George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What is a PLN?

Will Richardson was the first person to clearly explain to me about six or seven years ago what a PLN was. Back then, PLN stood for Professional, or Personal Learning Network. A better label today, one that might quiet the nitpickers, is 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.

Each individual educator becomes a potential source of information. Collecting these sources in a location to access them is the PLN. There are no two PLNs that are the same.

PLNs Develop Thought Leaders

Many early adopters of the PLN have gone on to become thought leaders in education, not surprising given that PLNs seem to promote a great deal of reflection and collaboration. These PLN activities stimulate, for many, the need to express themselves further in blogging, speaking and writing books. Additionally, many established thought leaders develop PLNs to maintain relevancy, following good ideas, rich discussions and resources. PLNs accept people for their ideas, not their titles.

Barriers to Mass Adoption

There are three deterrents to educators using PLNs as a tool for learning and professional development (PD):

  1. The PLN is a mindset, not the outcome of a workshop or the PD offered annually by many school districts. It is not a one-shot fix.
  2. Successful users of PLNs overwhelm the uninitiated with techno-babble.
  3. It requires, at least at first, digital literacy beyond a Google search.

Countless blogs, journals, newspapers, magazine articles and books assert that continuous building and active use of PLNs as a tool for learning benefit educators personally and professionally in ways never before possible. Sadly, all these articles and ballyhoo about connectedness have manifested limited adoption by educators.

We must remember that lifelong learning requires effort. We expect this commitment from students. We should accept no less from ourselves. Fortunately, with a little information (see the linked resources at the end of this post) and an openness to learn, anyone can begin to expand his or her knowledge by using a PLN.

It is with this as the background that Edutopia has asked me to write yet another post on The PLN to which I respond: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more."

PLNs Are Collaboration

Collaboration as a method of learning has been with us from the beginning of education. However, it was mostly limited to face-to-face interactions within school buildings, districts or, in some cases, conferences, if educators were fortunate enough to attend one. This is how teachers connected and collaborated through history. Today, technology is collaboration on steroids, supporting "connected educators" -- a term recognized and celebrated by the U.S. Department of Education.

Some might say that we don't need technology to be connected. I disagree. Technology has fundamentally changed collaboration by removing barriers of time and space.

What Can PLNs Do for You?

Through PLNs, American schoolchildren share cultural information with other children around the world. Teachers exchange methods and strategies. Online discussions and links enable access to materials that would not be revealed otherwise. Resources are accessible and exchanged through networked teachers, not filtered through politicians and corporate monopolies.

Twitter, the social media application, is the backbone for most PLNs. Each 140-character post allows quick and easy transmissions of information to links yielding websites, videos, podcasts, blog posts, articles, interviews and excerpts -- dream resources for classroom professionals. By simply asking, teachers receive content and strategies from sources around the globe.

How to Build a PLN

Spend 20 minutes a day interacting and collaborating. Here's how:

More links below will help you better understand what you need to know to get started. Explore them at your own pace.

Remember that the purpose of a PLN is personalized learning. You determine your needs and goals, and then acquire the sources that you need in order to attain them. If you want to share this article with your PLN, copy the link and share it through email or social media. Handing colleagues a printed copy benefits a few people. Sharing the document with your PLN benefits teachers across the world.

PLN Resources

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Sukaina Maklai's picture

I am very new to the teaching profession and I was looking for ways to enhance my learning. My peers are the primary source of guidance for me. Your blog has helped me make an action plan for my personal development. The simple steps you showed to make a PLN are easy and at the same time they open up doors of information. I totally agree with you that technology today has removed the barriers of time and space.
Being able to choose a PLN suiting my needs and goals makes this a very powerful tool for my professional and personal development.

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator & Trainer, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI #GoogleET

So many great ideas in this thread! Tom's original post is a veritable road map from a master network navigator. Still, it can be kinda daunting to get started. For those that are waiting to take their first step, follow KillonLaura (Laura's?) example and start building your PLN by connecting with a real, live human being FIRST. Let them guide you as you start small. Tom's suggestion of 20 minutes a day sounds very reasonable but if you can spend that 20 minutes with a colleague literally by your side the time will utterly FLY by and you will be amazed at how quickly you progress and make connections. Maybe make it a "working lunch"? To be sure, the face-to-face route is not an option for everyone (in many districts, connected educators are like islands) but the person you collaborate with can be someone like yourself who is just starting out. Remember, there's strength in numbers!


p.s. Hey, I recognize that photo! :) Edcamps are a FANTASTIC way to meet interesting, passionate educators who love teaching and sharing ... the ideal people to help you build a PLN ... if you get a chance to attend one, definitely do so! For a list of upcoming edcamps, visit:

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

I so very much agree with Melanie that one of the major benefits for me of my PLN was the knowledge that I wasn't alone.

The most important piece of advice I can give is to start small and add capacity when comfortable. You don't have to say anything on Twitter to get a lot of value out of it, so start by just watching. Then jump into the conversation when you feel comfortable. If anything feels like it's too much, dial it back until you're ready for more.

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

A few years ago when I first heard about "PLN's" I thought that it wasn't for me. That as "just" a parent volunteer at school, it wasn't necessary...that there wasn't a place really for a parent in many of these conversations on Twitter. So my start was somewhat slow in that I watched many of the conversations, read various blogs of educators I found interesting and commented only when I felt the conversation openly welcomed parents.

Two years into using Twitter, although I had no intention of forming one, I can now say, I would be lost without my PLN. This mix of educators and parents have completely reshaped my view of how parents can be involved in their child's education and opened my eyes to not only the many issues and great ideas in teaching, but also the insane dedication and love that so many educators have for this profession and our children. So often we only hear about the negative. It is easy to forget how many "great ones" are out there doing the most important job of educating our future leaders.

The statement Tom made though, "We must remember that lifelong learning requires effort. We expect this commitment from students. We should accept no less from ourselves." is true not only for teachers/educators...but also for one of the most important teachers in a child's life - their parents/family. We need to do what we can to best support their learning in today's world and be their advocates when they aren't able to be one for themselves. A PLN provides you with support, information and ideas that enable you to more effectively and better do so. The information and resources that my PLN provides me has also helped me be a better parent leader for our school, and in return share that with parents not only from our neighboring schools - but those anywhere in the world.

I now look for opportunities to meet the people that I never would have never interacted with otherwise (because what is the chance that I would be speaking with teachers from Texas and Australia, principals from New Jersey and Arkansas, and parent leaders from Canada and New York). Yet they have pushed my thinking and made me realize that not only can and should parents be participating in these conversations with educators - but that it is the best thing for our children that we are all in these conversations together.

Nicole S.'s picture

I am currently working on my master's degree and this week we were just talking about Professional Learning Networks! This article was such a great resource for me to use. I was not specifically looking for an article on PLN's either. I was just browsing through the New Teachers Tab. I love that you mentioned that years ago you did not know what PLN's were, but reading through your post makes it very clear you are invested in this and reap the benefits. This article is such a great confirmation of the importance of PLN's and plain irony that I came across this article today. I enjoyed this experience and gained much knowledge through your advice and insights. Thank you!

Kevin McWain's picture
Kevin McWain
Technology Integration / Instruction Coach

This post comes at an optimal time. The truth is, I have been a 'follower' of educational trends through social media for a while, but it has been only recently that I have begun to actively share. It has been wonderful to read what other amazing educators are doing. It is so much more rewarding to actually begin to participate in the conversations. I have a lot to learn and I thank you for the insight.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Kevin, it's great to hear that you've begun to actively share using social media.

I've found that sharing often produces even more learning opportunities than just lurking. The act of sharing will trigger a conversation with others in the community, and I end up taking away much more than I give.

jporter29's picture

Hello i'm Jermaine and this is my first time on here. Im a educator and want to know how to use this is my class room

Veronica Pena's picture

PLN's are a great way to get involved in the lifelong learning processes of an educator. Educators, often innately, look to advance their knowledge on subject matter as well as teaching strategies. Even for those who are new to the educational world PLN's can be a vast resources of success stories. These networks bring passionate people together in an open environment in which they can collaborate, experiment, develop, and so much more. In my recent explorations into these connected sites, I have found several ways in which I could use them to spark conversations with different groups. This articles gives many helpful resources for starting these networks and advancing the use.

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