Thoughts on Personal Learning Networks

13 Sep

I started developing a personal learning network (PLN) before I knew it was called a PLN. As someone who wanted to learn more about instructional design, I started reading books and then commenting on blogs and then started following others in the L&D space on twitter. One thing lead to another and I find my PLN keeps growing! In my last blog post I shared a lot of people who I would classify as being part of my personal learning network (PLN). The list isn’t exhaustive but everyone on it has contributed in some way to my development and helped me learn more.

Originally I thought a PLN was a new  term for a Community of Practice (CoP) but a blog post by Lisa Chamberlin has helped to clarify the difference between the terms for me.

Jeff Merrell put a great blog post together that provides resources for more info into PLNs. I’ve also enrolled in Jeff’s online seminar called Exploring PLNs: Practical Issues for Organisations on the 7th of October. It will explore the question “How might it be possible for organizations and individuals alike to benefit if individuals develop personal learning networks within and outside the enterprise–namely, their employers?”  Sounds really interesting and it will also be a way help grow my own PLN via interaction with other partcipants.

What makes a PLN?

Personal: It means something to you. You choose who is part of it. You choose your level of participation and involvement.

Learning: Some form of learning takes place. It could be via a sharing information or in response to a question or from an alternate point of view or from a discussion or from working towards a common goal/interest. You could even provide the learning for someone else.

Network: A group of interconnected people spread out all over the world. Having this kind of network is much different to ‘networking’ and I think it’s because of the personal nature of it. Networking tends to have connotations of connecting with people because you might want to do business with them in the future. PLNs are more about learning and sharing.

I’ve blogged before about self-determination theory and motivation. Here’s how I think  PLN’s satisfy our basic psychological needs:

Autonomy: I can engage with anyone as much as I want, whenever I want. You choose who to surround yourself with. It’s your network to create.

Competence: your PLN can develop your competence by being involved with them, by learning from the experience others or from providing feedback to you if you put something out there.

Relatedness: you are interacting and connecting with people from all over the world who work in the same industry/area as you.

Maybe that’s why PLNs help contribute towards our motivation for learning?

It’s also possible that you may not have met ‘members’ of your PLN in person. I read a recent blog post by Helen Blunden who was able to meet people in her PLN. That’s something I’d like to do over time. So far, I’ve been able to meet a couple (Ryan and Con) and it was really cool to chat with them and get to know them a little on a personal level.

A great benefit of a PLN is that it makes you feel part of something and this quote sums it up nicely:

untitledWhat do you think about Personal Learning Networks?

Image quote by Kathy Kaldenburg


Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Personal Learning Network


Tags: , , , , ,

11 responses to “Thoughts on Personal Learning Networks

  1. Jeff Merrell

    September 13, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Spot-on again, Matt.

    I particularly like your definition of personal: “It means something to you. You choose who is part of it. You choose your level of participation and involvement.”

    My own experience in developing my digital connections and presence — as well as my experience teaching graduate students who are doing the same — is that the all the possibilities make the whole thing rather intimidating and overwhelming. But focusing on “it means something to choose who is part of it…level of participation” – now I have agency. So if I have 7 people in my PLN at the moment and you have 400 — who cares? It’s my choice at the moment.

    Looking forward to much more of this discussion. THIS exchange in itself is reason to be excited by the possibilities.

    • learningsnippets

      September 14, 2013 at 7:35 am

      Hi Jeff, thanks for your comments. I agree with you that it doesn’t matter how many people you consider part of your PLN, you are in control.

      Also, PLNs are like the relationships we have with others in our lives, you might be closer to some that others, people come and go and you connect with new members through contact with current members. I think your PLN is always changing and evolving.

      I’m excited too about discussing this area in more depth and meeting other along the way. Thanks again Jeff.

  2. Nick

    September 13, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    Great post Matt,

    I am so much in agreement that personal learning networks are exactly what you make of them, and you can choose when too!

    PLN’s are always a work in progress for me, but I love following new people and seeing all the insights that pass through my Twitter stream.

    So far I’ve yet to meet anybody from my PLN in person but someday I’m sure that will change and I’m sure it will be a surreal one as I’ve found talking to somebody in my PLN on the phone is definitely just that.

    • learningsnippets

      September 14, 2013 at 7:42 am

      Hey Nick, thanks for your comments. PLNs are a work in progress for me too but one that I enjoy. I’ve also found twitter to be a great tool to connect with others and the diversity is just amazing!

      Hopefully you’ll get to meet some of your PLN in the future. Like I said I’ve only met a couple of people from my PLN and I actually felt a bit nervous just before we met! Its a bit strange because you only know them via their ‘virtual persona’ but its great to be able to chat about all sorts of things and not have to limit it to 140 characters 🙂

      • Nick

        September 16, 2013 at 2:29 am

        I also enjoy constantly developing my PLN, and the information I am able to learn and inspiration I receive is invaluable. I’m hoping someday I too will get to meet somebody from my PLN, perhaps at a conference if I get to go to one.

        Twitter is definitely my favorite and seemingly most useful place to develop my PLN. I find LinkedIn is a good professional development tool but it’s somewhat limited in the learning I receive from it, although I can’t say I’ve never learned anything from it!

  3. Joanne Even

    September 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Hi Matt! I’ve written a lot about the value of my PLN, so I was intrigued when I saw the snippet from your blog in the eLearning Guild digest. When I clicked to read your blog… surprise, surprise… we use the same WordPress theme! The greatest thing I’ve discovered about my PLN is how I can use it in some really unexpected ways. If you’re interested in reading some of my stuff, start with How My PLN Sent Me Over The Edge. 🙂

    • learningsnippets

      September 15, 2013 at 9:58 pm

      Hi Joanne, thanks for reading my post and for your comments. Its great to find someone that uses the same theme as I don’t see it used very often.

      You post is great too, it shows how diverse our PLN can be and all we need to do is reach out to them. It was also very brave of you to rapel down that building!

  4. Ryan Tracey

    September 17, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    It was great to meet you too, Matt. While an online PLN is invaluable, there is really no substitute for in-person conversation. I’m looking forward to the next one!

    • learningsnippets

      September 18, 2013 at 7:34 am

      Me too mate! I totally agree, an online PLN is great and you can still be very connected dispite the physical distance. But if there’s an opportunity for some ‘face time’ it’s definately worth taking.


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