Week 2: Introduction to PLNs

We’re excited about the enthusiasm for learning and sharing that has already emerged in our #xplrpln community. Now that we’re all acquainted with each other and have shared something about our interest in personal learning networks, let’s start to focus our exploration of the topic and build some new know-how to help address the problem scenario we will be working on for the next 4 weeks:

Your CEO (or equivalent organizational leader) just heard about PLNs at a cocktail party and is excited about gaining a competitive advantage (or improving impact on mission) by leveraging PLNs for the organization’s success. But, she/he knows little about PLNs or what to do with them to support organizational success and strategy. Is the organization set up to benefit from and support PLNs, so it is more than just an individual thing? She/he is going away on vacation for one week, and upon return wants you to explain what PLNs are and to provide guidance for what to do. You have a one-hour meeting to facilitate a conversation.

Our challenge: What would your case be? Advocating for PLNs is not the only possible path here. We encourage critical thinking about this problem. And what would you prepare (briefing document, visual, talking points) to make your case? Our final activity will be to create and share these case-making artifacts.

This week is dedicated to exploring exactly how we might define PLNs. In doing so we will certainly discover more questions than answers. But by the end of the week — through our own reflections and through sharing — we’ll have built a little platform upon which we can hopefully see the landscape more clearly.


  • Video broadcast/virtual classroom session at 8 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Tuesday, Oct. 15. Note that we will used an Adobe Connect meeting room (rather than a Google Hangout on Air) for this session. See the Event notification in the Google Community for the link and instructions.
  • #xplnchat Twitter Chats at 8 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Wednesday, Oct. 16 and 1 pm Central Time (Chicago) on Thursday


This week we have several short pieces that we ask everyone to read. We also have several optional readings which dig a little deeper into the topic.

Readings for the week:

Alison Seaman’s Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy. This piece puts PLNs into a broader context while at the same time describing it value as a personal approach to learning. Alison’s article is also recommended reading in Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Literacies course at Stanford for the section on PLNs.

Howard Rheingold’s interview with Shelly Terrell, an educator who is credited with really accelerating the PLN movement among teachers as well as being a great PLN developer on her own. Shelly is referenced in Rheingold’s book Net Smart. The interview is a focused on the basics of PLNs in the context of education. But this post as well as the accompanying video hits on themes concerning adoption and overcoming barriers of support (e.g., school administration).

Harold Jarche writes about “personal knowledge management” or PKM. He is especially adept at linking PKM and organizational learning and knowledge sharing. Much of what he writes applies to our thinking about PLNs (and in fact, it may be that PKM and PLN are interchangeable acronyms). Read his piece PKM in 2013. For Harold’s thinking on one of the challenges of PKM/PLN, read The Knowledge Sharing Paradox.

Finally, read Rajagopal, K., Brinke, D. J., Bruggen, J. V., & Sloep, P. B. (2011). Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them. First Monday, 17(1). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3559

The Rajagopal et al article situates PLNs in the context of academic research on networking and learning, but also offers up a “personal professional networking model” that defines learner attitudes and skills related to successful PLN development.

Optional readings:

An overview of the concept of networked learning via Wikipedia.

On Historically Defining Personal Learning Networks is a very short blog post by Clint LaLonde that puts PLNs into some historical context: Where did the phrase initiate?

How to Create a Robust and Meaningful PLN by blogger Debbie Morrison clearly defines the relationship between personal learning environments (PLE) — the tools and space you use to collect and construct knowledge — and the network of people with whom you learn (PLN).

Another academic treatment of the topic from some of the same researchers noted above. This piece covers additional characteristics of “PLN learners” and tools. Rajogopal, K., Verjans, S., Sloep, P., & Cristina, C. (2012). People in Personal Learning Networks: Analysing their Characteristics and Identifying Suitable Tools. [Link opens a .pdf] In 2012 Conference Proceedings. Presented at the Eighth International Conference on Networked Learning, Maastricht, Netherlands.

Education innovator Alec Couros chronicles the development of PLNs in his chapter –  Developing PLNs for Open and Social Learning  [Link opens a .pdf] — in George Veletsianos book, Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (2010).


  1. Complete the readings from Seaman, Rheingold, Jarche and Rajogopal et al.
  2. Share other PLN readings or resources you discover by posting them in the PLN Resources category of our Google+ Community.
  3. Attend the live virtual session on Tuesday at 8 pm Central Time (U.S.) and the Twitter chats on Wednesday at 8 pm Central Time (U.S.) or Thursday at 1 pm Central Time (U.S.)
  4. Write a blog post on your own blog, and/or post your reflections on this week’s topic in the Intro to PLNs category of our Google+ Community.
  5. Comment on someone else’s blog post or Google+ Community posting.

Our Reflections

We are intrigued by the fact that PLNs are pretty loosely defined at this point (yes, we like playing in the ambiguity sandbox).

Are PLNs absolutely “personal” – meaning that everyone will have their own version of a definition? Or will there someday be clear marks to know where a PLN begins and other types of networks or communities end? If these two questions were terminal points at the opposite ends of a scale, where would you land – closer to “personal” or to “there are clear defining attributes?” You may want to write about that in your blogging and discussions this week.

This week we may also begin to uncover some questions that may challenge our assumptions about the value of or our enthusiasm for PLNs. Where are we (as potential advocates for PLNs) vulnerable in our thinking?

Next Week

Next week we will continue to add color and depth to our definitions (how do PLNs compare to other approaches to learning?) but also start to look at the organizational change issues we may confront as we think about our challenge: Preparing a case for our CEO/organizational leader.