Dori Digenti, also wrote about the term in the late 90s.
The PLN consists of relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning. The currency of the PLN is learning in the form of feedback, insights, documentation, new contacts, or new business opportunities. It is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other.
The term has evolved and is now sometimes referred to as a Professional Learning Network — taking into account that fact that most “connected educators” use their PLN for professional growth and interaction.
As Tom Whitby has pointed out, there can even be a hybrid of the personal or professional learning network — the Personalized Learning Network.
…the shift in nuance maintains that participants are both personal and professional learners. A PLN is a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time. Participating educators, worldwide, make requests and share resources.
Are PLNs Exclusive To Education?
PLNs don’t just exist in the education world. They are important in all aspects of the business world, various vocations, and hobbies.
We contacted Daniel R. Tobin to ask him about how he came up with the term Personal Learning Network. We wanted to find out if he coined the term in relation to a particular industry or field.
Daniel told us,
It came from my own experience.
As I was thinking about how I had learned to do the various jobs I had over the course of my career, I realized that I had built an extensive network of people who had helped me learn. These included managers and colleagues and people I had met while doing research for my books, speaking at conferences, attending workshops, etc.
As I started writing about corporate training and development, I realized that what I had learned from my PLN was greater and more important than what I had learned from my formal education.
Interestingly, many teachers who are active online have remarked that they’ve learned a great deal more from their PLN than from any professional development session they’ve attended.
Are PLNs Something New?
All teachers know successful teaching and learning does not occur in a vacuum. Teachers have always relied on others for guidance, ideas, inspiration, support, and new perspectives. Naturally, some teachers are more active in their interactions than others.
Traditionally, all this interaction might take place in one school community. Teachers might have rarely connected with educators from other locations — apart from an occasional conference or professional development opportunity.
Technology changed all this.
Like in many other industries, educators now have access to people from all corners of the globe 24/7. This may largely be through social media but other platforms as well, such as blogs, online communities, and news sites.
So many barriers have been removed — geography, culture, language, timezones, travel, costs, logistics.
Embracing new networks and building a PLN doesn’t mean throwing out your old connections. Of course, it will always be valuable to talk to the teachers next door and down the hall. But imagine the possibilities of building on that network in diverse ways!
Video: What is A PLN?
Want to learn more about what is a PLN? This is Marc-André Lalande’s take on the matter in less than two minutes.
Being A Connected Educator
A connected educator is someone who collaborates online and uses a range of tools to build their own PLN.
Watch the following five minute video to learn more about being a connected educator. It shows interviews with educators who explain the importance of being “connected” in order to be effective teachers and leaders.
Why Create A PLN?
There are many reasons why all teachers should develop a PLN.
Here are eight benefits of having a PLN:
- You are in charge of your own professional development. PD is no longer something that you have to “sit and get”.
- You can explore your own interests, needs, and passions (or your students’). You might have a student who is struggling with reading, or you might have heard of makerspaces and decide you want to learn more about that, maybe you have a student who wants to research global warming, or perhaps you want to find a better system for running a sports day at your school. You can turn to your PLN for advice and support with all these sorts of things.
- 24/7 learning offers the flexibility to learn and connect at a time that suits you. You don’t have to wait for a PD or conference. And 24/7 learning certainly doesn’t mean you have to be constantly online either — you decide how much time you want to invest and when.
- You can learn and connect in a way that you enjoy. This might be via videos, podcasts, text, social media, Skype, blogging … the list goes on.
- There can be light and shade to your PLN. You can engage in a general chat about education (or anything) to debrief, laugh, or unwind. Or, you can engage in deep discussion, debate, and reflection that can really challenge and transform your thinking and teaching. The choice is yours and there will probably be a time and place for both.
- You can stay current on research and best practice, regardless of whether this information is being discussed in your own school, district (or even country!).
- A PLN allows for broad brainstorming or fine tuning. You might know very little about a certain topic and ask your PLN for any/all entry points into exploring the concept. At the other end of the spectrum, you may have already done a lot of work on a topic and use your PLN to fine tune your ideas and resources.
- Globally connected students need globally connected teachers. Having your own PLN is a key way to also help your students connect with others and start developing their own networks. We know this is important to enrich student learning and help students thrive in the changing labor market.
Feel free to use the following graphic on your blog or share it with your colleagues.
Four Big Ideas Around The Connected Educator
Silvia Tolisana (aka Langwitches) has written about four big ideas that surface when thinking about connected educators.
I think about the isolation of a teacher within their classroom walls and how connectedness to a global network of experts and peers could expose and add multiple perspectives to their world view and professional practice.
I am amazed every time by the transformative nature of teaching and learning, when harnessing the power of a network to crowdsource authentic data, resources, connections and collaborators.
Last, but not least, the idea of being able to model for our students what connected learning in an interconnected world means is a moral imperative for educators who are charged to prepare our kids for their future.
You can unpack these concepts further by reading Silvia’s post.
Building Your Own PLN
The great thing about a PLN is that it’s personal!
You make all the choices:
- What tools you use!
- Who you connect with!
- How you want to learn!
- When you want to learn!
The idea of this series is to guide you through the process of building your own PLN and give you a taste of the opportunities that are out there.
Remember, we each have our own preference of what online tools work best for us.
Throughout the seven part series, we’ve included popular tools for building a PLN to help get you started.
A PLN is a network of people and resources that support ongoing learning.
We believe all teachers could benefit from having a PLN.
You might be in a fantastic school but in some ways, schools can become echo chambers for the same beliefs and viewpoints. It can be easy to go with the status quo and fail to really question things or bring in new ideas. A simple conversation with someone from a very different community can be so eye opening.
PLNs 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:
- PLN Definition: Watch the video What Is A PLN? Leave a comment on this post to explain what a PLN means to you. You might like to share your thoughts on “lurking”. What are the pros and cons of this approach? Or, you might like to explain what you think PLN stands for — personal, professional, personalized … or something else?
- PLN Benefits: Choose one or more of the eight benefits of having a PLN that’s listed above to explore in a comment. Tell us why this is a benefit that resonates with you.
- Connected Educators: Watch the Connected Educators video. Leave a comment on this post to explain why it’s important to be a connected educator and how a PLN can help you. You might like to give an example of one person in the education community that you’d like to follow and learn from or with. This could be a thought leader, or just someone you find interesting.
- Go Deeper: Write a blog post to explain what you have learned about PLNs. Perhaps your post could be a way to educate or persuade others on the benefits of PLNs. Or you might like to summarize some of the information from this study on PLNs for teachers. Leave a comment with a link to the post so we can have a look at how you went.
Also feel free to leave a comment to ask any questions or share your tips.
How to leave a comment: Scroll down to find the comment box. Write your comment, then enter your name and email address (email addresses are not published). Enter the anti-spam word. Press submit and we will moderate your comment ASAP.
The following information on PLNs was adapted from an original Teacher Challenge post by Australian teacher, Michael Graffin. You can check out Michael’s original post — What The heck Is A PLN.
This resource was updated by Kathleen Morris in 2018.
1,238 thoughts on “Step 1: What Is A PLN?”
I really appreciate the ability to learn, add to and use my PLN at times that are convenient for me. I am married with children and I try to be as involved and as present as I can in the life of my wife and my daughters. Being able to further my knowledge and teaching skills at times when my family is asleep enables me to give them more of my time. This works out much better for me than taking up an entire day for professional development (although there are times for that too).
I’m so glad that educators have a professional learning network (community). It’s so helpful to share tips with each other.
One of the 8 benefits that really relates to me is staying current on research and best practice. This is important to me because as someone who grew up in a small town, I can now at my age see how the town’s educators didn’t have many resources that allowed them to access more up to date information. We live in a very fast-paced world where things are constantly changing and being studied. It is extremely crucial that we open ourselves up to new information, practices, etc. so that we can provide the best for our students.
PLNs are a great way for educators to connect with one another and further growth and success. The network allows for a huge community where individuals can go to communicate with others in their field. While having a strong community in the school is important, PLNs allow educators to access resources from beyond their bubble. They can offer and ask for advice, share data, and learn from others.
A PLN is a personal learning network that you can build and use to connect with other people in your career communities. I think the P definitely stands for personal because it is YOUR creations, your work and your individualized network. I think it is perfectly okay to “lurk” and browse the content that is useful to you.
Being able to explore one’s own interests, needs, and passions (for yourself and students), is a powerful tool for educators to have access to. Entering the field of education seems slightly terrifying, as many students and parents will depend on the teacher. By using a PLN, I can ensure that if I am unsure of how to handle certain needs in my classroom, I would have the support and knowledge of other individuals. This makes educating feel a little less scary, and more of a team effort where all teachers are working together.
PLN is a way for people to stay connected and share ideas. It is considered personal as the person decides who is in their learning group. They are focused on a common goal of learning some type of topic. Even lurking can be seen as being helpful in a PLN. Someone may not be contributing but they are still reading and learning the material from others. There could be some drawbacks to lurking as they are not getting as involved with the network.
1 Benefit- staying current: Things are always changing, so it is important to stay up to date. Schools might not always be up to date, so to have another source is extremely helpful.
PLN can mean a group of individuals that work together to achieve a mutual goal. The goal may be improving learning for a student or improving their own teaching styles. It is a way to learn from others through means of social media like Twitter or YouTube. People can go on it at any time making it feel personal. I feel the personal aspect fits this topic because it can be accessed at any time rather than having to wait for a conference. I do see the idea of lurking because I sometimes read articles rather than replying.
A PLN is a free-flowing collection of resources which those inside your network can take advantage of at their own pace. In an educational context, I can gather resources which would best help my students, whether they’re links to videos or review material on YouTube, or they’re scheduled or impromptu review chat sessions on message boards like Twitter.
I really enjoyed reading about what a PLN is! It will be super beneficial for my future career in teaching.
To me, a PLN seems like a way to use the internet to stay connected and expand your network. This helps you to continue to learn and expand your worldview, and it keeps you from falling into the trap of echo-chambers that can be a result of only talking to the teachers physically near you. As someone who has grown up using social media to gain new perspectives, I can definitely see the importance of a PLN. Using this network, we can make sure we continue learning throughout every aspect of our career!
In this context, a PLN is the use of social media to engage with educators outside of your direct, real-life network. It is a way to gain perspective on any facet of education beyond your classroom or school building. Personally, my preferred form of using a PLN is to lurk. I feel comfortable knowing that I have the choice of exploring the views and ideas of other educators without having to engage in ways that are outside of my comfort zone.
As a current elementary educator and graduate student it is so important to me that I be able to bring learning to life for my fourth grade students and the way to do that is to learn from those who are veterans in the field of education. From those who have also tried a different approach when working with a wide range of students in a general education classroom. I appreciate the feedback and support the teacher community from around the world offers and it allows me to change my approach daily.
As a teacher of the Early Childhood Education Head Start Program, I believe that I am a connected educator ever since hired in the field. What I meant by being a connected educator is using a personal learning network to connect with other educators online for sharing information that I will bring with me to apply inside my learning environment. However, that being said, it describes the true meaning of a personal learning network (PLN). The definition of PLN is connecting with another group of people around the world using the online internet for searching and sharing information that you need in order to build success in professional development learning and growth. Online networking such as social media, blogs, and other different online users community that an educator to build a connection with them for methods applying to anyone’s professional career. After researching the PLN, it provides important information about what and why to be connected educator on PLN. The question in mind is, Is it safe to use PLN ways for connecting with different organizations? Does it build strong security privacy by not giving our data information? Are they real or you’re connecting with the robot AI generator? The reason being of my question is to protect my data information from scammers, hoaxing and even hacking my account. Therefore, despite the continuous advance of technology in nowadays, every internet robotic and scammer will be updated as well. That is why I am so concerned about the connection between other organizations in using PLN ways. I am not saying is bad but all I want to know is if it is a secure site that automatically secures the site when notice it’s not a safe site. Overall, the PLN ways play an important role in my teaching profession in getting information ideas and strategies for classroom management, lesson learning activities for differentiated instructional learning and etc.
Professional learning network (PLN) is defined as people and resources that you can turn to in person or online. You can connect, challenge, collaborate, and create.
As a the only high school English teacher at my high school, I find the idea of forming a PLN refreshing as I would not just be in a Silo. I have other educators to bounce ideas off of.
I did not know what a PLN was. This was helpful!
Before this Module, I had no idea what a PLN was. There are so many benefits and I am excited to begin my own!
PLNs provide access to more resources that are not always available to one’s school and/or district. Outside opinions and suggestions also provide perspectives that may not have been considered when discussing professional development and/or student learning abilities and achievements.
There are so many benefits to having a PLN. One that stuck out to me was the ability to create and individualize my own PD opportunities. District PD is often limited and not specific to the needs of the individual. Having a PLN can provide a foundation for collaboration with endless opportunities.
There are so many benefits to building your own, personal, PLN community! As educators, we are always learning and growing alongside our students and colleagues. Why not expand that circle even more? A PLN is a great idea to involve educators from all over who share similar interests and values.
For me, the essence of this excellent article was captured here: “I think about the isolation of a teacher within their classroom walls and how connectedness to a global network of experts and peers could expose and add multiple perspectives to their world view and professional practice.”
I reflect on my own experience as an educator in various roles across years, and realize that my weakest moments were those where I wasn’t engaging with a broader community, instead stuck in my own small bubble. It was when I reached out to more experienced teachers for mentorship or advice, consulted with counselors on how to best support students on a social-emotional level, and worked with data experts on identifying and fixing systemic problems within our school.
Since working with UMGC, the net I’m able to cast has grown much wider. Perhaps the single most beneficial piece of this graduate journey so far has been that of gaining insights from experts with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and styles. Some professors have had me crunch data in ways I didn’t think I could–others have asked me to create research presentations in animated cartoon format as a way to experience firsthand the power of ed-tech tools.
Finally, the piece about staying up to date with best practices is critical for me. In my new role, the decisions I make impact teachers and students throughout the building. Therefore, I have to be careful to consult research on best practices before making decisions, rather than acting on intuition alone.
1 out of the 8 benefits that I resonate with in having a PLN is teachers becoming globally connected educators for our students to model the same benefit. When we apply 21st-century skills, we are asking students to apply learning skills through communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. In this case, students need technology for extension and enhancement to collaborate with others online, become innovators and use critical thinking to connect learning to real-life applications. We also want students to apply literacy skills through information, media and technology. In this case, students need to have knowledge of technology sources and tools, and research using media and information to connect learning to content. Lastly, we want students to apply life skills through flexibility, leadership, initiative, productivity and social skills. In this case, students need to be able to participate in a flipped classroom, and stations, be given roles in group activities and projects, take control of their learning while the teacher is the facilitator with student choice and communicate online. Today, students are participating in learning online through media with others across the world, creating blogs and podcasts to publish and utilizing sources online. This mirrors how educators can learn online with social media, and webinars that give flexibility, collaboration, and information with media. Educators can post content they are an expert in and learn from others instead of waiting during PD days.