My personal learning network (PLN) and how to build your own

April 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ok, I admit it: I’m addicted. My PLN is driving my recent self-guided professional development. It’s not just that, though. I’m evangelizing! I’m spreading the Word and the Word is… Well… Many. Many, many words. Read on if you’re interested.

What’s a PLN (Personal Learning Network, aka Online Learning Network)?

It’s a self-created, online, self-directed system for professional development and professional networking. (Or at least thats how I’m using my PLN. For now. It doesn’t have to be professional).

You already know how to answer a simple question using the Tubes, right? Have a question: Google for the answer.

But what if you don’t have a simple question but a line of inquiry? What if the answer isn’t straight forward? Instead of asking a question and searching for the answer, you can have the information from any topic come to you, and you can read that info any time, any where.

Take for example professional development (that’s the goal of my PLN). I am endlessly interested in Academic Technology and Educational Reform. I can’t type that into Google and expect to get back a step-by-step plan for changing the world of education.

Traditionally I would go to grad school (and probably still will) and spend a few years and a few thousand dollars on my education (see this post on “Higher Education, is it Worth it?”). Or on a smaller scale I might attend a conference in my field (will definitely still do that!). But how do I decide exactly what to study? What do I do between conferences to keep myself up on these ever-changing fields of Academic Technology and Educational Reform?

Like I said, I can start with nothing. Or rather, one thing: a single person whose ideas interest me, whose thoughts provoke me, and whose opinions I value. Maybe a speaker I heard at a conference or a visionary from my field. The best place to start is on Twitter (you don’t even need an account). Find that person on Twitter, and pay attention to what they are tweeting about.

Simple enough, right? Well that’s a good start, anyway. But here’s where it begins to get interesting: With Twitter, you can see who your person is interested in by seeing who they are “following” on Twitter. If someone they are following is interesting to you, follow that person too. And then see who they are following, and so on. Follow enough people that your Twitter timeline (Twitter’s inbox) is filling up but not filling too quickly.

But that’s just a start. Inevitably, people will start tweeting interesting blog entries. Find a blog that’s interesting, add it to your “blogroll” (list of blogs that you follow or read on a regular basis). You now have plenty of reading material to get you started, but here’s where you can go from passive learning (reading) to active learning: start contributing.

Start posting your own thoughts on Twitter, or tweeting about blog entries that speak to you. Share your experience with others. Post comments on blogs, and even start keeping a blog yourself. It doesn’t have to be formal – this is for you – but commit to it.

Sure, there’s a lot of noise on twitter, but you need to ignore what you can, and eat up the stuff you like. Before long you’ll get the hang of it and have the start of your very own Personal Learning Network! Once you do, it’s like attending a tiny little conference every day, tailored to whatever topic you choose.

For specific instructions on how to use Twitter, start your own blog, or other topics I mentioned in this blog entry, Google for it, comment on my blog, or send me a message in twitter @mytakeonit and I’ll write a follow-up.

Also check out this blog post from

But that’s just my take on it. The facts presented in my blog may not be accurate, and the opinions belong to those who state them. Don’t believe something I say? Look it up. Don’t like something I say, let’s talk about it. Leave me a comment.


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