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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


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. 


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  1. One of the benefits I learned is that you can explore yours or your students’ own interests, needs, and passions. There are multiple students who will struggle with different topics. Students are interested in a bunch of different topics and they might be interested in researching it. The PLN Is used to support ongoing learning for students. Teachers can turn to their own PLN to refer to as help.

  2. As a new teacher, I am excited to find that educators use PLNs. Since education is always changing, it is important that teachers stay connected. What I really love about PLNs is #2. Each teacher is different, with different strengths and weaknesses. Having a Personal Learning Network allows teachers to explore what they need when they need it. This can be something related to a group of students or the area you teach in. With a PLN, professional development is endless!

    • Casey Leigh Essinger
  3. A PLN is a Personal Learning Network. A PLN is a collaboration between individuals to promote mutual learning. A PLN can be in the form of feedback, documentation, or insights. Each individual in a PLN is wanting to grow from one another’s input on a topic. One benefit of having a PLN is having somewhere to turn if needing to help with students, work, or exploring different interests.

  4. I like the idea of growing as a teacher at my own pace via the online PLN. I also think the online flexible schedule would work well. You could work on it at lunch or during your planning time

  5. A professional learning network is a group of people who encourage learning, collaborating, and sharing with one another. The people in this network find ways to enjoy what they do whether at a school or in any other group. The benefit choice that I chose was “You can learn and connect in a way that you enjoy.” I chose this because I think that the best learning often takes place when you are doing something you enjoy. There are different ways to connect learning to the outside world. One example of using this benefit is through the use of social media. I recently had the idea of creating an assignment where my students would use multiple different social media platforms and create “posts” to display their work and answers to show their learning. I know my students will enjoy this because social media is such a big part of their everyday lives. It is extremely important to be a connected teacher, so that you understand what is going on in the world and can better reach your students. It is important to also be willing to try new things because the world is ever changing. By being a part of a PLN, you will be more willing to try different things and find better ways to keep the interest of your students, so that they enjoy what they are doing and learning.

  6. I think having the 24/7 availability to connect and learn from others is a great RESOURCE.
    It also gives you the flexibility to do it a time that suits you.

    • charles elliott
  7. I find that number two of the eight benefits something that fits me best because I “can explore my own interests, needs, and passions as well as my students’ passions.” This will allow me to know what my student’s take interest in and how I can best facilitate their learning.

  8. I like the flexibility benefit of the PLN. With this online opportunity teachers can do this during their planning time or lunch. I also like how it allows teachers to grow at their own pace via feedback from their peers.

  9. The biggest benefit to me about PLNs are that I can control my own professional development. I know it isn’t easy to work on PD but having my own PLN lets me work in my free time and grow in more specific areas. I have specific things and people who are helping me work through things and grow to be a better teacher.

    • Steele Clowers
  10. I believe that benefit 6, that talks about staying current to today’s learning styles, is extremely important to my adaptability in the classroom. Being able to be adaptable when it comes to my teaching styles, is just as important as the way that the students have to adapt to different learning styles each year when they enter a new classroom with a new teacher in a brand new environment. Flexibility is the biggest buzzword in education today, and it is exactly what our student need and deserve. It is also important that we can use a PLN at our convenience in order to get the most that we can from our fellow teachers.

  11. This was a great and educational article about PLNs. Concerning the part about the 8 benefits of PLNs, the number that I related with most was number 4, “you can learn and connect in a way that you enjoy.” I am a huge fan of social media and see it as an asset in the educational realm. I am very comfortable using all social media platforms. Twitter is one that many educators are already using and implementing into their own classrooms. Instagram happens to be my personal favorite, and I believe it is a great tool that can be implemented into the classroom. Instagram is more focused on pictures and videos, and in the educational realm posting those pictures and videos is a great way to connect. Podcasts are a new tool I am getting into, and would love to see it more implemented in education.

  12. It is now easy to stay updated on educational practices and research. PLN’s provide the best practices from nearby schools and even from other countries. This opens up a plethora of resources for teachers.

  13. A PLN seems like an excellent tool to engage yourself in learning more than ever in the career of education. The ability to take charge and initiate your own professional development through discussion with other educators is something I can’t wait to be a part of. Having the opportunity to explore new ideas, specific to your classroom and student needs, provides incredible support, especially as an upcoming new teacher myself. This engagement in discussion about learning that is specific and differentiated to student needs provides new ideas, and resources that can greatly benefit them individually and as a whole.

  14. I believe that benefit 6, that talks about staying current to today’s learning styles, is extremely important to my adaptability in the classroom. Being able to be adaptable when it comes to my teaching styles, is just as important as the way that the students have to adapt to different learning styles each year when they enter a new classroom with a new teacher in a brand new environment. Flexibility is the biggest buzzword in education today, and it is exactly what our student need and deserve. It is also important that we can use a PLN at our convenience in order to get the most that we can from our fellow teachers.

  15. I feel that I can really engage my students by using my PLN for the use of their interests (#2). This would be a great activity or incentive to use at the end of the week for students to look forward to.

  16. I think the 24/7 learning is a huge benefit. I like the idea the idea of not having to take time out of a busy schedule to go to a large conference or meeting, as well as potentially spending a lot of money. With PLNs, I am able to communicate with others that can offer me insight or advice at any time. By creating a PLN, I will have people that I can go to that will be able to help me at the times that I need it, not just times that advise is being publicly offered.

  17. PLN is a huge benefit for teachers because teachers are now able to communicate with other teachers to collaborate. The teachers are able to work together to see what works and what doesn’t. This helps because you are able to get new ideas and a fresh look on what could happen in your classroom.

    • Cheyenne Lawson
  18. The benefit that I really like about PLNs is the second one “You can explore your own interests, needs, and passions (or your students’).” This is something I like to use now in my everyday lesson plans. Finding things that benefit student interest and passions help students learn and help keep them engaged in lessons and projects. There are so many things out there, whether it be people or a website, that can really benefit the classroom experience.

    • Zaire Langill
  19. A PLN is a Personal Learning Network. A PLN is a collaboration between individuals to promote mutual learning. A PLN can be in the form of feedback, documentation, or insights. Each individual in a PLN is wanting to grow from one another’s input on a topic.

  20. Professional Learning Networks (PLN) are networks of teachers developed so that teachers can connect with each other. PLNs allow teachers to collaborate, gain new ideas, and stay relevant in the world of education. Teachers are able to learn new concepts, ideas, and teaching methods from teachers within their school or from anywhere in the world through the use of PLNs.

    • Madison McGinnis
  21. Love this idea of PD when I want where I want. Of course I already do this!

  22. PLN stands for Personal Learning Network. This is basically a network of people that share ideas, questions, and thoughts with one another in order to learn more about the topic they are studying. Some online forms of PLN could include YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter

    • Heather Knowlton
  23. I am very excited to learn more about building a PLN. PLNs are promoted at my school as our Instructional Technologist is very pro-PLN and is always hosting Twitter chats and such. To be honest, things like Twitter Chats terrify me! I’m not sure how to go about being active in one so I am looking forward to learning. I would say that I am more of a “lurker” on Twitter but I am hoping to change that.

    • Michelle Higdon
  24. I am a new high school library media specialist in a district where there are no other teacher librarians. Though I have been in education for 26 years, my new role can be isolating. I am so excited to build a PLN with other high school librarians as I know how easy it is to stay in the “echo chamber” of my school. I have been a Twitter “lurker” for several years, but it is definitely time to begin taking a more active and engaged role. It is easy to passively scroll through content, but taking the time to craft a thoughtful response is exactly what good teachers ask of their students who are learning something new.

    • Mary Mendelin
  25. PLN’s allow you to be in charge of your own professional development. PD is no longer something that you have to “sit and get”. For example, I am our PBIS Tier 1 coach, and the professional development opportunities that interest me most are found through other educators and PBIS PD trainings.