Personal Learning Networks

PLNs: Professional growth through networks

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) offer alternative opportunities for professionals to increase their cognitive bandwidth by leveraging the knowledge of colleagues and other professionals. Through a PLN, an educator can connect with other professionals with whom they can relate, express, and share ideas around a topic or issue of their interest. These networks serve as an expanded collective of information that can further improve the capacity of a single individual.

Social Networking vs. Professional Networking

Social networking also encompasses social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat,YouTube, and social bookmarking such as Diigo, or social news sites like Reddit. It includes online tools that allow people to collaborate, share information and ideas, ask questions and seek answers such as through Nings and Wikis. Any network a learner sets up to facilitate this kind of communication can be considered a social network.

Most students see social networks as purely social; many educators use their online networks for both social and professional purposes. The term Personal Learning Network (PLN) is commonly used to describe the connections and interactions that educators forge online. However, the distinction between a social network and a professional network is increasingly blurred, as professionals pose learning-related questions to their social networks, and get to know their professional networks in a personal way. High school and college students increasingly report learning from and with their social networks.

Participating in social media in a responsible way is a skill that students must be taught and then be given opportunities to practice. The National Council for the Social Studies Position Statement on Media Literacy states, "In the twenty-first century, participatory media education and civic education are inextricable" (Rheingold, 2008, p. 103). This means that students must master the 21st Century Skill of communication across a variety of tools and for a variety of purposes, harnessing the power of media to get their message across.

The following 4-minute video gives a light-hearted example of the power of social media to influence decision-making:

Defining a PLN

Author William Bauer provides the following definition of a PLN:

“PLNs consist of a collection of resources that is accessible when you want to learn something and can include both people - friends, family, colleagues, former teachers, and other individuals with expertise in an area who can be consulted for advice and input - and things - books, journals, and a variety of multimedia Web resources. A technology- assisted PLN allows professional development in your specific areas of interest, delivered "just in time," as you need it.” (p. 38)

An attractive benefit of a PLN is the personalization of learning, the ability to seek and contribute knowledge to a community based on a need or interest. Perhaps even more appealing is the fact that most PLNs cost nothing, they are free communities that are organized on any given online social platform. A PLN is an opportunity to combat isolationism, something that educators tend to experience often - the notion that one feels alone in the profession or experience. A PLN goes beyond the walls of our classrooms and staff rooms, and traverses our local environments, crossing the the globe to connect us to other professionals that can help us tackle a challenge, or an idea we may need help with.

There's a PLN for that!

You may find yourself interested in learning more about how to best support English Learners (ELs) in your classroom, or seeking a web tool that you can use to foster collaboration amongst your students. Who do you ask? Where do you go? Through a PLN an expert is readily available to hear you out and engage in a conversation that can result in you learning new knowledge about effective strategies to use with EL, or a new tool that you did not know existed that will impact how you facilitate student collaboration.

Educators across the web have taken to social networks to connect and create their own learning communities and share knowledge that can benefit all members. Twitter has become synonymous with PLNs, as it serves as a convenient platform for open conversations to take place both synchronous and asynchronous. Twitter chats for example are online conversations that are organized and tracked by unique hashtags. You can find a chat to meet your professional and personal interest for virtually any topic. Education Chats is a good place to find a schedule and topic list for Twitter chats that best fits your time availability. If you happen to miss one, do not worry, you can always review what was discussed by searching the unique hashtag and join in on the next scheduled chat.

Can you see the impact that this can have on your own professional development? A PLN is first and foremost Personal, it is up to each individual to gauge their participation and contribution to further expand their professional growth.

Common Sense Media:

What is a PLN, and why should you start one? Common Sense Media's panel of teachers and PLN experts weigh in.

Traditional professional development for teachers, while important, doesn't usually address every teacher's unique needs when it comes to professional learning. Top-down PD solutions tend to ignore what we want most: More opportunities for choice and topics that are timely and actually relevant to our unique classrooms.

It's no wonder, then, that online PLNs -- professional (or sometimes "personal") learning networks -- have become so popular in recent years. While Twitter is probably the most widely used, teachers are finding personalized professional learning on plenty of other platforms. Read more...

Bauer, W. I. (2010). Your Personal Learning Network: Professional Development on Demand. Music Educators Journal, 97(2), 37–42. Retrieved from

"From PLN to Practice: Tips from 5 Educators on Personalizing Your ...." 25 Jun. 2017, Accessed 5 Jul. 2017.