PLN: Your Personal Learning Network Made Easy

What is a PLN?

If I had to define what a ‘Personal Learning Network’ is, I would keep it simple and broad:

n. – the entire collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information, usually online.

Personal Learning Networks, or PLNs, have been around forever.  Originally, they were your family and friends, maybe other educators you worked with, but as the internet and web 2.0 tools have become nearly ubiquitous, PLNs can include tons of different communities – social networking sites like Facebook, blogs, Twitter, wikis, social bookmarking tools, LinkedIn, and so many more.  Basically, anyone that you interact with is apart of your PLN, whether they are social contacts, professional peers, or experts in their field.   Most of the ‘learning’ takes place on-line now, because it is simple to find and connect with others with similar interests from around the world.


PLNs have immense value!

So, why bother thinking about your PLN?  Whether you’re a full-time mom, a full-time teacher, or a full-time student, your PLN can be extremely interesting and helpful.  The beauty of people communicating online is the ease of finding and sharing information and – if you ask for it – the group feedback that you get on ideas and projects.

Here are some ways that educators are using their PLNs:
–    Professional development – learn from content-area specialists
–    Locate resources for your classroom, such as free websites and software
–    Get lesson plan ideas from master teachers
–    Learn about new technology and how to integrate it into your teaching
–    Find collaborative solutions
–    Find interesting links to education news

Students can also reap the benefits of tapping into their PLNs.  Here is a wonderful video called “The Networked Student” that shows how on-line networking can enhance students’ 21st century skills.

When you have a large group of people combing through vast amounts of information and collectively identifying the most useful, entertaining, or valuable parts, it only makes sense to tap into this collective knowledge!


Build Your Own PLN

If you’re interested in expanding your PLN, here’s a directory of some of the best web 2.0 tools:

Category Value Examples and Guides
Social Networking Keeping up with personal, more social contacts like friends, family, and former students Facebook, Myspace
Microblogging Populated with educators from around the world who share best practices and resources in short bursts Twitter, My guide to Twitter, Plurk, Utterli
Professional Profiles Find other professionals and experts in your field LinkedIn, Brightfuse
Wikis Community-monitored sites that can function as websites or for group organization and projects Wikispaces, pbwiki, wetpaint
Blogs Great sources of information such as classroom best practices as well as personal opinions; Blogs monitor the heartbeat of new trends in education and the commenting back and forth leads to many great ideas and relationships WordPress, (check out my ‘Blogroll’ to the right – they’re my favorites), Blogger, Typepad, Alltop – top blog headlines by subject, Technorati – a blog search engine
RSS Reader RSS means “Real Simple Syndication” – an RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with many of your favorite blogs, all in once place
(see this video ‘RSS in Plain English’)
Netvibes, (My Netvibes), PageFlakes, Google Reader
Nings Communities of people interested in similar topics, with forums and messaging Classroom 2.0, Future of Education, Ning
Social Bookmarking Share bookmarks with others, see what others are bookmarking; you can join groups and get email updates on new bookmarks Diigo, Diigo Groups, Delicious
Webinars Live, on-line presentations or conferences, with real-time chat, hosted by experts on specific topics; Great way to learn about new things and to meet new people Classroom 2.0 Live!, EdTechTalk Live, Elluminate – host your own!, Dim Dim
Backchanneling of conferences When there are neat (and expensive) conferences that you can’t attend, follow conversations and links about the highlights Twitter search – use acronyms like ‘NECC’ or ‘SXSWi’


What to Expect – Stages of PLN Adoption

There are certain stages that most people seem to go through when building their PLN before settling into a comfortable niche.  It may take a little time, but you’ll eventually find that a rich PLN can elevate both your personal and professional life to new heights.

If you’d like to connect with me, click here.



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191 responses to “PLN: Your Personal Learning Network Made Easy

  1. This is a nice approach to explaining a PLN. You are quite right. It does take time to participate and build, but once you do you have a huge base of knowledge.

    Sometimes, I know just the person who can answer a question. Other times, I learn something that takes me in a whole new direction for the better.

    Online learning can be very serendipitous. You have to leave behind the worry that you are going to “miss” something, because something is always going on! I’m so happy to have gotten to know you as part of my learning network.

  2. Hey, great write-up on PLNs!

    Every teacher today should know the best ways to access useful content online. Connecting with other teachers and content providers is the best way to help improve the craft of teaching and ultimately to help students I think.

    I did my own PLN-alogy here:

  3. Great write up. I love how you broke down the web 2.0 tools and gave examples. Very clear for teachers new to PLN and web 2.0

  4. Pingback: Look Out Everyone! Here We Come! | Mrs. Poulin's Blog

  5. What a great explanation of PLN and their value! Such an important part of teaching today. We have heard numerous accounts of how teachers are relying on their PLN for ideas, support, and collaboration. One resource I would add for finding a PLN or adding to your PLN is — you can search teachers there and the community is huge. Or find more colleagues at

    Thanks again for an always thought provoking blog!

  6. Pingback: Web 2.0: The New Int’l Teachers’ Lounge « Mr. R’s Blogspot 2.0

  7. Nathan

    I am currently working on my MA in Digital Learning in the classroom. Reading your post really made me understand PLN much better. I believe communicating and networking is so important in the life of an individual and in today’s society, the internet allows us to communicate faster and broader in many areas. Whether it be from a blog to twitter, each type provides different values, and as an educator they can be utilize to a tremendous degree. Thank you for breaking them down easy to understand.

  8. Zach

    Ahh, perfect. As I explore the educational resources around me, I see the term PLN tossed around. This explanation was just what I needed. Thanks!

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  20. Thanks for the easy to use guideline of how you can start a PLN. I’m currently working on an Ed.S. in Educational Technology and one of our assignments is to create our own PLN and your post has definitely helped.

  21. Pingback: Top 5 Web 2.0 Tools (for me anyway :) ) « Michelle Clarke's Blog

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  23. Pingback: Interesting link to more info on PLNs

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  41. Tibor

    Hi…great information about PLNs!

    I am researching the use of PLNs and their effect of student acheivement. Kind of a narrow subject, but I am hoping to create a PLN of resource teachers/special educators that can be accessed as a real time round table… a place where one can go to ask for help or offer advice. Any discussion would be greatly appreciated.

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  60. I liked your explanation so much I have quoted it here – I hope this is ok

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  63. Saul Shama

    The PLN will be a great place to get lesson plans and bounce lesson plan ideas off of other teachers.

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  68. Shelley Gardner

    The enormous amount of information that is available through PLN’s is incredible. I am a rookie with these applications and appreciate the collaboraton between professionals, their advice and directions. I look forward to bringing these resources to my classroom and hope to develop a working network in my classroom

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  96. Hi Katherine,
    You are one of the richest resources I have and a continuing inspiration.

    I’m trying to figure out the best way to take advantage of the PLN to enrich my teaching. Any thoughts on this? How successful has it been so far? My personal experiment with adding a forum on my own web page has been that it is extremely difficult to get users to interact on a regular basis but the fact that it exists is essential for visitors.

    Looking forward to contributing an entry soon.

    Prague, Czech Republic

    p.s. I’ve got a classic lesson based on ice cream that you could consider any time if you are looking for some fill in the future.

  97. Pingback: App #21: Pinterest for iPad & Pinterest for Education « Teaching with iPad

  98. 21cif

    Reblogged this on 21st Century Information Fluency – Leveraging Information and commented:
    Since I have not been teaching in a classroom for three years I want to stay abreast of all the current research and make connections.

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  113. Great post. It’s explains the PLN idea well and contains some great ideas. I’ve recently discovered the joys if twitter and the blogs as a way to gather lesson ideas and other innovative ideas to improve my own practice and have found links here which I hope will enable me to get further involved in web 2.0.

  114. Pingback: Jeff Piontek: Author + Speaker + Teacher » 20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network

  115. Did a google search for Personal Learning network and found you blog. Great tips as to formally get involved in one when reading I realized I already am in several. The analytical in my mind had to define it. Another great tip is to follow hash tags like #edchat or #elemchat which expands your reach of the PLN to more educators. Biggest tip I’ve found helpful is the old fashion pleases and thank yous, also retweet articles you enjoy. Great blog on PLN.

    Agrodut Mandal
    Dissertation Writing

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  118. Kate, thanks for this post. There seems to be confusion in the semantics between a Professional Learning Community, Professional Learning Network and Personal Learning Network. Your post helped to clarify the distinctions.

    I linked to your post from my Education wiki at

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  126. KS

    Thanks. Very informative. PLNs would need an ecosystem where Learners can engage with teachers, Mentors without issues related to Privacy and organizational Hierarchy. Sure students can pursue social/informal learning; but if we need to enable an Personal Learning Environment where all the stakeholders participate, then there is a definite need for Availability and hence Engagement. There is a Start-up working on Personal Learning Networks: Visit and have a look. KS

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  147. moreofasmirk

    Reblogged this on Smiling Through My Teeth and commented:
    Thanks for your help.

  148. Reblogged this on Teach English Now and commented:
    More resources and tips.

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  154. Loved your thougts on 21.cenutry learners. Have developed a networking platform for students. here you can share all your digital work, teachers can create campuses and courses for the students.

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  160. Reblogged this on Thinking about Web 2.0 and commented:
    A great source on how to build your PLN!

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  169. You should add Pinterest to the list of Social Bookmarking sites 🙂

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  175. Reblogged this on I Know U Care and commented:
    I know that this does not really have anything to do with Addictions but I think that this is very valuable information for us as we build our counseling networks.

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  178. Reblogged this on Unwrapping Learning Space and commented:
    This is an interesting piece on building a more interesting and diverse PLN.
    A good explanation of some web 2.0 tools.

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