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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. 

769 Comments

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  1. PLNs are very beneficial and the benefit which resonates with me is “Learn and connect the way you enjoy.” Some many times in the past I have participated in professional development and said to myself “a video or a virtual presentation would have saved me so much time and money.” I like having control of how much information I receive at one time and being able to tune out and tune in at my own pace.

    • Pshantel DeanMcGruder
  2. I didn’t know what a PLN was until now. PLN is a way to stay connected and learn from other educators. Considering the power of technology, I hate that I didn’t know about this sooner than later. There have been many of times where I felt like I will limited to resources within my department and workshops at the start of the school year. It wasn’t always a success in terms of enhancing my growth as an educator. Having a PLN will allow me to personalize my network to better meet my needs as an educator and potential leader.

  3. I’ve personally only ever used the term “Professional’ learning network but, I really like swapping that for “Personalized”. Truly, it feels more authentic to what I am doing. Of course, I am being “professional” but centering professionalism in a creative and open space supportive of stepping out on limbs, taking risks, and failing…makes me feel less likely to take those risks because I have been normed that to be “professional” means to be “competent” and that failure is not a characteristic of that. By centering the “Personalized” nature of what I am doing in these spaces, specific to the unique needs of my students at any given time, I feel like I am more able to give myself grace to ask questions and fail forward. Also, it seems like it adds value to the merits of my endeavors in this space by acknowledging the unique lens I might be bringing at any given point in time; that it is directly impacted by my context and experience as opposed to some wide ranging ideal of “Professionalism” or what it means to be “Professional” (which also varies significantly across time, space, and culture). “Personalized” represents his variation and celebrates it as value adding in a space filled with variety focused on supporting students and colleagues. Definitely going to start using the term Personalized Learning Networks from here on out : ) Anyone have any feedback that might make me consider an alternative or change my mind?

    • Danae Peterson
  4. PLN personally is an avenue of media resources that best serve to connect educators across the world. I feel the “lurking” approach to media has its pro’s and con’s depending on the consumer’s intention. Pro: Lurking for someone who would be considered a novice social media user can help them get comfortable within a certain platform or within a certain chat group at first to sort of “test the waters” as they gain the confidence to push past that mode of lurking. Con: A user could get stuck in that comfortability of lurking and fail to connect a step further and make their voice heard within the community, a person may have immense value to share about a topic but is being overshadow by their lurking nature.

    A PLN benefit that resonates with me was that “you can learn and connect in a way you enjoy.” PLN focuses on connecting and because everyone is different it benefits off our different ways of thinking. This benefit serves as a reminder that “hey this may be completely new information but you can still learn and enjoy the connections in a way that best suits you.”

    The importance of being a connected educator is having the ability to be a light to others to provide different acts of service to others that may be needing help or guidance in a certain area. Stay connected can help with finding news ways to teach or provides new perspectives different than the one’s immediately around you and always leaves room for growth.

  5. I think PLN is ways to make we easier to connecting with other educator or other peoples. Can making we easier to get resources about what we like and interenst. We can use twitter, youtube or other

  6. One of the eight benefits that resonated with me was number 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.
    This one resonates with me because I am usually on a weird schedule and sometimes I do work late at night and I would not want to have to text, email someone at an inconvenient time. This way I am able to see if anyone else has put the question out there or someone answered it already. I can share my thoughts, ideas, struggles online at any time, too.

    • Rebecca Pierce
  7. With a PLN the part that I feel will really benefit me is that you are able to get answers at anytime. Also, that you will be able to get different ideas from people all over the world. The possibilities are endless from your networks and people within you PLN.

  8. A personal learning network can be created through social media or internet resources that can help the teacher succeed in the classroom. It provides an extra support system for teachers. It is important for various reasons including being in charge of professional development. Teachers are life long learners and constantly refining their craft. Secondly, there is an opportunity for teachers to explore their own interests or a research a student’s interest. The internet provides flexibility. The personal learning network of people are a valuable resource. There are many different way to connect including blogs, podcasts, or videos. Next this personal learning network allows people to stay current with what is happening. It also allows teachers to brainstorm different ideas and fine tune topics. Lastly it allows the teachers to be globally connected. This then allows the students to be globally connected. 

    • Kathryn Clemons
  9. PLN is a Professional Learning Network. These platforms are not only for teachers, but they are used by teachers to build a community and find resources to help build their classroom. Being a part of a community is important for sharing experiences and learning about things that may have not been brought to your attention otherwise. It allows educators to learn from each other and other organizations that advocate for the same things.

  10. A PLN is a personalized learning network because the learning is personalized to the individual- PLN’s are not just for educators. The 24/7 learning benefit resonates with me because you can learn what you want when you want. It is essential to be a connected educator using a PLN because you can grow in ways that would not be possible without technology. You can learn from feedback and insights from other educators from around the world. Personalized Learning Networks allow educators to be life long learners. I am eager to learn about PLN’s in the other six steps.

    • Rebecca Campbell
  11. A PLN is a network contrived of both online and in person peers as well as people you may not really talk to but are still connected to, really just a big group of people to collaborate with. I think the idea of lurking can act to be very helpful as someone who is wanting to be more integrated into their PLN or their studies and learn more without feeling forced to share their own ideas just yet. It can help emerging professionals test the waters and get on their feet a bit, and then when they’re ready to share they can integrate themselves more and collaborate more among their PLN.

  12. A PLN is a network or form of communicating with other educators on current education topics and a way to connect and learn from others. The second and eighth reason to have a PLN are the ones I connect to the most. I feel it is important to follow your interest and passions and for your students because you never know what you might find. Also, I like the idea that you would be able globally meet other educators. We as educators may teach differently, so it would be good to learn from others on how they teach.

    • Isaiah Alexander
  13. The two PLN benefits that resonate with me are “learn and connect in a way you enjoy” and “students need globally connected teachers.” Enjoyment and learning should go hand-in-hand. PLN allows us to connect with people and resources that are specific to our needs and interests. Therefore, the information gained from PLN is more likely to be absorbed than some information presented in a meeting. Being globally connected is essential to celebrating diversity and understanding different points of views. This type of connection and learned knowledge will help us explore our own biases and work to eliminate them for a stronger classroom community.

    • Tarana Tavangar
  14. It’s important to be a connected educator in order to not only stay on top of the most recent information on educating, but also to learn from others experiences and sharing experiences with others. Also, it’s important as an educated to be a lifelong learner and this is a great way to stay connected and be a lifelong learner alongside other lifelong learners.

  15. A PLN is essentially an interconnected professional network. Using a site like Twitter, you find people who you think have relevant ideas related to various aspects of teaching (pedagogy, technology, etc). As you follow more people, you are growing not only your PLN, but others PLN. This creates a network where educators can share strategies, thoughts and opinions, and resources with others. In addition, members of your own PLN are able and typically interested in adding on to and critiquing the things you share. I think that lurking is probably a helpful way to start out a PLN. Figure out what currents exist in the PLN you are creating and from there get involved. If you lurk too long, it may become even harder to stop lurking.