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What’s the Point of a Personal Learning Network?

What’s the Point of a Personal Learning Network?

We all have a personal learning network or PLN. Even if we’ve not reached the dizzy heights of Twitter and the like our PLN is all around us every day. It’s the people that we work with and exchange ideas with.

Traditionally our PLN wouldn’t have reached very far beyond the staffroom, but these days in the blink of an eye you can be accessing information and answers from a PLN that spans the globe.

But what’s the point?

I know that a lot of people – generally the type who won’t be reading this blog, and certainly won’t be dropping me a line on Twitter to talk about it, think that virtual PLNs are just one big time wasting activity. That we’re all busy talking about what we had for breakfast, or watching videos of dancing cats. Of course, there’s some of that – just like there is in the staff room. But there’s a whole more to it as well.

Michael Graffin, a teacher over in Oz started a great discussion up on Voicethread a few days back trying to encourage an exchange of ideas about what we each get out of our PLN and how it’s changed us both personally and as educators.


Voicethread will eventually appear below – or you can access it here


Participating was a learning experience for me as I’ve never used Voicethread before. It made me examine what the point of my own personal learning network is and I decided that for me, the key elements were being part of an environment which was completely unprejudiced where I could ask any questions I liked without fear of looking silly. And also having the privilege of being able to draw on a huge range of ideas and experiences of educators working in a wide range of roles, all over the world.

Whenever I have a question, idea or problem if I talk to my PLN I always find that I am offered a wealth of advice and ideas which are more wider ranging and certainly a lot more rapid than if I had used my traditional offline PLN.

It’s well worth listening to the other views expressed in the voicethread and adding your own voice too. Some of the standout points for me were that a PLN offered the opportunity to:
• Talk to like-minded, real people
• Share and exchange a range of ideas
• Inject creativity into everyday practice
• Enjoy a constant flow of ideas
• Encourage innovation
• Discuss and consider controversial thoughts
• Develop enthusiasm and passion

So are you a convert? Do you find your virtual PLN a great resource or do you think we’re better off sticking to the traditional methods of actually talking to people we know and exchanging ideas over the photocopier? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Well, what can I say? It’s not every day that one of my little ‘pet projects’ inspires such a renowned blogger as yourself to respond with a blog post.

    I’d like to emphasise that PLNs, or Personal Learning Networks have, and continue to transform the personal and professional lives of teachers around the world.

    While PLNs can be real-world and virtual, I’ve found the global connections and sharing, that is so characteristic of our online teacher community, to be so much more open and beneficial.

    Our virtual PLNs are global, and enable us to connect with people we’d never meet in our day to day work.

    Thanks for a thoughtful, and engaging post

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your comment, for introducing me to voicethread and for getting us all engaged in this topic. I’ve been really interested to hear how different people use their PLN and it’s helped me to realise how valuable mine is to me!

  • I just participated in my first unconference via Elluminate, and all I can say is WOW. Teachers from the US, Australia, and Peru participated. I am so impressed with the amount of QUALITY professional development available FOR FREE just out there waiting to be taken advantage of. On the downside, the next time I have to sit through a presentation by a speaker that my district paid thousands of dollars to come and talk at our faculty, I just might cry for real.

    • There is some fantastic free CPD out there, you’re right and it’s especially inspiring when you’re able to share great advice and best practice with practitioners from all over the globe.

      That said, I still think there is a role for face to face training when it comes to developing whole schools or departments. It helps you to develop shared goals and work as a team and of course the training gets tailored exactly to your specific requirements. I think that both forms of CPD are fantastic if used in the right circumstances.

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