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.

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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. 

1,360 thoughts on “Step 1: What Is A PLN?

  1. As an educator, I picture a PLN as a virtual staffroom where connections with fellow educators, mentors, and online communities provide a continuous flow of inspiration and insights. Engaging with educational blogs, participating in Twitter chats with other teachers, or joining specialized forums become integral components of this curated network.

    The flexibility of 24/7 learning through a PLN allows one to choose when and how to connect, adapting to the demands of the teaching schedule. Whether in need of broad brainstorming for a new lesson plan or fine-tuning existing ideas, a PLN serves as a valuable resource. For instance, seeking entry points into exploring a new teaching concept or leveraging the network to refine and enhance materials already developed.

    In the realm of professional development, one takes charge—deciding which tools to use, who to connect with, and how and when to learn. A PLN empowers individuals to tap into the expertise of both peers and seasoned educators, exposing them to multiple perspectives that enrich teaching practices.

    As an educator, the concept of a PLN goes beyond personal growth; it becomes a moral imperative. By embracing connected learning in an interconnected world, one not only enhances their own skills but also models for students the importance of continual learning, adaptability, and collaboration—preparing them for the ever-evolving educational landscape.
    The beauty of a PLN lies in its personal nature, putting one in control of their professional development journey.

  2. PLNs are a comprised group of people helping others on their educational path. People within PLN groups are to different companies or organizations that can give their thoughts and ideas to the person asking for thoughts and ideas. The interesting bit within PLN is the L because it can either mean “Lurk” or “Learn,” in which you can just view what is happening or learn what is happening.

  3. A PLN that resonates with me will have to be: 24/7 learning offers the flexibility to learn and connect at a time that suits you. That benefit resonates with me so much because I am always running around I have two daughters 5 and 6 month so we are always doing something so when I can I feel like this is perfect because of my crazy schedule sometimes I would like to connect early in the morning and sometimes I might not be available until later on in the evening or maybe I only have the weekend available so I really love the fact that they have this available 24/7.

  4. The PLN benefit that resonated most with me was exploring your own interests, needs, and passions (or your students’). I am very passionate about bringing theatre into the classroom, especially in English. I think finding educators who excel in this and who share my passion for both theatre and English is very beneficial and somethings that a PLN can bring me. I also think that exploring the needs of your students is very important. As someone who is studying to become an educator there are so many things that I don’t know, and being able to reach out and find someone who can help me meet the needs of my students is very intriguing and promising. This benefit of a PLN brings me the most hope for my future in education.

  5. A PLN, or personalized learning network, is a way for educators to grow in their professional development by experiencing ideas or programs implemented in other schools, and it allows them to build off of these ideas to create the best possible teaching environment and style. After reading the eight benefits of the PLN, the benefit that resonated with me was that globally connected students need globally connected educators. This is such an important benefit because we, as a society, expect students to develop diverse learning through school; however, this development requires teachers to learn from others ideas and connect with other professionals related to themselves. I grew up in a rural area and attended a small, rural school where all of the teachers had the same teaching styles and used each other’s ideas to try to build their classrooms. Although this was wonderful, they all needed new and improved ideas that nobody had thought of within the district. The PLN would provide this opportunity for teachers to diversify their teaching, which would result in an expansion of connections and learning for the students as well.

  6. A PLN to me is a Personal Learning Network. It is an accessible community and can be based on personal / professional interests and can conveniently be accessed whenever you need. It allows you to connect with other professionals and share ideas and experiences to help each other out.

  7. A PLN to me is a personalized learning network. A PLN is a personalized collaboration community of individuals and resources that is utilized to enhance and provide growth in learning and personal/professional development. A PLN is an amazing resource and learning tool that helps to build a community that aims to expand the growth and development of education professionals.

  8. A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a group of people who you connect with to increase your knowledge of a particular subject. It is a personalized network that you shape according to your preferences and individual goals. The people in your PLN can be anyone who shares your interests and can help you learn more about a particular subject.

  9. A PNL is a personalized way to connect with other educators. It also provides a great support system for new teachers. One benefit of PNL that I really liked was how it helps keep teachers up to date on the new and best practice. This ensures teachers are providing their students with the best qualifications.

  10. PLN (professional learning network) is a network that provides some sort of educational information for other educators to see and maybe get some ideas from. I think that it is great to have a community like this where educators can share their own thoughts/ideas, which can inspire other educators to create their own PLN.

  11. A benefit of creating a PLN that resonated with me is being able to connect when it best suits you. It gives everyone an opportunity to participate even if there schedules are different. It can be hard to coordinate schedules and make times to discuss, but this way everyone is able to connect even if it is not at the exact same time.

  12. A PLN is a community where people can post and share ideas with each other. This community allows you to get on at any time to share or learn new ideas. I feel this benefits me because it is easier to do this on your free time instead of a set time.

  13. To me, a PLN is a way of growing as an educator by being able to choose what, where and when you are learning. One benefit that stands out to me is the ability to learn from the comfort of your own home. Most Professional Developments occur at a school, or some other building, and at a certain time. PLNs can be accessed anytime and anywhere. This, to me, gives PLNs the upper hand especially in this day and age. It is much more of a modern and realistic approach to developing as an educator. I think the P in PLN can stand from many things, either personal, professional, or personalized, because to me it is all of those things combined.

  14. A “PLN” is a group of people or organizations that you connect with to learn something. It is like a community. In a community, we connect with our neighbors to stay updated and informed, so it is the same way in a sense. This will useful as a future teacher because it will allow me to find new resources, come up with new ideas, and work with others to overcome barriers. It allows you to connect with others and improve their ideas or create ideas based off of what you learned.

  15. The second benefit of a PLN “You can explore your own interests, needs, and passions (or your students’)” resonated with me because students all learn in different ways. Some students may struggle with a particular topic while others find it easy. Being able to explore new ways on how to help your students from other educators out there is helpful. The teacher can implement the new ideas to help their students be as effective as possible in the classroom.

  16. A PLN stands for personal learning network and this is where a group of people who share the same interests can meet formally or informally using online tools. Some of these tools can include Pinterest, Youtube, blogs, etc. People in the group can share their thoughts and knowledge on a PLN as well.

  17. PLN stands for personal learning network. It is an online network of people that engage in discussions focused on learning. They can comment on each others posts, and hear different thoughts and perspectives on topics.

  18. PNL stands for personal learning network. The PNL is the network of someone’s personal network of support and resources to continue learning

  19. One of the eight benefits that resonated with me the most was the 24/7 learning and flexibility. I have a bad habit of sending in assignments the same day they are due. If I have it where the whole class assignments are due at the end of the year, then I do them more often. However, I also tend to lose motivation during the middle part of the semester, so this would provide a good way to learn on my own time when inspiration strikes.

  20. A PLN is a group of people who focus on learning about a particular topic through the sharing of ideas. This allows people to explore and continue to develop within their passions through exchanging ideas with others who have similar interests and passions. Some people may choose to “lurk” or sit back and see what other people are saying, but I feel that one would get the most out of a PLN by actively engaging with discussions and putting forth their own ideas.

  21. I learned a lot about PLNs. I am excited to integrate teaching into my twitter experience. I have argued that it is a wonderful tool for years. Allowing the public access to all kinds of news, voices, and resources that otherwise could not be found in mainstream media and conversations. I like the idea of staying updated on pedagogy. As a future History teacher it is important for me to have a network of people with different experiences and perspectives to help me understand and teach History in the best way possible.

  22. The purpose of the partnerships that make up the PLN is to improve mutual learning. The learning that comes from new connections, documents, insights, comments, and commercial prospects is the PLN’s currency. It is predicated on mutual respect and the belief that both sides are actively looking for knowledge that will benefit the other.

  23. PLN is a way to build a personalized community. You decide who joins, can be used on many different platforms, and is professionally based.

  24. A PLN is a way to connect with people and learn from their ideas. You are able to choose people to be involved in your group. This is positive because the people you choose also have other networks that they learn from so they can share their ideas with the group. It is very important that we continue to learn from one another because we all have multiple connections and ideas that we can share with others. Lurking is when you only look at other people’s ideas and you do not share your own. A pro to this is that you are learning from others, but a big con is that you are not also sharing your ideas. It is important to give and not take too much. A Personal Learning Network is a great tool to use to stay involved with people that have similar interests as you, it is also a great way to learn from others.

  25. A PLN is a network to help educators build on what they already know. It is advantageous because it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This allows you to interact with other PLN’s at whatever time works for you. Another great aspect of it is that you can interact with people from all over the world. Anyone wanting to go into the education field, like myself, would benefit very much from this.

  26. I’m delighted to discover PLN, the professional Learning Network; as a future teacher, this will be a good source for me for diverse resources. It will be good to exchange ideas, inspire, and get inspired. A PLN is a great way to reach outside where you work and learn from other different teachers who have different approaches. I can’t wait to start using PLN.

  27. A PLN is a personal learning network that consists of relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning. One PLN benefit is being able to Learn and connect in a way that you enjoy. I believe that not being stuck in a box and being able to think/work outside of the box is very beneficial in connecting and learning with others. Everyone’s process is different and I like the fact that you’re not stuck with one process.

  28. \PLN isn’t something that really has a meaning for me. After watching the video, I realize that I do some of the things that they are talking about. I often go to YouTube to find videos on a subject that I teach. It is especially useful for history. I don’t like the term “lurking”. It is a word that conjures up a negative trait. There is nothing wrong with watching what other people are contributing and using one of their good ideas

  29. I resonate with the benefit of “you can explore your own interests, needs, and passions (or your students’).” This benefit of having a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is particularly appealing because it empowers educators to tailor their professional development to their unique interests and the specific needs of their students. As an aspiring teacher, I believe that personalized learning is highly effective, and a PLN aligns with this philosophy. A PLN allows for learning through various mediums such as videos, podcasts, text, social media, and more. This diversity in learning materials caters to different learning styles and preferences, making the learning experience enjoyable and effective!

  30. A PLN, or Personal Learning Network, is a dynamic, personalized network of individuals and resources that an individual connects with to enhance their learning and professional development. It can encompass colleagues, mentors, online communities, books, websites, and more. PLNs facilitate knowledge exchange, idea sharing, and skill development.

    Lurking in a PLN context refers to passively observing the network’s content without active participation. Pros include learning without pressure, but cons involve missed opportunities for engagement and contribution.

    PLN might stand for Personalized Learning Network, reflecting its tailored nature, where individuals curate their learning resources. Ultimately, a PLN is a valuable tool for personal and professional growth, enabling continuous learning and adaptation in our rapidly changing world.

  31. A PLN is a network of individuals or organizations that are all connected by either a profession or particular idea. The network connects people to share what they’re doing about a problem, something that worked for them, or ask questions. It is a system that is all working together to learn!

  32. One benefit of the PLN that resonated with me is the fact that it can be used to keep educators up to date on current best practices. This resonates with me because a lot of time teachers spend their free time doing professional development or researching best practices to implement in their classroom. Having a PLN put this all in one space for educators and makes it easier for them to engage with and learn about multiple different best practices without having to do a time consuming amount of research.

  33. A PLN is a group of people that can help you do your job better. You guys can talk and work through any problems you are having. You can bounce ideas off of each other. You can learn from each other. This group is all about making each person better in whatever way possible. It is about getting help any time and any place.

  34. The benefit of having a PLN that mostly resonates with me is “explore your own interests, needs, and passions.” I like that the PLN is personal, is adapted to your needs and your students needs, It is about what you are interested about and have the support for your learning.

  35. A PLN to me means a place where you can further enrich your own personal pedagogy and also help impact others as well. It’s a great way to build relationships and connections with those who have the same interests as you– particularly in the realm of career choices. I think that because of that viewpoint, I see it as a professionally personalized learning network– PPLN if you may. What I find so fascinating about it is how quickly you can create a vast web of connections through people who are in your circle, because you aren’t just connecting with the individual who joins… you are also potentially connecting with those people that *they* are connected with as well!

  36. A PLN is a network that educators can use to either improve their classrooms or connect with other educators about the struggles and ideas that they have. As someone who is going into the education profession, this is useful because it will allow me to connect with other people to find new ways to help with classroom management, how to teach the course, how to work with students of special needs, or to vent about the problems within my classroom.

  37. The benefit that resonates the most with me is “staying current”. As a teacher, it is very important to constantly reflect and try to improve. Having a PLN is a great resource to see ways to improve and stay up-to-date. Of course, that is not to say that older practices should all be forgotten, but knowledge of new information is definitely important to have.

  38. A PLN is an online community where people are able to share their ideas and learn from each other. One of the benefits is 24/7 learning because you can access and interact with a PLN at whatever time suits you. This resonates with me because I’m a very busy person and a lot of times my busy schedule doesn’t match up with other people’s schedules. So, it’s hard to find time to meet up and discuss with other people.

  39. A PLN is a more relaxed network of people and resources that anyone who wants to learn something can interact with and learn from. A PLN can be based on personal interests or professional interests, learners from all around the world use a PLN to make connections with other learners. It is very custom made by the learners who create it and can improve the collaboration of other learners. There are also no geographical barriers, so whenever someone has a problem, they can easily find targeted answers to their problem using the PLN.

  40. PLN can be great because there is no one way that a student can learn something and the child doesn’t feel discouraged in any way. it just matters if the educator is capable of giving that support to the child. especially now when children aren’t learning in a way that we are all used to of just sitting in a classroom all day and just listening to the teacher talk or just doing a workload of homework. PLN should be a way to encourage educators to take a set back of how they are supporting students.

  41. To me, a PLN is a network of resources that can be used for both personal and professional development, likely placing the “P” in more of the “personalized” category. A PLN can be used to build connections with other professionals, contribute your own ideas and content, or learn from the documented experiences of others. As someone who typically lurks on social media, I often find myself reading or watching the documented experiences of others, via blogs, videos, or other social media posts, or reading threads of conversations between people in the field. While this is not as conducive to building connections, it does greatly inform my knowledge and practice as I study to become a teacher. Through this collection of information and ideas, I’m able to gain perspectives on learning, classroom management, and curriculum design before I begin work with students.

  42. A PLN is a community. It can be used by anyone, anywhere, and can be used through a variety of platforms. That seems the most beneficial to me. A person can share in a variety of ways at any time. When a person is lurking, they are not gaining anything by not commenting and joing the conversation aside from hearing a new perspective.

  43. As a current student teacher about to graduate, I have already seen the importance of building a PLN both as a new teacher and a more experienced teacher. No matter how long you have spent studying education, there are so many things that only experience in the classroom will teach you and allow you to build your skills. Connecting with other professionals allows you to share your experiences and learn from others at the same time you are building your skills as a teacher

  44. When Reading about the 8 benefits of creating a PLN the one that resonated with me the most was explore your own interests needs and passions. This resonates with me because when I am passionate about a topic I have more energy to give to learning about it. A lot of PD is district mandated and it is informational but it doesn’t have the same power of seeing a deficit I have in education and fixing it to improve the quality of the education that I am able to provide. When I read the description about this benefit I liked that it mentioned the need could be my own or a need of my students. This allows an even greater scope of education that could be changed each year depending on the needs of my students.

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