What is a PLN?

A PLN is a personal learning network. It’s sometimes called a Personal Learning Environment. It’s also core to the idea of networked learning, and a big part of the driving pedagogy behind using social media in education.

A PLN is the sum total of all your on and offline interactions, resources, and engagements that contribute to your learning. It’s often an informal thing, or a mix of the formal or informal. It’s the books you read. The teachers in your staffroom or lounge. The Guardian Education Supplement. Blogs you post to, or read, magazines, periodicals or journals you do. Courses you take, students on those courses, and all the links, articles, posts, videos and tweets you watch and reas.

Your PLN is all the things and all the people you connnect with that help you learn about the thing you are doing.

Here’s a pic of a typical PLN, from Alec Couros. It’s not comprehensive, as the digital world evolves rapidly, but it’s a good overall picture of what one might look like.

The Networked Teacher, Image Courtesy of Alec Couros

The Networked Teacher, Image Courtesy of Alec Couros

Alec Couros is a great person to follow, btw. Click on his name to connect to his Twitter Profile, if you like.

Twitter and your PLN

Twitter is a very useful tool for extending your pln.  It’s hugely popular, it’s hashtag system let’s you find people and information that you are interested in rapidly. The educators on Twitter are typically eager to share, communicate and answer questions. And it’s instantaneous. It’s a powerful tool to help you extend your PLN and gather more and more resources to change, alter and develop your practice.

Follow the right people, and your timeline can become a carefully curated stream of thought provoking ideas, useful resources, and a one stop theory shop for almost everything you need to know. You can connect with experts, with people in the same field and context as you, with thoughtful thinkers and practitioners sharing their experiences, ideas, techniques and resources. And you can become a contributor too, building up your own following, and curating and sharing your own resources, ideas, experiences and ideas.

Why you should

  • Twitter will give you access to experts in the field who share ideas, resources, articles and insights.
  • Your own peer network will have resources, experiences, thoughts and artefacts to share. If your PLN are active, that translates into a consistent stream of useful information.
  • Twitter is often used as an ask an expert forum. If enough people follow you, and retweet your question, chances are an expert might answer. It can be a great way to get free and expert advice.
  • A characteristic of Twitter are weak connections. The idea here is that when you connect with people who work in fields that are tangentially related to yours, that you might not normally meet, you get insights, resources, and approaches to things that you wouldn’t ordinarily encounter. Twitter can really help you to engage with materials you might not otherwise have seen, and come up with creative solutions.
  • Your students can, and will benefit from your pln. The more people you have following you, who are also aware of the teaching possibilities of twitter, the more likely you are to be able to get them to help you in and with your class. There’s a range of ideas for how to leverage your PLN in class here, but some ideas involve getting people to post questions for your students, or having experts you met on twitter skype into your class, or having PLN members who are teachers skype in to your class. You can have people from cities your class are talking about tweet, or people who witnessed, or are witnessing events meet up with your students online to answer questions.
  • Finally, in connecting with educators who use twitter, you are connecting to a community who, generally, tacitly agree that they are there to learn from each other. This tends to mean that the learning opportunities are fertile, many, and often high quality.

How to do it

If you are new to twitter

  • Choose a username that makes it easy to find you, and connect with you. People often choose to use their own names on twitter, or to attach their real name in their profile to the twitter handle they chose.
  • Make sure your profile has a picture, and some information about you. People are much more likely to follow you if your profile feels authentic, and some people will assume your twitter account is fake unless you post some identifying information to your profile, and a picture. If you are not comfortable putting your own picture up, put up a cartoon picture, or a landscape picture, or a picture of a thing that represents you.
  • Post some tweets before you begin to follow people. Again, this is to encourage people to think you are real, and not a spammer. People are unwilling to follow an account with zero tweets.
  • Find people to follow. If you already know teachers on twitter, see who they follow, check their profiles, and consider following those people. If there are educators, theorists, or writers on education or technology you like, find and follow them. You can unfollow people at any time, but don’t follow everyone you encounter either. Checking through the lists that people you find interesting follow can be useful. Post interesting resources and ideas, and people will start to follow you. Lots of blogs and articles have links to follow the writer.
  • Don’t follow too many people at first, and don’t be afraid to unfollow people who are not helpful or valuable to you. They won’t know.

If you are already on twitter and new to PLNs.

  • Have a clear focus about why you are on witter. It can be a great tool for building your PLN, but you do need focus. Is it social, or professional or a mix. Are you looking for resources and ideas, or for connections that might help you climb the professional ladder.
  • As a general rule, follow people, hashtags and topics that interest you, and are tied in to the area you are developing your network in, and contribute to them (there’s a huge list of educational hashtags here). Ask questions, post resources, and contribute to the conversation. The more you contribute, and the more visible, the more you’ll build your network.
  • Participate in tweetchats on education, or the specific topic you are interested in. Post your thoughts, ask people questions, get involved in conversations. There’s a list of educational tweetchat hashtags and times here. #edchatie is a good place to start for Irish educators.
  • Follow people you disagree with.
  • Tweet resources, your own blog posts, articles, and anything you know is good quality and interesting. Retweet other peoples material whenever it interests you.
  • Retweeet people, respond to them with questions, and to their questions queries and resources, and you’ll build a following.