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

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. 

994 thoughts on “Step 1: What Is A PLN?

  1. To me, I prefer to refer to a PLN as a PROFESSIONAL learning network. It is a great way to connect with other professionals. I tend to be a bit of a “lurker” out in the blogosphere, but more openly share what I learn with my local PLC within my school and my own team. However, I see great value in learning from other educators. Collaboration is one of our greatest self-directed learning tools. It is a skill that we teach our students, and when we “practice what we preach” by collaborating with other teachers and professionals in education, it only magnifies our effectiveness and abilities.

  2. PLN means to me a place where people can expand on their interests in certain networks. Like try to find a new source to use so they can find better sources to use then just their own.

  3. 2. PLN Benefits
    One of the benefits that really resonated with me was the ability to “connect when it suits you — 24/7.” Sometimes I get an idea and I instantly want to know more about it at that moment. I like that you don’t have to wait for the next conference to satisfy your need to know more.

  4. Staying connected with education is important, because the practices are always evolving. Especially in more recent years, the teaching practices have been toying with new ideas and thinking more about the students. Staying connected allows us as teachers to stay up to date.

  5. PLN Benefits: A benefit that resonated with me was how PLNs provide resources for teachers to research both their own interests and their students’ interests. This would be especially helpful if a student approaches a teacher but the teacher is not closely familiar with the subject they wish to explore. It also allows teachers to become more knowledgeable in the content.

  6. PLN benefits- The benefit that resonated with me the most was “Globally connected students need globally connected teachers.” I find this to be the most outstanding benefit because its important to remember that representation is important, and teachers and students need to strive to be on the same page.

  7. I believe as an educator it is important to expand your knowledge and keep on learning. One of the PLN benefits was to learn and connect in a way you enjoy. I personally wouldn’t like to learn and have difficulty connecting with the work if I didn’t enjoy it. Having a PLN built will allow me to build resources and create a shared community. It is important that teachers stay motivated and inspired which I believe the PLN helps to do that.

  8. To me, a PLN is like a community of people trying to learn more about their specific field in order to better themselves and everyone else in their field as well. For teachers it’s like our grade-level and school-wide team but instead of it being limited to those we work together with physically, it’s a global group of everyone trying to better help everyone else. It’s not only better for us individually, but in the end, it’s better for everyone that we all come in contact with.

  9. PLM to me means a way to learn and get inspiration from other teachers. As a new teacher, I rely a lot on looking to other teachers for guidance or seeing teachers explain concepts in ways I hadn’t thought of before and I love that so I can use it for my students. I love coming up with creative ways to teach and new games to get students involved in their own learning and social medias are great for this. Currently, I love Instagram, tik tok, and Pinterest. I follow a really amazing teacher who breaks down the 33 rules to spelling in English and it makes sense for a math brain like mine. They are rules that cover 99% of spelling and for the other 1%, knowing the background of that word helps you understand the spelling. I love my one Instagram teacher who does theme weeks every month where everything is about being a spy or looking at the world as an ant and the students get really involved and excited for it. I love seeing these ideas and using them to help guide my own lesson plans.

  10. You can explore your own interests, needs, and passions (or your students)—I liked this benefit of creating a PLN because it gives teachers a choice on what they want to develop. I think this makes it very flexible and you can cater what you learn about to what is needed for your students.

  11. I think PLN stands for personalized learning network. This plan should be customized to best suit the teacher’s classroom relationship with students and allows for teachers to build relationships with peers to discuss best practices for teaching the subject material. This plan also allows the teacher to personalized their teaching techniques. 

  12. A PLN is a network of learners who share their experiences between each other. Not only does it allow for to share what you have learned, but it gives you plenty of opportunities to learn from the experiences of others. Lurking is just browsing what other people have said but not posting yourself. I think this is a completely fine approach, as you will still get information that could be helpful.

  13. All of these steps are perfect benefits on why to have a PLN. The one that resonated with me the most is 24/7 learning offers the flexibility to learn and connect when it suits your time. This is so important to me because sometimes I do not have time to take a course or conference when they offer it. So this makes it si make confident for my time and my learning.

  14. Hmm. How to define PLN. I suppose it is the group of people you interact with who help you grow. That’s a very broad definition, and could extend to mean even my mother. Hell, one could even say the entire world is you PLN, if you take it upon yourself to always be learning in every interaction you experience. I get it- this video refines that concept into meaning those within your industry who are sharing ideas and experiences you can learn from. But I feel that is too narrow, and might make people attempt to “stay in their lane”. That is where “lurking” comes in. Personally, I find the concept of “lurking” fascinating. One can learn so much through observation. A con to lurking, however, is that some people learn better by interacting with a topic beyond just passively listening. Le shrug. People ‘gonna learn what/where/when/how people ‘gonna learn. Lurking works for me.

  15. A Personal Learning Network (PLN), in my opinion, is an excellent way to develop as an educator and a learner in my field. It’s a great way to share many ideas and to gain assistance, and it can also be a supportive system that can provide educators with the benefits of connecting with one another while remaining current.

  16. I wish I would’ve had PLN when I was growing up, especially when the internet was new and being explored. It would’ve been so nice to have this in school and to allow kids to utilize this.

  17. A PLN, to me, is an online network that can connect you to professional and in our case, pedagogical resources. Lurking is fine to slowly absorb bits and pieces of information, but if you never get involved, you’ll never get the full richness of discussion that leads to better professional/pedagogical development.

  18. Being a connected educator is important because it basically means that we are using past century skills to engage and educate students. It is important to communicate, collaborate, listen, and have patience with students.

  19. 3. Connected Educators

    “The most impactful thing you can do in your career in education is be connected.”
    Improving as an educator is best facilitated through being connected. Connected to colleagues, students, parents, and more allows an educator to grow consistently in all aspects of their professional and personal life. An educator points out that without being connected, you are unable to truly see where you are doing well, where you can improve, and how you can help others. You can plug in whenever you wish and wherever you are; the process of growing is constantly available to you by being connected. Collaboration and communication can also happen across content, subjects, philosophies, and backgrounds. “You gotta ask, connect, and collaborate” to become the best educator you can be.

  20. A personal learning network is a great place for educators to connect and create a community. This was eye opening to see because all of these tools leading to a connection are right at our fingertips and most of us use them each day. I like that it gives us the opportunity to reach out to others outside of our own colleagues and perspective will only make us stronger educators.

  21. PLN Benefit #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.

    PLN benefit number three resonates with me because I have a very busy schedule. It is difficult to find time between being a full-time student, full-time supervisor, and scheduling practicum. The option of 24/7 learning allows for me to do my PD at midnight on a weeknight or noon on a Sunday.

  22. PLN benefits:
    I like that you can explore your own interests, needs, and passions. Having a network to connect to and gain insight or advice on things that are important to you is a huge benefit for me. If I were to have a student who is struggling with math and I haven’t figured out how to explain it to the student, I could use PLN as a way of support and advice. Having people to bounce ideas off of and share strategies is essential when becoming a good teacher.

  23. To me a PLN is an opportunity to build a community that works best for me and my development as a teacher. While there are many more formal and structured opportunities for professional development, constructing a PLN is a way to build a more consistent and personalized approach to PD. Instead of a “one and done” session, I imagine I will interact more regularly and less formally with my PLN, taking and sharing a little bit of information here and there. The major benefit of a PLN seems to be its customizable nature and its flexibility. The definition is rather vague, but that’s the best part, as I can build my network to look exactly as I’d like it to so that I can reap the most relevant benefits for myself and my teaching.

  24. Share your thoughts on being a connected educator: As technology has become the world’s number one resource in sharing and finding new methods and ideas, it is important that educators have that reliability in connections to build their knowledge. As educators are responsible in collaborating and creating lessons that are effective for students’ succession outside of the educational aspect, it is important that they stay in touch with the outside world. Having a connected educator means that they are always up to date and are open to learning new methods in teaching as society changes!

  25. 1. What is a PLN to me? Based off the video, a PLN is an amazing way to connect with teachers from all different schools all over the world. To often have we heard the “close the door and teach” approach to classrooms. We know the best way to educate students is collaboratively.
    2. Best benefit? In my opinion, the best part of the PLN is the light and shades aspect. It is a great way to keep this from being a source of anxiety where you feel like you are always “plugged in” to learning. The idea that a PLN can be casual, or used as a way to relax is a great selling point for me, personally.
    3. Connected? This is obviously the most important aspect of a PLN. as noted in the video, schools can become an echo chamber for certain thoughts/ideas. This is harmful not only to us, but to the students we are helping to earn and grow. We need these students to be exposed to different opinions across both the nation and the world.

  26. Choose a benefit and explain why it is important to you: I really liked this benefit as it gives not only me the flexibility to work and collaborate with students, but it also gives my students and their parents time to ask questions and give feedback. I feel this could really help more parents get involved in their children’s education who may not have had the opportunity before opening up my time in this way. Being open to giving my students and parents extra time could allow me also to best help my students and reach those I may have had a little more trouble reaching with my lessons and content style.

  27. I like the idea of being in charge of my own personal development. The flexibility technology provides for teachers to plug in and learn as much or as little as they want on their time is incredible! Resources are always at an educator’s fingertips. We must appreciate how useful PLNs are to the educator and the students.

  28. What is a PLN?: To me, a PLN is a network that allows for education to become more efficient and effective. It is a network that allows in our case educators to connect with one another and fully utilize each other’s strengths to best help teach their respective students.

  29. A PLN is a network of people who work together to learn and grow in a particular area of interest. It can be personal, professional, and personalized. For example, you can choose how you interact with a particular PLN, whether it be lurking or actively participating in the conversation. It is personal because you are making personal connections. It is professional because you are working to grow your knowledge and experience in a particular area.

  30. Developing a PLN allows you to further explore your interests with people who share similar interests and passions. The range of people who can add to a discussion, give advice, and share their knowledge is much greater because of how much access people have online. It’s a great resource to have especially for professional development.

  31. A PLN is a platform for educators, students, retired teachers, etc. where they can all connect together to share ideas, answer questions, create new enthusiasm for teaching. It’s an online way for people to stay connected and share their passions about teaching, to share resources they find helpful, to help a fellow educator answer questions. It’s a cast a large support network- creating an easy way for people all over the world to stay connected talking about education.

  32. I think if you’re in the realm of education, it is part of your job to be connected! As Stephanie said in the video, “I don’t think I could be an educator now without being a connected educator.” We have to emerge ourselves into the world of our students, and if you’re not taking advantage of all of the tools and resources available to you via the internet and technological sphere, then you’re not being the best educator you can be! A PLN can help you with this because you can learn from folks around you (perhaps not literally around you) and find new ways to innovate your practice. For example, I’m connected with Dr. Chris Emdin via social media and his website, and I have learned so much about my pedagogical practices by interacting with his content. I’m constantly finding new ways to connect with thought leaders in the education world, and it wouldn’t be possible without the connective opportunities of the modern world.

  33. A PLN, or a personal learning network is where people of similar interests get together and meet. It is a form of network platform where people can share opinions, gain information from different people and debate and critique other people’s work. Since it states “network”, it usually means socializing in the digital sense, but having a PLN of sorts is a great way for sharing and borrowing ideas and resources from others that share a passion for them. I like to think of it like MasterClass or SkillShare.

  34. You can explore your own interests, needs, and passions (or your students’), this benefit resonates with me because I have access to any information I may need to help a student; even if the content area is out of my expertise. I can also pursue my own interests and passions in a less formal setting than a traditional professional development conference. This will allow me to avoid spending valuable professional development time and money on tools and resources that end up not being very effective or valuable to me.

  35. To me, the term PLN (Personal/ Professional Learning Network) means opportunities. PLN’s provide the opportunity for educators (me in the future) to connect with each other in order to collaborate with each other’s work and thoughts, to create assignments and tasks or to even collect data among many colleagues. PLN’s allow, and will allow me, to improve my skills as a teacher and it will allow me to grow as an educator through connecting with other professional learners and taking note of their experiences, thoughts and the collaboration that I do with them. PLN’s will allow me to avoid any limitations as a teacher and will enable me to grow as a professional learner.

  36. PLN is an abbreviation for Personal Learning Network. At first introduction, PLN seems like a great way to modernize educator communication. Through brining the technological advancements of the 21st century to the sharing of pedagogical approaches, more classrooms can be enriched in ways they never would have without that sort of network of communication.

  37. • Benefit #4: “You can learn and connect in a way that you enjoy.” Throughout this entire article I kept applying every new piece of information to “#TeacherTok” aka the teacher side of TikTok. I love coming across new videos from teachers telling me about their typical day, an upcoming event, their classroom management fails and successes, and much more. I’m honestly learning more about the day-to-day intricacies of teaching that I wouldn’t have learned until I actually started teaching. Plus, with each video comes thousands of comments from other teachers also chiming in!

  38. PLN stands for Personal Learning Network, which is a term used to describe a network with different individuals that supports learning for the future. The goal for PLN is enhancement of mutual learning, supporting learning in many different forms such as feedback, insights, and documentation. To me this means a new way to think about learning, in a format of making connections on a network. This allows you to expands in a many areas of learning.

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