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. 

1,213 thoughts on “Step 1: What Is A PLN?

  1. A PLN is a wonderful thing in the education community because it allows ideas to be shared and learned. These ideas can be creative thoughts, actions, resources, tools, or materials. This is very helpful for first year teachers to be successful, personally!

  2. One of the benefits of a PLN that resonated with me is Number Five: There can be light and shade to your PLN. The mark of a great teacher and not just a good teacher is the ability for the educator to evaluate themselves after teaching and learning, and where in those activities can you improve. Having a space to make and review mistakes and learn how to be better for next time is an excellent benefit to a PLN.

  3. A PLN is the opportunity for an individual to create their own personal development plan and share and access other interests, ideas, and passions through a network of colleagues/peers. A PLN can keep a person up to date with new ideas and offer opportunities of growth within their own career and interests.

  4. I think the personal nature of a PLC is one of it’s greatest strengths. As an educator, being able to access a vast network of experienced professionals not just in the whole field of education, but specifically in one’s own field/subject/age group allows for a sharing of resources and ideas that can both lighten the workload and enrich the education in any classroom. Education is experimental: Technologies change all the time, as do standards, and the nature and expectations of the student body. Sharing successes allows the entire field to move forward towards greater efficacy, rather than wasting time with constant reinventions of the wheel.

  5. A PLN to me is all of the individuals, groups, organizations, and resources that I learn from to become a better educator. Brainstorming and fine tuning ideas is the benefit of PLNs that resonates with me the most. I am always trying to figure out ways to teach content in engaging, interesting ways so having a network to improve my lesson planning is really important to me.

  6. A PLN seems to be particularly helpful in the sense that it connects you with educators all around the world. Instead of just interacting with teachers in my school district, I can see what other teachers across the country are up to, and learn from their experience as well.

  7. To me, PLN is the optimal way of networking. What is unique about PLN is that it allows you the opportunity to fill your networking circle with those who you feel you would benefit the most from. Having this circle will allow you to have a few individuals in which you can rely on and furtherly build a professional relationship with, as well.

  8. PLN stands for personal/ professional learning network. In this steep we are given a workbook that goes over different ways PLN can be used to allow teachers to network and use different methods within their own classroom. I think PLN is a great tool to use in and out the classroom.

  9. A PLN is a network used by educators to be able to learn from other educators. I really love the idea of using this platform to share things that have worked for other educators and their reflections on their choices in regards to how it helped students. I haven’t used a PLN before but I’ve learned a lot from other teachers on the TikTok platform. Watching their videos and tips on different subjects have given me many ideas for my own classroom. I think all educators can benefit to a network like this. It can be professional sharing and also personal experiences and that’s what I like about the idea.

  10. The benefit that resonates with me is that you can learn and connect in a way that you enjoy. This resonates with me because I am a very social person and I like to find different ways of connecting and communicating with people. During the pandemic, I mainly communicated via Imessage and FaceTime to keep up with my friends and what was going on in our lives since we couldn’t see each other in person. For college, I got very familiar with Zoom and it allowed me to discover another method of communication that I like to use.

  11. Having your own personal learning network (PLN) is essential for assisting your students in making connections and establishing their own networks.

  12. A couple PLN benefits that resonate with me are the opportunity to access personal development as you see fit, the ability to explore your own interests, and being able to choose when to connect. Personal development training, as was discussed, doesn’t always happen when you need it, PLNs help you seek out help on a as needed basis that suits your availability. PLNs also allows you to connect and interact on your own terms, educators are busy people always juggling time, so this is one thing educators can control when to engage in. Every classroom and teacher has different interests and needs, so PLNs are useful to connect with others and resources that will apply to the needs and interests of your classroom.

  13. A PLN is beneficial because it gives you the opportunity to have different perspectives and voices in your teaching. If you are struggling with a unit and how to teach it for some students, having that PLN to reach out to and talk to, they can give you advice and help for how to approach a situation. The idea of a PLN is literally using the saying two heads are better than one. Having more than one person to go to and get advice from is better than trying to deal with it yourself.

  14. A Personal learning networks is a list of the people you learn from or share ideas with, resources, tools, and materials that support students in their learning.

  15. One of the benefits of a PLN that stood out/resonated with me is that you can stay current on research and best practices whether or not they’re being discussed near you. I personally love to find new information emerging among other teachers and different strategies others use in their classrooms that I don’t necessarily discuss with my peers/coworkers. I think the accessibility of technology is a big reason I can do this and I love it.

  16. PLN are in place for relationships between people who have a goal of mutual learning. Why should educators create a PLN? Here are a few reasons: you are in charge; it can help brainstorm new ideas and you are able to connect whatever time best works for you.

  17. I like the fact that you can explore your students’ interests and passions with the 2nd benefit. I have seen the makerspace in the library at my school and I really have no idea what that is or what that area is for. It sounds like this is something I could research on this Personal Learning Network, as this PLN supports ongoing learning.

  18. A PLN is a network of education professionals that Can be reached to offer different perspectives or advice. Educators risk operating in an echo chamber if they only seek input from the resources immediately available to them.

  19. A personal learning network (PLN) is a great way for teachers to grow in their fields together. It is a network that teachers are able to use to support each other through professional development and ongoing learning. My favorite benefit of a PLN is that it allows teachers to current on research and best practice. By working with other teachers from around the world you are introduced to so many new ideas.

  20. When you connect with a group of individuals to learn about their perspectives, questions, thoughts, and references, you are forming your own personal learning network.

  21. As an educator, it can be easy to feel isolated and lost without the right connections/resources. One of the benefits of a PLN is that it is a good tool for teachers to use to connect with the different resources around them. Also, educators can learn and connect via podcasts, videos, or in a way that best suits them. T

  22. A PLN gives me the opportunity to exchange ideas and use the tools that might work in my classroom that I might have not thought of. Also, it gives me an opportunity to see effective techniques and methods used by teachers in my content. Thus, it is the networking aspect of the PLN that can help me grow as a teacher.

  23. A PLN (Professional Learning Network) is a term was used to describe a network of people and resources that support ongoing learning. They are not exclusive to the education world. It is mostly used for professional growth and interaction. I think one of the most significant benefits of a PLN is that it allows you to stay current on research and best practice, regardless of whether this information is being discussed in your own school or district.

  24. One of the biggest benefits of a Personal Learning Network to me is the ability to connect when it suits me. At any time 24/7 I can connect with other educators to collaborate and discover new ideas. There are times when I have an idea for a lesson, but am still looking for ideas for engaging activities for my students. I can open my personal learning network and find hundreds of ideas on what to do and also what not to do. I have asked in my PLN how others labs ran before I did them in my own science classroom and I receive tips for how to make them run better. Every educator knows we put in many hours after work time and it is important to be able to access as many resources as possible to put forth our best lesson in those after hours times. It makes working convenient because you can do it from anywhere. Accessing your PLN maximizes your time and makes it to where you can enjoy working from anywhere.

  25. I enjoyed learning about PLN and how it can be used to create a space where the teacher can be a student and learn throughout her career. I also liked that it cultivates a place for teachers to explore their passions and continue learning in their field. -Annastasia Ortiz

  26. I would like to address the first of the 8 benefits. Taking charge is something that I feel has really fallen off over the past several years. In preparation for any future, there has to be some degree of accountability for yourself. I believe that this mindset starts in the stages where we are the most vulnerable to learning, which would be in our grade school years. Accountability and initiative are vital.

  27. A Professional Learning Network (PLN) is valuable in developing communication and cooperation among educators. Educators create PLNs to connect with other experts in their field so that they can stay up-to-date on the best research and instructional practices. By maintaining a PLN, educators take control of their development as a professional, honing ideas to be implemented in the classroom.

  28. A personalized learning network is so advantageous to educators as well as other professions. The continual goal of educating oneself in a community of other professionals doing the same is invaluable. The offer of reciprocity among peers in order to enrich our sphere is something that inspires me.

  29. A “Personal Learning Network” (PLN) allows us as educators to network with people in a way to help us to continue to learn new things. PLNs give us another option for guidance, ideas, and perspectives when wanting to learn and teach new concepts. We learn about eight different benefits of using PLNs and one that stood out to me was the ability to explore our own interests, needs, and passions (or our students’). This is helpful in a math setting because we can teach concepts in different ways and research unique ideas to help students learn. Being able to explore PLNs and see how others are able to reach out to their students can make teaching more engaging.

  30. I love that PLN allows educators to stay relevant and connected to so many different tools that can be used in the classroom. It also allows educators to come up with different ways of presenting lessons to teachers. It helps break up the monotony of being in a classroom and learning.

  31. I love how PLNs allow you to be in charge of your own learning. Rather than sitting in on a professional development session that might not cover anything that pertains to what you teach, PLNs allow you to be able to tailor your learning to the information directly related to your content area. It allows you to connect to other teachers who teach the same content and learn from their thoughts and expertise on the subject matter.

  32. The benefit I like the most about PLNs is that you can learn in a way that you enjoy. If you like to learn by watching videos, there are plenty of YouTube videos for that. If you love being on social media, resources are abundant there as well.

  33. PLNs gives you the opportunity to learn and connect in a way that you enjoy. This makes them more fun and enjoyable for each user. If you like to learn by watching videos, there is access to that. If you are a social media lover, they have the resources for you too.

  34. Personally, I find the biggest advantage of a PLN to be that I am in charge of my own professional development. I have attended some worthwhile conferences, but it is a little like drinking out of a firehose when so much great information is provided at once. In a PLN, I can get great information in smaller doses, making it much more likely that I will be able to implement a new idea rather than it being lost in my notebook of good intentions.

  35. PLN is a personal learning network for educators to share ideas and resources through a network. This platform is extremely helpful because it allows educators to collaborate with other educators from across the world to grow as an effective teacher.

  36. At my next collaboration meeting, I will discuss with my 6th grade team about the 7 steps in creating a PLN. I feel that we can learn from other educators from across the world to help us grow as an educator and to help our students grow.

  37. I love the fact that PLNs allow us to discover things that we are interested in. Being a new teacher, it is hard for me to find out what I like and different techniques for teaching. I love reading teaching blogs and learning new and exciting ideas.

  38. PLNs are comprised of professional, personal, and academic connections that help with growth. Teaching is often better when collaboration is involved and you are involved with others. Connecting with and learning from fellow educators and resources improve teaching habits and help toward leading your students to better production.

  39. PLN is a valuable resource because you can tailor your learning to meet your needs and the needs of your students. You can focus on areas that you need improvement or would like to learn more about. The content is wide and you have access to many resources that can benefit your specific needs.

  40. Before learning about what a PLN is, I often wondered how educators build a source of multiple resources and personal with advice and idea to assist in their own teaching instruction and choices. I found the importance of building a community of resources to assist in being the best educator you can be.

  41. Hello! My name is Hayley Platt and I am an elementary physical education teacher in Nebraska! I am choosing to comment on task 2 which reads:
    “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.”
    The benefit that resonates with me the most is #3
    24/7 learning offers the flexibility to learn and connect at a time that suits you.
    This benefit especially resonates with me in the season of life I am currently in as a full-time educator, softball coach, graduate student, and soon-to-be mom! I don’t always have the time or flexibility to attend conferences or PD sessions but, I still want to learn and grow. having a PLN allows me to be a lifelong learner through all seasons of life!

  42. PLN’s are designed to help teachers collaborate with other teachers to enhance the learning in their own classrooms. PLN’s provide a great resource for teachers who are at their wits end.

  43. One of the benefits that resonated with me was the 2nd listed benefit, or that online PLN allows for more flexibility and choice in PD topics. I often find my district mandated PD to be irrelevant to my interests and my students’ needs. I think being able to explore my own ideas and find other colleagues online who can share their information on similar topics as well.

    I also thought it was interesting that they mentioned lurking and sharing in the “What is a PLN?” video. I often find myself leaning more towards lurking during in-person PD, but am more willing and comfortable to share ideas and questions in an online PD setting. So I think an online PLN would be beneficial for me when it comes to sharing more.

  44. Hello,

    My name is Pamela Sanders I am a teacher in an urban school district. I think a PLN is a tool that can break the silo or feeling of being on an Island by yourself as an educator. You can connect to people who may have or are experiencing in our respective classrooms. Leanings from others is a great support as well as energizer

  45. Personal learning networks (PLNs) are comprised of personal, professional, and academic connections that foster growth. Teaching is often enhanced through collaboration and active participation with others. Connecting with and learning from fellow educators and resources improve teaching methods and student learning outcomes, thus contributing to students’ educational success.

  46. Hello,
    My name is Wadia Mambula. PLN is a good tool for educators to use in their career. PLN keeps an educator connected with the resources around them instead of feeling lost and isolated. There are many good and helpful PLNs out there for an educator to use and it develops a growth mindset for the educator and the educator’s teaching principles. I look forward to learning more about PLNs on this website.

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