Build a Learning Network

4 mins reading

Here’s an embarrassing admission – or it would be if I had any shame – I had never come across the acronym ‘PLN’ until this week. It first came to my attention when I noticed the below tweet in my feed…

I had to do some Google-fu to narrow down the definition. PLN in this case doesn’t refer to Poland’s national currency or a small regional airport in the US; it mean either a Personal or Professional Learning Network. I like the ambiguity here, as I’ve increasingly been thinking about the concept of ‘professional-personal branding’ of late. Setting that aside though, #PLN is a vibrant hashtag on Twitter, connecting a multitude of educators to each other all around the world. The sheer diversity within the more than 1,000 replies to the tweet above highlights the potential value of a PLN in itself.

While I hadn’t heard of a Professional-Personal Learning Network before, I’ve in any case been building one – and more importantly, encouraging my students to build one – for some years now. Beyond the informal learning opportunities that organically arise from being an active part of a learning network, being visible within professional communities online can bring a wealth of benefits. My videos, podcasts, and motivational talks to students are full of anecdotes from the array of success stories I’ve collected of students past and present who put the time and effort into networking online.

Take former students Dylan and Coco, for instance. Having connected via social media despite the undergraduate-postgraduate divide, Coco reached out to Dylan to collaborate on an industry project together after they graduated. This happened within a broader, student-led, and ‘extra-curricular’ learning community called the Deakin Digital Media Alumni (#DDMalumni), which I made a video about for IGTV here.

I’m sure these kinds of educational, professional, and financial benefits can be extrapolated to educators who build for themselves a dynamic Professional-Personal Learning Network as well.

All of this raises the question of how do you do it? What if you’re an introvert whose preference is to stand back and observe the goings on at social, business, or other events – or even avoid the gathering entirely. Something that I can’t stress enough is that I am exactly that kind of person; I have to push myself out of my comfort zone all the time. I am constantly perceived by students and others as an outgoing extrovert online, but I’m honestly nothing of the sort IRL. But that doesn’t stop me from following and briefly conversing with a stranger every now and then.

I don’t have all the answers for how to do it, but a good place to start might be to have a read of this article on ‘networking for people who hate to network‘. It seems to me that the kind of ‘weak ties’ and ‘loose touch’ described here is fundamental to building PLN.

So whether it’s a ‘personal’ or ‘professional’ learning network you’re looking to build – and if you’re using social media with its networking potential in mind, the terms really aren’t all that distinct – I can’t recommend starting to do so (and continuing to do so!) soon enough. It’s a never-ending process and you will never be ‘finished’, but that might just be why ‘Learning’ is in the acronym too… #PLN has already taught me what PLN is, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot more in future.

Thanks for reading. Connect with me online if I’ve convinced you this meme doesn’t only demonstrate that dogs are really bad at weeding! 😀

Week 2 Meme

Featured image: Photo by Robin Worrall (free use via Unsplash)


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