Getting Started with Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)


This week in Digital Literacy, I am singing the praises of my PLN. I have learned more and also had more energy and enthusiasm for teaching in the last three years than perhaps ever before, and I think that’s largely a product of daily participation in my PLN. It’s energizing to connect with other teachers who love their work and to learn from people who are doing interesting and exciting things in their classrooms.

What is a PLN?

John Spencer’s Edu-Sketch provides a quick overview of PLNs:


Will Richardson defines your PLN as the networked classroom and curriculum you build focused on ideas you’re passionate about:


Before I got connected, my learning was largely limited to professional development books and to what I could glean from the very few minutes each day when there was time to consult with colleagues.


Alec Couros created a good graphic of that Typical Teacher Network: there weren’t very many options for input, and there were none for output.

Now that I’m connected, my learning looks like Couros’s Networked Teacher graphic:


I still learn from traditional sources like colleagues, curriculum materials, and books, but now I have so many more ways to learn and so many more people to learn from. My learning is no longer limited to the people and resources that are in the room with me. Networked learning makes it possible for me to learn from Myra in Singapore, Carrie in Vancouver, and Katherine in Illinois–all in the same hour.

What do I get from my PLN?

  • Book recommendations
  • New strategies and techniques to try in my classroom
  • Links to articles on important issues in education
  • Feedback on my writing and thinking
  • Glimpses into K-12 classrooms across the nation (very valuable for a teacher educator in a remote area of the country)
  • Invitations to reflect on my practice
  • Mentor texts
  • Solutions to teaching problems
  • Questions that get me thinking about my teaching practice
  • Resources to share with my students
  • Encouragement
  • Confirmation of my philosophy and practices as an educator
  • Challenges to my philosophy and practices as an educator

Connected learning feels like an explosion of creativity and innovative thinking, and if Steven Johnson is right about where good ideas come from, it’s no wonder. If my slow hunch needs to collide with someone else’s hunch before it can become a good idea, think of how many more opportunities my hunches have for collisions in a networked learning space.

To get started building their PLNs, I asked my preservice teachers to:

  • Identify the communities/topics they want to learn from/about. My learning interests are:  education, especially literacy instruction, disruptive teaching, ed tech, education policy, and workshop classrooms; children’s literature; young adult literature; digital literacy; diversity/race/social justice issues; parenting; cooking; fantasy football.
  • Identify the social media tools they will use for learning. My social media learning tools are primarily blogs and Twitter. I recently added Pinterest, and one goal for this semester is to create an Instagram account and figure out how to use that in my teaching and learning. I do not learn and share about all of the communities/topics in my PLN using all tools. For example, I follow a number of blogs about cooking and parenting, but I don’t follow anyone on Twitter who tweets about that topic. The most important areas of my learning on social media–education, diversity, children’s and YA lit–are integrated through all of my social media spaces. Among the group of 9 in the class, we’ll be exploring ways to use blogging, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram to build our PLNs this week. The goal isn’t for every student to explore every tool but to choose the tool or tools that fit their learning style and interests.
  • Explore communities and find people to follow. My students plan to follow each other; stalk my PLN and stalk each other’s PLNs; search hashtags; explore Twitter for Teachers; follow hyperlink trails in articles and blog posts they read; search for the people they’re already following on other social media sites; and Google “best teaching blogs”.

PLNs aren’t just about what you consume: they’re also about what you share.

The early work of building a PLN positions the learner more as consumer, but it’s important to think about what we have to offer. Learning in a healthy PLN isn’t uni-directional. As Howard Rheingold’s tips for cultivating a PLN show, networked learners “feed” their networks. Certainly I follow and learn from many educators who don’t follow or learn from me. But the richest learning in my PLN happens when there are reciprocal learning relationships–when I am also creating, curating, and sharing “items of value” with my followers and engaging and responding to the learning and work of others.

All of my preservice teachers are using Wordpress and Twitter as platforms for their learning this semester. Through their blogs and Twitter feeds, they are already creating and curating “items of value” that they can “feed” to their networks.

If you have a moment, stop by and leave a comment on one of my preservice teacher’s blogs or engage with them on Twitter:

Kelsey’s blog and Twitter

Nicky’s blog and Twitter

Christian’s blog and Twitter

Zach’s blog and Twitter

Jayden’s blog and Twitter

Analise’s blog and Twitter

Brittany’s blog and Twitter

Michael’s blog and Twitter

PHOTO CC-BY Atom_Slasher_PLN

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