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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:

  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. 

726 Comments

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  1. A personal/professional learning network (PLN) is made up of people in an area of interest (for example: I am an educator, so I am looking for other educators) who someone can learn from or exchange ideas with about that area. Someone can simply “lurk” on a (PLN) reading posts or watching videos and putting ideas to use without contributing. The upside of this approach is that it is lower pressure. One does not have to feel like they have great ideas in order to grow in their area of interest. However, PLNs are made richer when diverse people share, so the downside of “lurking” is people miss out on the lurkers ideas and suggestions.

    • Sydnie Stockton
  2. PLN’s allow you to be connected….anytime….anywhere. I teach Industrial Tech and AgriSciecne. Sometimes I feel isolated with resources and support; however, I am excited to create a network of professionals that will allow me to collaborate within the same curriculum area. Why recreate the wheel or feel isolated when help is just a click away?

  3. Although PLN originally stood for Personal Learning Network, I think of my PLN as a Professional Learning Network, consisting of colleagues and professional development resources that support my ongoing learning and growth.

    • Serena Scalzi
  4. Another thing I like about PLN’s is that they can be used for winding down with other educators. Many of us are starting the year stressed out due to the changes the pandemic brings, so it is a nice reminder that we can use these communities to talk to others who are also going through it.

  5. One of the PLN benefits that resonates with me is the ability to stay current on technology. I am a part of a large district with many different student and teacher needs, so being able to get exposed to new technological advances that I can use in my classroom is extremely helpful. Technology and teaching is constantly changing, so it sometimes falls on teachers to maintain the research involved with staying up to date. Being a part of a professional learning community can ensure that you are not working through this alone!

  6. I like the idea of being able to choose what I do for professional development. This is what I like about conferences when we have choice in the sessions. I can choose what is most relevant to me and to my students. It seems that having a PLN gives me the same opportunities and that is very exciting to me.

    • Cara Anderman
  7. A PLN to me is a series of ongoing life hacks for educators. Iife hacks come from all across the globe and they help others out. They are easily accessible at the tip of our fingertips, quick and reliable Just like a PLN.

  8. I watched the Connected Educators video, and I think it is important to be connected as an educator because it gives you support and reassurance that you are using the best tools possible. By doing so, you create the best learning environment for your students. It is amazing to know that you can bring new ideas into the classroom every day by continuing to expand your PLN. One person in the education community I would like to follow and learn from is Shannon Miller.

  9. Whew! As a newbie at this type of virtual learning, there is just so much information that has to be covered. Add to the fact that our district wants us to literally do this within a few days and having not the slightest idea, just adds a layer of intimidation that I don’t need.

    But in regards to developing a PLN, I have the basics already swirling in my mind, and as they sort themselves out, it doesn’t seem to be difficult to set up. I am thinking out loud here that as long as I start with ‘baby steps”, I’ll be able to create a skeletal outline and eventually over time allow it to morph and grow into a PLN that fits my needs.

    • Robert Navarro
  10. I guess I will have to do a little more research to better under stand the terms light and shade. You almost can some that up as Friendship may develop. When I think of bird walking on any topic it must be with someone you are beginning to know personally. I do appreciate recognizing that there may be an opportunity to debrief, laugh and unwind. It is so vital to recognize that sometimes become interested in other can help us tap into things that we may not have been originally seeking after when we began our search.

  11. Lurking makes me think that you PLN could be anyone at anytime in all environments. You could be eaves dropping on a conversation at the grocery store of complete strangers and hear something about an event, some show that is going to be aired, a radio broadcast, you may be interested in, or just about anything. So it makes me wonder if your are choosing the people or is the information/knowledge that you may be interested in choosing the people for you.

  12. For this year we need all the support we can get as educators. We need each other to be able to find out what is working (or not working) for other educators. This year we need to think outside the box (or classroom) and having a pace to find that support will be invaluable.

    • Hey Jessie,
      I agree we are going to need each other more as we transition into a whole new way of doing things. I do believe this situation is bringing the best out of us as a whole, as we collaborate and reinvent ourselves. All the best with the journey! Barry.

      • barrystofberg
  13. Having a PLN allows you to explore your own interest and ideas at your pace. As education evolves daily, new programs, software, theories, and research lead the evolution of schools. A PLN allows for focused learning on particular topics in order to saturate knowledge and gather a clearer understanding of the subject matter or allows for expanding on novel ideas. A PLN offers perspectives and ideas from all over the world, helping the learner to become well versed, global, and inclusive in their thinking.

    • Remona Jenkins
  14. In my opinion, a PLN can be molded and adapted to fit your individualized learning needs and goals. It is flexible and easily adaptable as you move forward professionally. As an educator, I feel that my networks are typically filled with other educators or those who value education. While I have other interests and I pursue those avenues as well, I have always held my PLN to be more of my professional network, knowing that at times the two networks (personal and professional) can overlap. I believe we learn and grow in authentic ways. Knowing that most of our society communicates using social media, building a PLN using one of the platforms that speaks to you is a great way to stay connected, in front of the latest content, and sharing ideas with a network of individuals who are collectively working towards the same goals.

  15. The benefit that resonates with me is that the professional is now in charge of their own professional development. This benefit resonated with me because it gives me ownership over my professional development. Often, in the past, professional development consisted of all faculty/staff sitting through the same professional development topic, whether it was needed by all staff or not. A PLN gives me the opportunity to develop the skills I know I need to focus on and make good use of my time.

    • Nicole Ritchie
  16. The benefit that resonates with me is that the professional is now in charge of their own professional development. This benefit resonated with me because it gives me ownership over my professional development. Often, in the past, professional development consisted of all faculty/staff sitting through the same professional development topic, whether it was needed by all staff or not. A PLN gives me the opportunity to develop the skills I know I need to focus on.

    • Nicole Ritchie
  17. A PLN extends beyond your colleagues at work. Your PLN consists of like-minded individuals within your profession whom you can learn from and they can learn from you. These individuals can be on Facebook, Twitter, or at a conference. As a teacher, through my PLN I can learn new ideas to integrate into my classroom and share out ideas that have worked in my classroom. I often learn more from my online networks than I do sitting in all-day professional development. You are able to search and chat about your specific needs rather than having to filter through the fluff. My PLN, also, gets me more excited about teaching. Learning new strategies or techniques to use in my classroom is exciting and refreshing. At times, especially when teaching the same grade year after year, the resources can seem monotonous, so it’s exhilarating to see fresh ideas.

    • Tamaria Wadley
  18. I am a member of several PLNs either on social media or through weekly meetings at work. Through my personal Facebook page, I am a member of two pages for teachers of media. I also follow several professional organizations related to the equipment and supply of media. I also follow a couple pages by industry professional. I had not considered hosting my own site but I can see the benefits especially being in charge of your own professional development, being able to explore what interests you, and staying current on the topics of your choice. I have some experience with blogs, email newsletters, and social media but it is so hard to consider taking on an additional responsibility especially in an age of uncertainty.

    • Christy Johnstone
  19. A PLN is a network of individuals that can discuss and share common practices as well as a safe way to communicate theories, practices and ideas that can be incorporated into our professional career. PLN’s are great resources, as they are not limited just to colleagues that work within your building or district. Using social media tools, such as Twitter can be a great way to expand your personal learning network, and to gain a vast array of information to help you develop your teaching skills.

    • Stephen Thompson
  20. A PLN is a personal learning space where an individual is able to learn, share and collaborate with others.

    • Ryan Sturdivant
  21. PLN means educators are staying connected in a variety of ways to strengthen their role as an educator. As educators, we are constantly learning and enhancing our opportunities to grow as an educator. To do so, we are able to reach out to others to communicate, collaborate, and give feedback to each other. Moreover, PLNs allow us to be a part of our own learning.

    • Julie Voorhees
    • Julie,
      Being a part of our own learning is powerful. A PLN allows us to focus in on learning and hone skills for present and future career and learning aspirations. As learners, we take ownership and become in charge of how we equip ourselves to serve our students, our schools, and our district.

      • Remona Jenkins
  22. A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is how I connect with and learn from other educators. I have a lot of other educators who I know personally and learn from. My PLN also includes interactions I have with other educators online. I participate in these through Facebook and Twitter. I am a part of multiple different Facebook groups for educators. I run the Twitter account for the math department at my school and I follow other educator’s accounts and accounts like NCTM.