The word PLN seems to have become very popular recently, so I thought we could have a look at what it is and how it works.

What's a PLN?

  • Firstly, PLN stands for personal (or professional) learning network. That’s fine but what is a personal learning network and why would we need one?
  • Well a PLN is a group of people, any people, that can help you to develop and learn. I think it’s very important to stress that a PLN is people, because so much talk about PLN gets tangled up in technology and websites etc, but at the heart of PLN is the concept of people who connect together to help each other grow and learn.
  • The technology comes in because it is a tool that can help you to connect to those people and it can help you process the information you get from those people into meaningful and hopefully useful knowledge.

Why build a PLN?

  • Nowadays I’m tempted to believe that anything you need to know or learn can be found on the Internet, if you know where to look, but that knowing where to look can be challenging. As Michael Wesch wrote in ‘A Vision of Students Today’ in 2008 “more than 2,000 gigabytes of new information is being created every second”.
  • That’s an awful lot of information to sort through to find what you need, but that’s where your PLN can help. They can point you to the right articles, the best sources of information and guide you along the way, so that you save time and access the highest quality resources.
  • For me though, the PLN and accessing useful information is just the beginning of turning that information into knowledge. In order to truly develop I believe you need apply some critical thinking to that information, try to apply what you have learned to your own context and most of all feed what you have learned about the information back into the global community from which your PLN was formed.


How to build a PLN?

So lets get started on the first part of that process and that is connecting to those people.

There are many web based tools that can help you to connect with other English language teachers, but here I’ll start with just 3.

The first of those and probably the most useful is Twitter. Creating a Twitter account is quite simple and it’s free. Just go to click on ‘Sign up’ and follow the instructions.

Okay so now you have a Twitter account, but that doesn’t mean you have a PLN. In order to get that you need to start ‘following’ people’. To follow people you just need to go to their profile and click on ‘Follow’.

Following the right people is very important because you need to follow people that share the kinds of information that you will be interested in. Here is a good list of people to help you get started. When you visit the links below you’ll see a column of ‘tweets’ (short information statements’). Be sure to look through them. If you don’t find them interesting then don’t follow them, but if you do, clicking on follow will mean that all the information they share will come directly to your Twitter page. It will also mean that you can respond to the information and post questions to these people.

Recommended Twitter people

So that is the beginning of your PLN. Another good source of contacts is the tried and tested traditional Yahoo groups and discussion lists. They aren’t as fashionable as Twitter, but there are still some great sources of information and some really useful contacts to be made through them. The other good thing is that the information comes directly to your email inbox, you just need to send an email subscribing to the list. Here are some lists that you might think about subscribing to.

Recommended Email discussion lists

The third suggestion I have for building your PLN is web based social networks. When most teachers think about social networks they think of Facebook, but that isn’t the only one. There are many web based social networks which were constructed specifically for teachers, and all you have to do is sign up. Here are some networks that you could have a look at and consider joining.

Recommended social networks


Some ground rules
So, if you have got this far, you should now have the potential to be in touch with thousands of other English teachers. That’s a great start, but it is just the beginning. Before you go any further though, it’s good to think about a couple of ground rules for being part of a community. These are just a few rules that might help you:

  • First and foremost, listen. Don’t feel that you have to start contributing or participating immediately. Be prepared to listen and just absorb some information to start with.
  • Ask genuine questions. If there is something you want to know start asking questions and posting questions to your PLN. Don’t ask questions just because you can though. Ask when you genuinely need information.
  • Be respectful. One of the greatest things about having a PLN is that it can put you into contact with people from different cultures  who have very different experiences and opinions from you own, so be sure to always respect those differences and try to understand and appreciate them

Well that’s the beginnings of your PLN. I’ll try to follow up this article in a week or two with the next part in which I’ll look at how to build your information network and filter the vast amount of information that it can generate, so you get just the best of the 2,000 gigabytes a second.


Nik Peachey | Learning Technology Consultant, Writer, Trainer
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