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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. 

873 Comments

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  1. The video on connected educators is something I found interesting. It gave others experience with it and the importance of a PLN. A PLN and staying connected really helps continue being a life long learned and also finding new ideas. Sometimes even getting assistance from educators across the world. A PLN is so beneficial to educators but to students too. Students will be able to get access to better teaching and tools.

  2. I think that a PLN is an important tool when it comes to being a connected educator. We can learn so much from others in the education field from others that we truly never even reach the potential of speaking to all we should. Developing you PLN doesn’t mean following others exact moves, but what it does mean is watching others and taking the good from what others can do for you. Being connected with others in the field is a gift to students. Many different classroom goals and views become represented within one teacher.

  3. I personally learn better from videos from any source. The statement that stood out to me was when Elena mentioned that if you are not connected to education how can you be sure that you are even providing to your students. I have found this very important for not only adults but also students in general. PLNs can ensure that educators are being supported in many different ways.

    • cassidylipelt
  4. I personally learned the most valuable information from the “Connected Educators” video. The statement that stood out the most to me was when Elana Leoni mentioned that if you are not a connected educator how can you be sure that you are providing your students with the best tools available? I cannot even explain how important this is to me. Students should always come first and a connected educator ensures that they do. PLNs also ensure that educators are being supported. As a future educator, I have learned that teachers can not do this job alone. PLNs take this isolation away and instead builds a community.

  5. I think that I would be doing quite a bit of “lurking” in the beginning of being connected. I am not a very social person, nor experienced enough to warrant professional confidence. With time, I would like to get comfortable and contribute to the network, since reciprocity is one of the characteristics of PLN that I find interesting. When talking about characteristics of PLN, to me, the connectedness means a strategy against isolation. I work with EL students in one-on-one setting and only meet other EL colleagues on rare occasions. The isolation I feel is definitely relevant and thanks to technology and PLN I can make changes moving forward.

  6. To me, PLN means that I can learn and continue learning from and with individuals that share my professional interests. PLN is a “support group” that is more unique and diverse than a typical group of teaching partners you work with in the same building. Even though those connections are also important and the relationships are real, sometimes getting an opinion or suggestion from outside of your traditional circle is transformative. I cannot wait to learn more about PLN and start building my own. I have never heard of PLN prior to taking this course but from very beginning, I knew that PLN is something I could greatly benefit from. I am an EL teacher at the beginning of her career who received all education outside of the USA. For 9 years, I was professionally inactive due to raising my family. Only recently, I applied for a ND state teaching license, received it, and started working in the EL department of a school district. With so many changes in education since I received my graduate degree and the fact that every country’s educational philosophies and practices vary, I feel like almost everything is new to me. I need support, ideas, and trustworthy opinions as I move forward and I cannot wait to build my PLN and continue learning with it.

  7. I found all 8 benefits of PLNs to be important, but one that especially stood out to me was the benefit that read: “stay current on research and best practice.” Today, education and approaches to education are changing rapidly. I have seen this especially evident in special education rooms. Compared to where society was 50 years ago, special education has come a long way. Students with disabilities were separated from their peers in school. Today, I am so happy to be able to see students with disabilities work with others in general education classrooms. The expectations and methods in the special education classroom have changed drastically and continue to do so. Therefore, I think it is important for teachers to find a PLN that they trust and enjoy, so that they can hear from others’ ideas about what they are doing to create a safe and thriving environment for students with disabilities.

  8. I think that all teachers should build their own PLNs. I had not known what a PLN was until this course, but I am so glad that I have since learned. To me, a PLN is a device capable of pushing teachers to reach their greatest potential. They allow teachers to communicate with others about their own successes, failures, and suggestions. They aim to build each other up. I especially like that all contributors of a PLN are coming from the same place- in a teacher’s PLN, every person is working toward creating a meaningful educational experience for their students. Every person cares about kids and wants to do what they can to help them succeed. This is why I think PLNs are a necessity for all teachers- it not only provides them with tips and tricks, but also a support system. As far as lurking, I think that it is okay to do so when first examining a resource, but I do not think a person should lurk forever once they have found a source they love. Instead, they should contribute their own thoughts and reach out to others to establish relationships and help others.

  9. I think that all teachers should build their own PLNs. I had not known what a PLN was until this course, but I am so glad that I have since learned. To me, a PLN is a device capable of pushing teacher’s to reach their greatest potential. They allow teachers to communicate with others about their own successes, failures, and suggestions. They aim to build each other up. I especially like that all contributors of a PLN are coming from the same place- in a teacher’s PLN, every person is working toward creating a meaingful educational experience for their students. Every person cares about kids and wants to do what they can to help them succeed. This is why I think PLNs are a necessity for all teachers- it not only provides them with tips and tricks, but also a support system. As far as lurking, I think that it is okay to do so when first examing a resource, but I do not think a person should lurk forever once they have found a source they love. Instead, they should contribute their own thoughts and reach out to others to establish relationships and help others.

  10. The sixth benefit that talks about staying up to date on research resonates with me because I think it’s important to keep evolving, growing and learning as an educator. Education is constantly changing and the children that we teach are all evolving and all different so I find it essential to stay up to date with research and new practices and strategies so that I can always give my students my best and give them their best chance at a quality education.

  11. I feel this will be beneficial in my career, for example, if I am having a road block with one of my students and everything I am trying seems not to work, I can reach out and connect with others with similar situations and see how they problem solved or get advice or ideas on the next steps. This could make not only myself, but my students lives easier.

  12. I want to address lurking from the first prompt and my thoughts on this approach. While it is certainly a good idea to learn from others and to pay attention to what they have to say, doing so from an uninvolved perspective does not make for the best experience. If something is being addressed where there is a gap in your knowledge, you need to be involved to ask questions and gain a better understanding. It is all well and good to stay out of something if you have nothing to contribute, but to solely be a spectator is to put yourself in a weaker position.

  13. To me, a Professional Learning Network is a system of individual educators coming together to share support and knowledge in the pursuit of furthering education. Together, everyone is able to learn and grow through shared and differed experiences and can develop their own pedagogy and methods based on new information. As educators, we are constant learners. It would be beneficial to not only one person, but the many components of the PLN that come together. I think “lurking” would be very beneficial to new educators, or those with minimal experience in certain areas. This would allow the lurker to gain information and better prepare themselves for new experiences, and taking the time and consideration to listen to other instructors and what they have learned.

  14. The biggest benefit to creating a PLN is that you can learn and connect in a way that suits the individual. They have the ability to connect people from across the entire country and world and inspire others to try new things or see things from another perspective. It also gives the chance to connect with other individuals to share and inform about their specific experiences.

  15. PLN has to do with promoting mutual learning. The goal is to use PLN as a tool for educators to share resources, communicate, and co-conspire in various ways. I would love to join forums where I can communicate with teachers and share resources with one another. I think that it’s important to be a connected educator because education is more powerful if it’s relevant to the students’ lives. Education is empowering when students make those personal connections and see the relationship between their lives and the world around. A connected educator can help make more webs for the students to explore.

  16. I am a fourth year undergraduate student working towards getting my degree in early elementary education. I think it is important to utilize as many tools as you can that are available to you especially as an educator. As for Task #1, I think that a PLN is a way to learn and grow through communication. To create a network full of educators means to create a world of ideas that can be shared between so many people. This network can serve as support when help is needed and can also help those in need. It provides an easy and convenient way to be able to pull insights from other people in your field. I feel like for someone like me who is still in school to become a teacher, something like this would be a great resource. I could pull information from all different kinds of people to help me grow a wealth of knowledge from when I am finally in my own classroom. I see a PLN as a giant school filled with teachers helping one another.

    • Jennifer Carranza
  17. The fascinating part of PLN is that the individual can choose the group of people they want to connect with to learn from their ideas. One of the pros of “lurking” is that educators have the power to explore their own interests or needs at any time of the day. “Lurking” also allows individuals to search for the information they need or discard it if it’s not relevant. For example, a teacher might need advice or tips on how to teach a math strategy that their class is struggling with. The teacher can “lurk” through several math pages on Twitter until they find a page that is relevant to their classroom’s needs. However, it’s important to transition from “lurking” to sharing if you are deciding to utilize the information that’s presented. Providing comments and feedback is important in growing your PLN and ensuring you are being a collaborative member. A con of lurking can include individuals that are only taking ideas from others without actively participating. The purpose of a PLN is to collaborate with others in your field to continue each other’s learning.

  18. Personal Learning Networks give educators the opportunity to connect with others in order to gain new understandings or share their own expertise. The fascinating part of PLN is that the individual can choose the group of people they want to connect with to learn from their ideas. One of the pros of “lurking” is that educators have the power to explore their own interests or needs at any time of the day. “Lurking” also allows individuals to search for the information they need or discard it if it’s not relevant. For example, a teacher might need advice or tips on how to teach a math strategy that their class is struggling with. The teacher can “lurk” through several math pages on Twitter until they find a page that is relevant to their classroom’s needs. However, it’s important to transition from “lurking” to sharing if you are deciding to utilize the information that’s presented. Providing comments and feedback is important in growing your PLN and ensuring you are being a collaborative member. A con of lurking can include individuals that are only taking ideas from others without actively participating. The purpose of a PLN is to collaborate with others in your field to continue each other’s learning.