The Value of Personal Learning Networks


When I started working as an instructional designer a few years ago, I didn’t have much experience. In fact, I didn’t even realise that it was a career path! I’d been working as a classroom trainer and while I was mostly enjoying it, I wanted a change. Since becoming an ID I’ve had the opportunity to design for both eLearning and classroom environments and much of what I’ve learned along the way has come from my own experiences and from the experiences and knowledge of others. From early on, I have wanted to know more about eLearning, design and how I can improve my skills – things that still drive me today.

The term ‘Personal Learning Network’ (PLN) is something that I’m hearing more and more lately. It turns out I had started developing a PLN before I knew it was called a PLN. As someone who wanted to learn more about eLearning and instructional design, I started reading books and then commenting on blogs and then started following others in the eLearning and L&D space on twitter. One thing has led to another and I find my PLN keeps growing!

What is a PLN?

Originally I thought a PLN was a new term for a Community of Practice (CoP) and while it’s similar, a blog post by Lisa Chamberlin has helped to clarify the difference between the terms for me.

What makes a PLN?

Well, for starters there’s no right or wrong way to develop a PLN but for me it’s made up of three components:

  • Personal: It means something to you. You choose who’s part of it. You also choose your level of participation and involvement. Initially you may observe and take things in but eventually it’s good to become more active and get involved!
  • Learning: Some form of learning takes place. It could be via a sharing information or in response to a question or from an alternate point of view or from a discussion or from a tweet chat or from working towards a common goal/interest. You could even provide the learning for someone else (and chances are you probably will).
  • Network: It’s a group of interconnected people spread across the country and potentially all over the world. Having this kind of network is much different to ‘networking’ and I think it’s because of the personal nature of it. While ‘networking’ tends to have connotations of connecting with people because you might want to do business with them in the future, PLNs are more about learning, sharing and growing.

I’ve blogged before about self-determination theory and motivation, so here’s how I think PLN’s satisfy our basic psychological needs:

  • Autonomy: You can engage with anyone as much as you want, whenever you want to. You choose who to surround yourself with. It’s your network to create!
  • Competence: your PLN can develop your competence by being involved with them, by learning from the experience others or from them providing feedback to you if you put something out there.
  • Relatedness: you are interacting and connecting with people from anywhere who work in the same industry/area as you do.

Maybe that’s why a PLN has helped me maintain my motivation for learning?

It’s also likely that you won’t have actually met people in your PLN and that is certainly the case for me. I’ve developed many relationships via Twitter and LinkedIn with people I’ve never met. Despite this, there is a tremendous amount of sharing and learning that takes place via these channels. Plus, if you get the chance to meet them at a conference or event, there’s an instant connection!

If you click here you’ll see some of the people who have been my valuable sources of ideas, learning and growth.

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