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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. 

596 Comments

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  1. After reading about PLN, I believe that it would be a beneficial tool to have as a future educator because it allows teachers to be connected and provides an avenue for professional development. PLN allows teachers to stay up to date with new research and for the creation of space where teachers have their own network. PLN also allows for teachers to have a access to new tools, technologies, and communities 27/7 and have the ability to communicate and collaborate with other teachers at anytime.

    • Elke Hernandez
  2. An effective PLN sounds like a good way for educators to learn from each other. Why should we all make the same mistakes? PLNs can also be a lifeline for teachers who have a smaller support system. Life long learners can keep current through their PLN.

  3. So, to me, PLN is essentialy a means of dividing labor in a more efficient way. We are all products of 200,000 years of (imperfectly) curated human labor and learning, and trying to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to education (or, for that matter, any other field) is akin to performing unnecessary labor and wasting time. PLNs can help us, as educators, to avoid wasting time and, thus, maximize our own potential as educators.

  4. One of the most enticing benefits of creating a PLN is that it can help you to stay informed about current research. It can be hard to find the extra time in the day to seek out articles and information on your own, but if you are well connected to fellow educators, staying up to date can be as easy as checking your twitter feed. This is something that can be done on the go during your busy day as a teacher. It can help you stay sharp and in touch with research-based best practices.

  5. The benefits of being a part of a PLN are very apparent. I think one of the key benefits of being a part of a PLN is that a teacher is able to stay apprised of the most current, and relevant, research-based strategies that contribute to good teaching and student learning. For me, for example, I began to learn about teaching through several sites that are hubs for teacher interaction: The Cult of Pedagogy, Real Rap with Reynolds, and Teach 4 the Heart. On each of these sites I was able to see what other teachers were experiencing and doing throughout the world. Also, having the opportunity to put forth my questions to these communities, through their sites, Twitter, and Facebook, I’m able to access the collective wisdom of a whole range of experienced teachers.

    • Matthew Kitchen
  6. PLN means to me that anyone can receive a wealth of knowledge through networking. PLNs are a great way to learn information by asking questions for guidance on certain learning and teaching techniques that teachers as well as students can benefit from. Networks remove the constraints of using only published articles, books, etc. While certain information that is received through networks must still be researched for its accuracy there is an open ended forum that is clearly useful.

  7. Of the eight benefits, one that really appeals is the flexibility to pursue my own interests, needs and passions. That puts me in charge of my own learning, and is strongly motivating. Such a range of possibilities has the risk of losing focus, but there is a balance between being unfocussed and being so rigid that genuine possibilities are lost.

  8. What I find attractive about a PLN is that it is intentional, leading to Learning. It is Personal so that makes it adaptable, and it is a Network, bringing a diversity of ideas, challenges and approaches.

  9. Teachers from around the world agree that Personal Learning Networks can be more rewarding and challenging than school based professional development sessions. Although Personal Learning Networks are virtual, the enthusiasm and passion are contagious.

  10. In my opinion, a personal learning network (PLN) is a group of people who you connect with to increase your knowledge of a particular subject. A Professional Learning Network, then, is a natural extension of the way people learn–by connecting with others who have shared interests, ideas, or resources. It is that online and a globally interactive that really makes it special.

    • Erika Fergerson Carroll
  11. A PLN is a private learning network. Recently I was enrolled in the LinkedIn learning platform with my job. This PLN was developed to allow all employees access to information that helps advance their careers.

  12. A PLN for me would be a way to stay connected-but on my terms. I love a good professional development session, but I dislike being told to go to ones that I am uninterested in or that wouldn’t benefit me. A PLN would allow me to customize what I learn about and when. Not only that, but I can connect in ways I like as well. Such as via social media, through videos or webinars and blogs. This makes my learning more personalized and meaningful.

  13. To me, a PLN is a way for people to connect. Its a way to build relationships, ideas and form new opinions. PLN’s are a support system and a scaffold for educators. When you join a PLN you are able to learn from people who may think the same way that you do or even challegene your ideas. It is a way to grow as a teacher and a learner. PLN’s can be found all around you. They can be small or even large.

  14. Being a connected educator helps teachers to hone their craft. One of the speakers in the video compared being a technologically connected educator like having hallway conversations. Immediately, I thought about the importance of those conversations and how as educators we only have moments to reflect and vent. We need those moments and a PLN can help us to be connected for more than just those moments.

    • Patricia Cameron
  15. A Personal Learning Network is a great way to keep my classes fresh and up to date with the latest trends in the World Languages teaching field. I often find innovative resources that continually helped me keep my students engaged. Another great tool from having a PLN is Twitter live chats, I think to be able to participate in live conversations with colleagues to exchange ideas about how to make our language classes is like having an endless outlet of free ideas and materials.

    • Monica Jimenez
  16. For me, PLN is a great way to use technology to keep my teaching practice up to date with the latest trends of, in my case, teaching a foreign language. I use my PLN to get ideas and materials that have helped me keep the students engaged and to keep my classes fresh with continually using new materials. I also like Twitter live chats, having the chance to share ideas with other teachers in real-time it feels like you have an online meeting with teachers anywhere every week, an endless outlet of resources!

    • Monica Jimenez
  17. A PLN is like attending Professional Development on your own terms. You can choose when and where to learn and whether or not you want to participate. You can tailor your learning to your own needs and connect with the people that you choose. I like that lurking is considered acceptable. There are times that I like to just observe and reflect on the discussion taking place. I like the idea of not feeling pressured to speak or write.

    • Patricia Cameron
    • Hear, hear, Patricia. As someone who is just getting into this field, I am likely to be a “lurker” for some time.

  18. Personal Learning Networks are a support system and a network of resources that help you become a better teacher. They are people, websites, apps, and resources that provide you with answers and information that you are looking for. PLNs help you enjoy teaching by being a life-long and exploring what interests you with others.

  19. As a future educator, a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a blueprint that I may create to my list of my professional needs and wants. This is my opportunity to create professional relationships with other educators, which would mean that I would learn a lot about managing a classroom, engaging students, and using the best tech tools. I will be able to learn from people in my PLN. Additionally, I will be able to share my ideas and thoughts with them. Because I am not experienced in the classroom, a good PLN will connect me with educators that can guide me with things like setting up my elementary classroom with efficient workstations, getting advice on the best tech tools, lesson plans, and even the best ways to personalize lessons.

    • Tosha Magloire
  20. PLN to me is a group of resources. This group could be made up of other teachers, your previous professors, or anyone that has the knowledge or equiptment to help you along the way. It is very important to build and maintain a large PLN. As you grow you will need to seek advice and help along the way. There are people who have been where you are that can help. There are also people who have possibly done a lesson plan that you are working on that can help guide you as well.

    • Brandy Proctor
  21. To me, a personal learning network is a variety of resources, both through online social media and in-person which allows for individuals within the same field (and sometimes different fields) to establish connections and exchange ideas, thoughts, opinions, and resources. This exchange has become more elaborate and interconnected as we have more access to technology so we can communicate with more people from the comfort of our homes.
    My personal learning network consists of my colleagues at work, Facebook groups with teachers who teach the same subject matter, and YouTube, among others. These resources are part of my reportoire when building and re-building lessons. They are a part of my personal growth as an educator and very much feel like professional development (without the credit). It is a wonderful teaching tool as well as a community that understands the unique struggles of being a high school world language teacher.

  22. PLN supports ongoing learning!

    • Crystal Easter
  23. A PLN is used connect with others teachers and help and learn form each other. I feel it would be useful to me to connect with other teachers teaching Ohio 6th grade math to share ideas.

    • Crystal Easter
  24. A PLN is meant to help educators connect in a different way and learn from one another.

    • Randie Sawdey
  25. PLN allows me to connect with educators around the world.

    • züleyha özen
  26. I learned that my PLN allows me to connect with others from around the world.

  27. My PLN helps me to reach other educators from across the glode.

  28. As an art teacher I use pinterest on a daily basis to formulate lesson plans.

    • Michelle Christians
  29. My PLN allows me to connect with educators from all over the world.

  30. A PLN allows me to be able to be connected with other educators to bounce ideas off of, learn from as well as share ideas with in order to become a better teacher for my students.

  31. My goal is to improve my teaching each year and a PLN gives me the opportunity to do this.

  32. A big “P” that comes to mind when thinking about a PLN is the word “proactive”. A PLN allows you to be proactive in your development as an educator and learner. You are in control but you must also take responsibility in providing a well rounded mindset to your education approach.

    • What a great way of looking at it, Chris! Thanks for sharing your insights.

      • Kathleen Morris
  33. Hi, everybody!

    I’m Nadia, an ESL teacher from Kostanai, Kazakhstan. I work with teens and adults.

    Last year I faced the problem with teaching fourty students aged 18-21, who did not show much interest, and thus big progress, in English. I tried out different methods and approaches, but they were not very effective. So I joined “Blogging With Students” course to make our lessons more interesting. Blogging worked out! I realized that “Globally connected students need globally connected teachers” (this benefit is just for me).

    So, this year I decided to go further and learn how to build my PLN, to share my experience and to learn from other teachers. As the experience of local schools turned out to be not enough to give effective lessons, I need go more global. I started a School for Innovative Teaching on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/shkolapedagoganovatora/) and plan to develop its basis while I’m taking steps in “BUILDING YOUR PLN” course.

    • Nadia Matveyeva
  34. For too long I haven’t accessed the global networks to support my growth as an educator, and I’m excited to explore the networks to build my PLN

  35. I am in grad school and just learning the term PLN for the first time, although I realize I am a part of others’. My goal is to be a better teacher and my own PLN will help!

    • Mt. View Christian Academy
  36. Of the eight benefits, the one that really resonates with me is “globally connected students need globally connected teachers.” If we expect students to take initiative in their learning, connection to the internet and a network of people and information is the key to that. As educators, we need to model the best practices to find the networks that would be beneficial to enhancing our learning experiences and finding the right resources.

  37. PLN to me means it is a network of people who share resources, collaborate, and support one another usually through the means of social media. I tend to be more of a “lurker” when it comes to my PLN. I like to see what others are doing and do not usually comment or share. I am uncomfortable with it. However with this being said, I am slowly comming out of my shell, as I am commenting on this post here. The downside to lurking is that you are not helping anyone else and you are not connecting as much with others. I hope as I progress in my PLN to continue to lurk as you can see what others are doing, but to also contribute.

  38. Hello.
    I am just getting started with exploring my own PLN more in depth. I like to be current with teaching practices, technologies, and teaching ideas in general, but I have fallen a little behind the times. This is my effort to “get upto speed” with the many educators and resources available. A PLN seems to be an invaluable tool to help me out. If you have any tips to help me out in my journey, please do not hesitate to offer them. I hope to connect with a few people that come from a varity of cultures and backgrounds to help expand my outlook.
    Jerry

  39. I learned I have created a PLN for myself on Instagram by following #teachELA, #middleschool, and #Iteach7thgrade. Following those active hashtags I am constantly exposed to different classrooms across the world.

  40. A PLN is a personnel learning network that allows for learning and connection within ones own interests. PLN’s allow for purposeful learning and meaningful connections. PLN’s allow educators to continue to learn and be inspired by other great teachers.

    • Jack Bannerman
  41. A PLN means to be connected to colleagues and students on social media. It is networking with others in your same subject and profession.

    • Damian Goralski
  42. I feel that PLN would be best suited as an acronym for “Personalized Learning Network.” There are things that I wish to gain more “PD” on that my colleague next-door may not have an interest in. Having a PLN allows both of us to gain the “PD” we desire at our own levels and within our own time, space, and interests. With this model, our personal and professional development becomes personalized to us.

    • Monique Newell
    • PLN stands for a ‘Personal Learning Network’ which stands for being connected to colleagues and students on social media. This allows for schools, colleges and so on to easily connect to one another and allows for collaboration between colleagues and students. This means that it is super beneficial.

      • James Williams-Kinnaird
  43. A PLN means to be connected to colleagues and students on social media. It is networking with others in your same subject and profession.

  44. The fact that a PLN is geared towards my personal needs, interests, and passions is huge for me. I strongly dislike sitting in a class or training session about something I already know or won’t be impacted by. Being able to learn about what I want to learn or feel I need to learn about makes learning that much more worthwhile.

    • Miranda Unverferth
    • Good point, Miranda. I think this is a universal issue!

      • Kathleen Morris
  45. I think PLNs are invaluable to a teacher’s lifelong learning success.

    • It’s definitely becoming more and more important to have a PLN!

      • Kathleen Morris
  46. I believe that PLN’s are super beneficial to anyone that uses it. These networks can be the support needed and even required to finish the research for a book or an essay in a college classroom. They are not limited to how far and how big they can grow and reach. They can facilitate the learning to many individuals. It would be great to have one of these networks and to be included in someone else’s.

  47. I have learned that PLN’s are here to help educators be connected with other educators where they help one another learn as much as they can to help better themselves in their classrooms. I learned that PLN’s are there to support affective, social, cognitive, and identity aspects of a teacher’s growth. PLN’s are beneficial as they create collaboration between teachers not only within their own school but also with schools all around the world. PLN’s are very personal as they allow educators to make their own decisions based on how they would like to use the network. Educators have the opportunity to use whatever tool they choose, choose who they connect with, and how and when they want to learn.

  48. I have learned that PLN’s are super beneficial not only to one self, but to a school as a whole. It creates collaboration between other schools and networks to bring in new, creative ideas. PLN’s are great because they are personal: you get to choose the tool, who you connect with, how and when you want to learn. The last thing that I like best about PLN’s are that it’s a support group to support online learning for students and everyone involved.

    • Justice Keller