Personal learning networks – notes and resources

Some thoughts and partial thoughts as I work through a collection of readings and resources on personal learning networks (PLNs) as they apply broadly to professionals and learners of all types. These readings will be part of Exploring PLNs: Practical Issues for Organizations, an open online seminar I will be co-facilitating this Fall.

Alison Seaman

For me, it honestly starts here: Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy.

I am biased of course because I know Alison and she is a valued part of my own PLN. But this piece, published in Hybrid Pedagogy (a wonderful online journal), is now recommended reading in Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Literacies course at Stanford for the section on PLNs.

This is a really well-written piece which pays respects to early innovators. But it puts PLNs into a broader context while at the same time making the idea of a PLN seem – well – approachable and personally valuable. This resonates with my own experience in learning to learn on the web.

Howard Rheingold

Howard Rheingold’s latest book is Net Smart, in which he explicitly addresses PLNs for only a small bit. But really the whole book is a manual on all the capabilities necessary to build a PLN. Given who he is — writer, teacher — and his remarkable history in the world of virtual communities, I find it not only interesting to note his insights into PLNs but also note to whom HE pays attention. We cross paths at several points in that regard (Shelly Terrell, Alison Seaman and the Rajagopal et al academic piece in First Monday).

In a short blog post, Rheingold interviews 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. She is referenced in his 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).

A similar post introduces the idea of a PLN being “people learning together,” an insight Rheingold credits to Will Richardson, another education innovator.

After Net Smart’s publication Rheingold went to Twitter and started sharing his ideas on how HE builds a PLN. This post shares the results. (I am looking for additional content explaining these steps):

  • Explore
  • Search
  • Follow
  • Tune
  • Feed
  • Engage
  • Inquire
  • Respond

Shelly Terrell

From Shelly herself, a curated list of 23 resources on PLNs. I think I would introduce this as a great window into how the teacher world has adopted PLNs/thinks about PLNs. I’ve looked at many of the links (and videos) – some are better than others. But the themes that are built here all resonate with everything I’ve heard or read about how people think about PLNs.

Harold Jarche

Jarche writes about workplace learning and advocates a point of view that work and learning are now inseparable and that networks provide an opportunity for great innovation in learning and work. He does not use the phrase personal learning network but writes extensively about personal knowledge management (PKM) and how PKM is central to his point of view.

I see few meaningful distinctions between PLN and PKM — both focus on the individual taking control of learning and being conscious of the network developed for that purpose. Here is one of Jarche’s definitions of PKM taken from a recent post:

PKM is a framework for individuals to take control of their professional development while working in organizations or across networks. Disciplined personal knowledge management brings focus to the information sea we swim in. The multiple pieces of information that we capture and share can increase the frequency of serendipitous connections, especially across disciplines and outside organizations. – Harold Jarche “PKM in 2013”

Jarche also describes PKM as dependent upon a seek-sense-share process, which he uses extensively in his writings on PKM.

I particularly like his post Activate Your Knowledge, in which he reflects briefly on his earliest inspiration for PKM and his interpretation of that inspiration into the seek-sense-share process – “as a process of moving ideas and conversations through relationships of people in networks, communities (CoP), and work teams.”

In two other recent posts – An Organizational Knowledge Sharing Framework and PKM in 2013 –  Jarche puts PKM into organizational context and does an effective job of linking “Big KM”/knowledge management, social learning and “narrating your work” with PKM/PLNs.

What I also respect about Jarche is his critical voice. In The Knowledge Sharing Paradox he hits head-on one of the key tensions in thinking about PLNs and organizations: ownership of the things you produce. “Why would someone share everything they know on an enterprise network, knowing that on the inevitable day that they leave, their knowledge artifacts will remain behind?,” he writes.

Note that Jarche also runs The Connected Knowledge Lab with Jane Hart, another veteran thought-leader in the area of technology and learning. The Lab offers members both content and community designed to help individuals build their personal knowledge management capabilities and networks.

Academic articles

This is the best that I have found in terms of explaining PLNs and looking at the networking skills required to make them work. It is also used by Rheingold in his Stanford course in the section on PLNs: Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them

This is a conference paper by some of the same authors from above (the conference itself is a gold mine). Also very good: People in Personal Learning Networks: Analyzing Their Characteristics and Identifying Suitable Tools

Via Catherine Cronin (comment below): The 2012 First Monday article “Understanding PLNs” by Rajagopal, et al, is another notable piece to add to the list.

As well, education innovator Alec Couros’ chronicles the development of PLNs in his chapter —  “Developing PLNs for Open and Social Learning”  — in George Veletsianos book, Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (2010).

On the history of the term PLN

This post summarizes several posts but puts PLN into historical perspective.

On PLNs and Personal Learning Environments (PLE)

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

11 thoughts on “Personal learning networks – notes and resources

  1. Thanks for sharing all of this, pal! You’re a valued part of my network too. One big thing I’ve learned about PLNs, since beginning to craft one in 2011, is that they can vary in breadth and depth depending on both the choices we make along the way and the experiences we have together.

    Also, because my ego won’t allow me to leave this unclarified: My article was a recommended read for Howard’s class, not a required read. Nevertheless, it is and was a huge honour to have my work selected for his class!

    Thanks again for sharing all of this great research, Jeff. 🙂


    1. Thanks Alison. Interesting and good point: PLNs “can vary in breadth and depth depending on both the choices we make along the way and the experiences we have together.”

      Fluidity is an attribute in this case and not necessarily a bad thing, no?

      (And also corrected the required/recommended thing. Thx)


  2. “Fluidity is an attribute in this case and not necessarily a bad thing, no?” Right, it’s not a bad thing at all. We don’t stay static and nor should our networks. 🙂


  3. Hi Jeff (and Alison!) – this is a great list, thanks for sharing it 🙂

    This First Monday article on “Understanding PLNs” by Rajagopal, et al, is a good one for prompting discussion: The focus on professionals might also appeal to you. And there’s also Alec’s article/chapter: “Developing PLNs for Open and Social Learning”

    It’s awfully late here and I have to head offline… just wanted to contribute, as you are always so generous with feedback and ideas. I guess that’s PLNs at work 🙂 Talk soon!


    1. Thank you Catherine! I’ve added your contributions to my list. I had just also found the 2012 “Understanding PLNs” piece as well – glad you also see it as valuable. Not sure how I missed Alec’s chapter. Please don’t let him know I skipped over him. :-0


      1. Yes..exactly. This was my drafting of the resources we intend to use to kick off the “what are PLNs?” discussion in week 2 (week 1 is orientation). And what I am hoping to do is continue to add more works – from different points of view – as we go along.

        As you would suspect, we are also very interested in experimenting with an open learning event – integrating G+, blogs, Twitter. Some design and facilitation outcomes will emerge as well, I am sure.


  4. That sounds great, Jeff. You and I should definitely keep communicating, as we’ll be doing similar types of activities in our Professional Skills module in Galway — a different cohort and curriculum to your class, but learning in the open as well. I blogged this week about a recent presentation on learning and assessment in open spaces (apologies if you’ve seen already). This is where my thinking is at the moment…


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