Engage: What Is a Personal Learning Network?

Michel Singh

Marc-André Lalande offers a straightforward look at the attributes of a personal learning network (PLN) in his video What is a PLN. It distinguishes between a professional learning network and one that is more personally relevant and driven by your own needs and aspirations.

Now take a look at Understanding and Creating Professional Learning Networks .

This video presents three views on the research associated with PLNs, including research by Dr. George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair at Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC (you can connect with him on twitter as @veletsianos).

(The video below did not have timed transcript available, but Closed Captioning is available by clicking on the YouTube icon and viewing this video in YouTube itself.)

PLNs are personal, or more accurately, personalized. They might be organized around personal or professional learning interests, but they are uniquely yours. For example, you may have a shared interest with someone else in a particular topic, perhaps basket-weaving techniques, but the intersecting zones of your PLNs would be different because your own network is based on connections that you form yourself and conversations that you have with others. You determine who is in your network and how you engage with them.

PLNs are also formed around the goal of learning. They’re made up of nodes, or the people and organizations that you recognize as being important to your learning, and the connections between them. Connections between the nodes in the network are built and strengthened through shared interests, conversations, and other interactions, like posting links to useful articles or offering insights from your own experience.

You might communicate with your learning network through the same tools you use for primarily social purposes, but PLNs are, at their core, meant to promote your own growth, development, and understanding in an area that is meaningful to you.

Personal learning networks do highlight the social nature of learning, though, revealing that the ways you interact with your network might blur the boundary between your social identity and your identity in academic or professional spheres.


The idea of a PLN, as presented here, emerges from the theory of connectivism. The foundational concept of connectivism is that your network provides the context for your learning, not necessarily the content. It’s a teaching approach that recognizes the agency of learners in determining the direction of their own learning, but at the same time emphasizes that learning is not a solitary or individualistic pursuit, and that we learn as part of a community.

PLNs with a connectivist context exemplify the thesis that learning is a social and collaborative activity. It is the process of your own learning through discussions and other kinds of interactions with community that creates strength in your PLN.

Unique to connectivism—and the formulation of PLNs within it—is that it speaks specifically, inseparably about how these connections between learners take place in a digital space, and how they are fundamentally transformed by interactions with and through digital technologies.

Watch the video Overview of Connectivism with Dr. George Siemens, who is the Canadian higher education teacher and researcher who coined the term “connectivism” (you can connect with him on twitter as @gsiemens).

The short YouTube video presents an overview of connectivism and the insights that Siemens pursued in his research by reflecting on his own learning and how it was influenced and affected through the affordances of digital technologies and networks.

Your work in this module will replicate some of the pathways Siemens explored.


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