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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. 

502 Comments

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  1. I think their are many benefits of PLN’s. A PLN allows me to stay current with what is going on in education and in other parts of the world. I can have personal development at my fingertips to access when it works for me. Selecting my own personal network of people is also beneficial when looking for ideas and suggestions that fit my needs and the needs of my students. I started building one a couple of years ago, and I really need to make the effort to use it!

    • That’s great you already made a start in the past. I bet lots of those people you’ve connected with before would be happy to reconnect too. Good luck!

      Kathleen Morris
      Edublogs Community Manager
      @kathleen_morris

      • Kathleen Morris
  2. I feel like I am a “mostly” or “kinda” connected educator, which is why I am doing the @edublogs course. I feel like having a PLN is KEY to being #futureready! We want personalized or learner-centered experiences for our students. . .so we need to practice and model for them as professionals!

    • That’s great, Sia! It sure is key to being #futureready and I definitely agree we need to be models for our students as well!

      • Kathleen Morris
  3. This is great. I didn’t know about the term before even though I was actually having a PLN of my own. Thanks for in enlightenment.

  4. Connecting with other educators is a crucial part of being a teacher. Over the years, I have borrowed ideas, strategies, and activities from fellow teachers that transformed my teaching and my classroom. Recently I made the change to being our school’s librarian. I have found this to be a very lonely position. There is no one in my building who is a “teammate” and with whom I can bounce and share ideas. However, after observing fellow teacher librarians at other schools and in other districts, I have created a connection network. Those connections lead me to professional groups on Facebook that have been crucial in my development as a teacher librarian. I am constantly working to improve and enhance my library program for my students. Being connected in this way, has provided endless ideas, information and the comfort of a team atmosphere. In addition, collaborating with other teacher librarians in my district has been very beneficial. It does not matter how long you have been a teacher, there is always room for growth and improvement. As educators, we must value growth in order to have the greatest impact on our students’ success.

  5. Yes, yes, yes. All educators need to develop their PLN. This is especially critical for those, like Teacher Librarians, who are isolated.

    But in the same way that schools can become echo chambers, we need to be aware that we don’t just choose to follow those with the same views as our own, and that we choose a range of people for our network.

    • Schools can definitely become echo chambers in some ways! And you’re right that there are certain roles (such as TLs) who don’t get to work with colleagues as much as others. A PLN can definitely help!

      • Kathleen Morris
  6. It’s important to be a connected educator because you’re able to get feedback from so many other people who may be in the same boat as you! PLN is all about exploring and exploring is the biggest thing when it comes to learning. An example that I heard in the video was that a man posted one night about a software and someone in New Zealand responded because it was so late in his time zone, but not theirs! Crazy!

    • Victoria Mason
    • Time zones are certainly funny things, aren’t they! It’s great always having someone around to connect with! Good on you learning about PLNs while you’re a college student.

      • Kathleen Morris
  7. I think what is most beneficial to me is that I am in charge. I like to be in control of what I’m doing at all times. I also really like the idea of exploring things that I am interested in, not just something that is given to me. I also like the technology frame of PLN’s. Although technology can be a distraction to some, I find things more attractive when I can do it from my phone or laptop.

    • Victoria Mason
  8. As a college student interested in becoming a teacher I think that PLN is an amazing way to get feedback and new ideas. I am very big on getting ideas from people because although I often think that my way is the best way(; when I’m stuck I like being able to seek help or insight.

    • Victoria Mason
  9. As a Department Director at a Hospital I feel that myself and my staff can benefit from a PLN. Healthcare is ever evolving and reaching the younger generation has become more difficult. A PLN would be a great way to provide ongoing education in the Department as well engage this generation. It would also allow the staff to offer resolutions to work related issues. This would help us all learn from each other.

    • Melissa Barnhill
  10. We evolve toward perfect network, the infinite correlation which is deep in our Self and for this reason we use this blueprint to built better and better networks outside. PLN is a way to unfold our huge potential.

    • sorinel balan
  11. The video “Connected Educators” was spot-on. Having taught for 30 years, the importance of connection in order to continue learning and evolving as an educator is a necessity. I am looking forward to building my PLN and learning new things that I can implement with my students.

    • Hi Connie, I’m sure over 30 things you’ve seen a lot of things change in education but the importance for connections remains strong!

      • Kathleen Morris
  12. After watching the videos, ‘What is a PLN?’ and ‘Connected Educators’, I am further convinced that engagement, connection and collaboration among educators is the best practice, given the rapid development in education and technology.

    Some years back, I joined a PLN and was able to complete my CICTL in which I had a distinction due to collaborative efforts within the PLN. We learnt together, studied together and also shared ideas among ourselves. It have us the confidence to approach those essays and tasks with positive mindset with feedback and guidance from our mentors and coordinators.

    PLNs have come to stay, and the least educators can do is to leverage the opportunities for Professional Development.

    • Stephen Obasun
  13. Having a personal learning network has been beneficial to others and I am looking forward to building my own PLN. I like that learning can take place on my time and will be according to my interests. Thank you for explaining the process in a way that is easy to understand and most importantly implement.

  14. After watching Connected Educators, I have to say that I agree with many of the statements given by these educators. What resonated the most with me was the point about being lifelong learners and how we tell our students to be lifelong learners but we do not always practice what we teach.
    As an educator I believe we need to constantly learn , find new ideas, and take risks. Twitter is a great way to achieve this.
    I began twitter in 2016 with the primary purpose of following my teenage daughter. I had no other intention. When I developed my profile, I decided to keep it all professional since I had just started my Masters program. I really did not expect what I found.
    Twitter has changed my professional life. The connections that I have made over the past two years have definitely made a difference in my professional world. As I go into 2019, I want to continue to grow my PLN so that I can grow as an educator and enhance my teaching and my students’ learning.

  15. Task 3: Connected Educators

    There was not a signal point made in this video that I did not agree with! All very well said. I think some of the most important statements made had to do with being a life-long learner, and that often means leaving the security of the building. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very innovative people, but also some heal draggers. I was always amazed that year after year, there were zero changes made in the way these people interacted with their classrooms.

    Twitter was also mentioned several times. When I first learned about Twitter I thought it was a silly tool for famous people. When I was finally introduced to the educational value it possesses, I was forever changed. The endless amount of potential ideas and resources is incredible. Someone also mentioned using Twitter as an answer finder. I can imagine this to be very helpful, especially for people teaching in remote areas.

    I think another benefit of connecting through technology is to have a better global perspective. This is important as educators so we can support out students in their digital citizenship paths.

    I am excited to learn more about PLNs.

    Amber

  16. Task 2: the Benefits of a PLN:

    I have been slowly building a PLN since participating in the Introduction to Blogging course this time last year. It has been a slow process as I mostly read what other people write, rather than sharing my own ideas. I hoping now to branch out and do a bit more writing of my own.

    Many of the 8 reasons for building a PLN resonate with me, however, I guess that the one that keeps me motivated is Number 6: staying up to date with current practices. I have found that I am constantly finding new ideas and perspectives to inject into my own teaching and school through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and a variety of blogs. I am quite sure that I would not be as confident in my practice as a teacher if not for the great educators I consider as part of my PLN.

    • This is a wonderful reflection, Kirsty. I definitely agree with you about the power of finding new ideas. It’s such a shame that most teachers wait for their school to bring PD or new things to them, when there is really so much out there to explore and try!

      • Kathleen Morris
  17. For me, the P in PLN means professional, although it will also make a difference in my personal life.
    How do I use resources like a PLN? I always start by “lurking,” to get a sense of a group. Not just on the internet either. I’ve always been the person to enter a the room, try to get an understanding of who is there and what is happening, and then speak up. I don’t barrel in and immediately start talking.
    The benefit that resonates with me is learning more than I can from my immediate environment. I’m particularly interested in making the web accessible for as many as possible. That is a goal some of my colleagues share, but I don’t have access to the insights of those who are more familiar with making the web available to all. At least, I did not have such access until today! I look forward to learning from colleagues around the world on accessibility and other topics.

    • Hi there, this is a good description of being a lurker. You’re right — it doesn’t just apply to online interactions. I love your goal of making the web more accessible. It is so important yet overlooked by so many big companies. 🙁

      • Kathleen Morris
  18. What I really love about PLN is the ability to control your learning. You can equally explore your interests, needs and passions. All you have to do is turn to your PLN for advice.

    In Nigeria where education is being made mockery of, having a PLN should be what every student have as such will compensate for the lack of current information and half baked knowledge being dished out in class.

    I’m so glad I came across this free blog. It’s well designed for this particular purpose.

    I’m off to build my PLN

    • I love controlling my own learning through having a diverse PLN. Hopefully, you’ll get more of your colleagues and perhaps students on board!

      • Kathleen Morris
  19. What PLN means to me is surrounding one self around individuals who have made an investment in their learning by going one step further to instigate things to happen in my own professional development. By being pro active in my own growth and development and surrounding my self around like minded people who can help empower me to be the best me that I can be in my own growth and professional development .There are many things that resonate with me about PLN,but the one thing that really sticks out the most is being active in my own personal development. It’s important to be a connected educator because not only can I help others, but we can be a source of impression for one another to succeed when we are connected to other people who we select to be a part of our PLN.

    • Abdu kareem Muhammad
  20. This is in response to being a connected educator. The video I watched really makes sense to get connected with technology because it is the future. I couldn’t agree more with how hearing from other educators around the country can enhance my own teaching. I haven’t really used social media of any type so this is an exciting adventure for me. Thanks for setting up this course.

    • Michalle Keiser