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.

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The aim of this first step is to:

  1. Unpack the definition of a PLN and “connected educator”
  2. 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.

Digeni said,

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:

  1. You are in charge of your own professional development. PD is no longer something that you have to “sit and get”.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Why teachers should build a PLN Summary Edublogs Teacher Challenge

Four Big Ideas Around The Connected Educator

Silvia Tolisana (aka Langwitches) has written about four big ideas that surface when thinking about connected educators.

4 Big Ideas Around The Connected Educator - model, isolation, crowdsource, perspective

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:

  1. What tools you use!
  2. Who you connect with!
  3. How you want to learn!
  4. 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.

7 Steps To Building A PLN | Edublogs Teacher Challenge

Conclusion

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.

One does not need to be connected to be a good educator, but if one is a good educator, being connected can make him, or her a better, and a more relevant educator. Tom Whitby

Your Task

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 

1,098 thoughts on “Step 1: What Is A PLN?

  1. A Personal Learning Network (PLN) offers a unique learning experience that I can create by myself, for myself. Therefore, I am able to customize learning in terms of tailoring my network, resources, and platforms. This opportunity enables me to focus on what I prioritize in my career, at that given time. Digital PLNs make connecting and exchanging information fairly easy and would have served as a great support system during my first year of teaching. However, now that I have been teaching for quite some time, I find it comforting to be able to utilize a PLN for other educational matters such as data collection and in-class supports.

  2. A PLN to me is both personal and professional. Personally, a PLN can be used to grow in my own teaching practices. Professionally, I can engage in conversations with other educators and share about my own experiences. Both interpretations of PLNs rely on connectivity of educators. Sharing ideas and collaborating via social media has allowed for much growth within the educational community and beyond.

  3. PLNs rock! I’m happy to say that it’s a wonderful addition to my toolbar of great suggestions and solutions for a richer life as an educator. Hats off to Daniel R. Tobin, “who back in 1998 when the internet was in its infancy, wrote an article about the term ‘Personal Learning Network which was abbreviated to PLN’ (The Teacher Challenge, n.d.).

    ~Linette Marie Allen
    __________

    Edublogs. (n.d.). The teacher challenge. https://bit.ly/3qw7b6e

  4. My understanding of what a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a group of people that come together as a close knit community to share their individual knowledge, skills and experiences, and resources with.

  5. PLN stands for Personal Learning Network. From my understanding, PLN is how educators interact with each other to be able to find ideas and connect to apply education and learning in the classroom. One of the benefits of PLN that resonated with me is “You can explore your own interests, needs, and passions (or your students)”.

  6. Having a PLN means to me that I am ‘in charge’ of my own learning and networking platform! And that’s pretty exciting!

  7. When developing a PLN, we are finding personal support for our professional careers. Reaching out to others for ideas and support comes from a real desire to grow and help others. Collaboration in a PLN is the key for growing into the best educators we can be. Sometime we lurk and sometimes we contribute. In either situation, being present in the PLN in order to offer knowledge is what is most important.

  8. A Personal Learning Network is a way of describing a group of people and sometimes orgs that you connect with in order to learn from their ideas, questions, and references. A PLN does not have to be solely online, or online at all, but the online aspect allows for individuals to reach an even larger group of people. A PLN is personal because you get to decide who is, and who is not, a part of your own network. You also get to choose how present you want to be, as you can simply lurk, or you can be an active sharer. A PLN is considered a network because each person that you are connected too is connected to others, thus creating a large web of interconnected people. Finally, a PLN is focused on Learning, so you get to choose what content focus your PLN will have, and then you can interact and engage with others that maintain the same focuses that you do. I believe that a PLN is a great way to connect teachers, and share ideas quickly and widely!

  9. A PLN is a way you can get different ideas/ feedback from other educators around the country. Each person in your network is connected to other people within their organization, which allows room for a community to build. Your PLN can also provide you with an abundance of opportunities or information due to this community. I think I would benefit tremendously from creating a PLN. You can connect with others and network at any given time of the day and from any platform or device that you have available.

  10. I think the benefit that most stands out to me is the personalization of the PLN. The fact that I choose the content and the people with whom I’d like to collaborate is important to me. Time is precious and it’s in short supply. Because I can customize the content of my PLN, I won’t have to weed through so much to find what I’m looking for.

  11. A PLN is a personal learning network. One benefit of a PLN that resonated with me was the ability to learn and connect with material in a way that one can enjoy and feels authentic to the students. Incorporating relevant and authentic methods of learning created more meaningful and persistent knowledge that will not be forgotten after its initial use. Showcasing and interacting with information in one way does not create long-term knowledge.

    1. I love that you mentioned that PLNs can not only be resourceful, but enjoyable! We can learn so much from them, and they don’t have to be overcomplicated and time consuming. I really enjoy getting to connect with people who are doing similar things and also things I have never heard of before.

  12. A PLN is is a personal learning network! Your PLN is a way of communicating with people in your network. Your network is your group of people that have been brought together through the internet. Each person in your network is connected to other people within their organization, which allows room for a community to build. Your PLN can also provide you with an abundance of opportunities or information due to this community. You are able to learn from other people in your PLN and use their knowledge to assist you. Your PLN is sort of like a support group, people help you.

  13. The part that stood out to me was the conclusion. I really liked the quote that was at the end saying that one does not need to be connected to be a good educator but when a good educator is connected it can make them an even better educator. This stood out to me because it is so true and the use of PLN’s can make all good educators even better ones.

  14. A PLN, or a Personal Learning Network has eight amazing benefits. One that really stuck out to me is the third benefit. “24/7 learning offers the flexibility to learn and connect at a time that suits you.” My number one complaint in all of life is not being able to make my schedule work. Having this be a factor in my life that allows me to connect and expand my knowledge would just allow for less stress overall, and I absolutely think this is important. This would then allow for me to be fully invested as well instead of being rushed, and cramming everything in.

  15. A PLN is a way you can get different ideas/ feedback from other educators around the country. I think I would benefit tremendously from creating a PLN. I can’t wait to look further into this and find more pages for information. I like how flexible they are too.

  16. Two PLN benefits that resonates with me were “you can learn and connect in a way that you enjoy” and “24/7 learning offer the flexibility to learn and connect at a time that suits you”. I think connecting in a way that I enjoy resonated with me because I like to have multiple way of receiving my information and learning. I tend to do better with videos and visuals, so I am glad I have the ability to gain this knowledge and information in different ways instead of just reading or a lecture. I also resonate with 24/7 learning and being able to learn and connect at my own time because I do my best work and concentrate more at night. There are also days where I am busier than others, so I am glad I can control how much time I want to invest that day.

  17. A PLN to me is the fact that it is both parts educator, and learner. To create a Personal Learning Network, both parts must work in harmony in order to achieve success. This is crucial in terms of teachers being held accountable to learn with the students on newer things, like technology, that allow for the best success rates of the student.

  18. A PLN is a personal learning network. It is used to connect teachers with other teachers so that ideas can be shared and generated. I like the idea of the “light and shade” aspect of the PLN because it points out the fact that a PLN should be used for what the individual wants to get out of it. One can engage in casual conversation or engage in debates about education, it can be used in many ways depending on what someone wants out of it.

  19. Explore your own interests, needs or passions (or your students’) – This one in particular resonates with me because in my short time in a school environment (practicum and student teaching) I have seen both ends of the privilege spectrum where the students are concerned. Having the freedom in my PD to learn more about in depth about the specific challenges or needs of my students and my school, would allow me to tailor my lessons more to engage more students in my classroom. Different schools and student groups have different needs, starting points, scaffolding, etc. I have also begun to develop my own pedagogical preferences that would definitely benefit from exploring those specific teaching styles more in depth.

  20. I really like all of the PLN benefits because they bring teachers and students from all over the world together to share ideas, research, experiences, and so much more. A PLN also makes it easier for students to connect with students in other countries to share what their learning experiences are like.

  21. The benefit that best resonates with me was “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.”. I liked this benefit from PLN because when it comes to learning new things for me it is a big bonus if it is something I like in the slightest rather than dreading it. Giving all those options for ways to connect rather than giving us one specific way allows for more freedom and decision-making on the person.

  22. To me my PLN is personal. I focus on who I surround myself based in the field of special education. I lurk to listen and see where students are struggling academically. I then share to help the students learn and grow.

  23. I appreciated all of the benefits of a professional learning network, but the one that resonated with me in particular was learning other perspectives from various communities. I have been in my school district for 17 years now, my entire career. Even though I work in a high performing school district, I want to be able to challenge the status quo so that my colleagues and I do not become “echo chambers” for each other. The feedback and critical questions that other educators can offer outside of my suburban high school can be valuable as I will then need to articulate rationale for what we have been doing or change some things based on new information. When a new teacher is hired from another district, I get a small taste of this back-and-forth as he or she asks good questions. Having a PLN can undoubtedly expand these conversations and include even more diverse expertise.

  24. One of the eight benefits that resonated with me was “You can explore your own interests, needs, and passions (or your students’)”. Because growing up I always loved other peoples mind and way of thinking. I like the way I think, but I also like to learn about other ways to solve a problem or for people to add onto my ideas because sometimes people come up with things that I never would think of. I like to pick at peoples minds to figure out why they said what they did and how they came up with that answer or solution.

  25. Personally, a PLN is a network or way for individuals to contect and inform others about various related topics. This can be in the teaching profession, business and marking, and even for personal interests not related to these topics. To me, PLN would be best utilized as an educator to inform and to give insight on topics I have experienced while also hearing from others and taking their experiences into consideration. This way of watching and taking others’ experiences into consideration can be known as lurking. When lurking, you are just watching others and learning from them as they are explaining their experiences rather than connecting in a way where you too are posting and sharing your own experiences. The pros of lurking are the accessibility and availability. You can connect with others and network at any given time of the day and from any platform or device that you have available. Some of the cons could include others not being able to learn and connect with you as you are not sharing you experiences. I also found it beneficial that you can use others’ experiences and collaboration to develop new lessons or alter the lessons of others to achieve a personal goal.

  26. PLN can benefit all educators immensely. The eight benefits listed above are just some of the many ways PLNs are resourceful tools for those who want to broaden their connections or knowledge. Although all are equally as important, specifically benefits numbers 2, 3, and 8 stood out to me the most. As educators, we often turn to others for advice and support. #2 supports this by allowing us to have endless opportunities to use these resources to learn about specific things we’re interested in. PLNs are a great way we can learn from others who are more knowledgeable on certain topics. Another great benefit is #3, we can learn such information at any time. This is huge because it allows educators to have access to support at any time or from anywhere. This is helpful for many of us in our daily lives. It is also vital to stay current and connected with others globally. It’s a blessing to be able to interact and engage with those who are interested in the same topics as you or just as curious. It’s important to have these connections because we can learn so many valuable lessons from people or organizations all around us.

  27. What PLN means to me: PLN stands for personal learning network. This makes sense to me. It’s an online tool to collaborate with coworkers, mentors, friends, and anyone to enhance learning for professional development anytime and anywhere.

  28. A PLN is a great way for teachers to share great ideas with each other. By having access to a global pool of educators you can see if other teachers have similar issues, and what they do to fix it. I think in of the best parts how you can personalize your network. You can find teachers that teach in your content area and grade level. I always feel discouraged when I read about great ideas that seem almost impossible to translate into my own classroom.

  29. I think the benefits that really resonated with me are: I’m in charge of my own professional development, and I can explore my own interests, needs, and passions or even the students’. I think these two are important to me personally and even as a future educator. I strive to be in control of what I want my future to be, especially as an educator and I think having the ability to shape and take charge of that is important in how I teach my students, especially how they want to create/shape their own futures. I think that exploring my own interests, needs, and passions is important in how and what I teach my students; it’s almost like leading by example.

  30. PLN I believe best stands for personal learning network. This is because you are in control of the individuals or organizations that you connect with and learn from in a particular area. You also are in control of whether or not you wish to “lurk”—check out what people are saying, share, when to do so, and how to do so. Lurking gives you the opportunity to stay informed about the ideas, questions, reflections, and resources people are bringing to specific topics you are interested in, however, without sharing you miss out on the opportunity to fully interact within your network. 

  31. One of the benefits associated with being a part of a PLN that resonated with me is the ability to stay current on the newest, up to date information. Some teachers have a habit of getting stuck in their ways, and do not look to adjust as new information inevitably comes out. Rather than relying on past information, a PLN provides educators the opportunity to rapidly learn about relevant modern methodological practices which they then can incorporate into their own curriculums.

  32. PLN Benefits: An important benefit of PLNs is the ability to allow globally connected students to have globally connected teachers. This is important because as technology continues to evolve and change, the spread of information becomes more rapid and accessible. Students are being exposed to problems and ideas of other states, countries, and continents. As a teacher, it is important to bring in new ideas that are relevant to society and the lives of the students. This also prevents schools and classrooms from being echo chambers for the same, repetitive beliefs and viewpoints. The LPN allows for things to be questioned and for new ideas to be introduced.

  33. PLN is a network of global connections for professional educational growth. It allows educational colleagues to collaborate and share information. It also provides resources and research that can be accessed.

  34. A PLN is a personal learning network that involves a community of people or organizations that communicate with each other. This communication can be sharing ideas, giving feedback, asking questions, etc. What is great about a PLN is that you don’t have to participate and share you can “lurk” which is you just view what people are sharing without giving a response.

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