PLNs, Serendipity and Learning

Exercise your curiousityI am curious as a cat which I think has a great deal to with my career choices. Sure journalism is a lot about writing but it is also about questions and the search for truth (at least if done right, not the way it seems to be practiced by big media today). Similarly teaching has to be (again if done right) about a constant quest for knowledge and answers to the questions sparked by your classes. This is true at all levels (I happen to think the best teachers must be lifelong learners) but especially true of those in higher ed where we are expected to be scholars as well as teachers (unlike in K-12 where true lifelong learners are all too often driven underground by their administration).

I have four post-secondary degrees, but much of my learning then and now has taken place outside, alongside, and sometimes in spite of my classes and instructors. I consider myself tremendously fortunate to live and learn during a time when there are so many resources and avenues available to the lifelong learner. In honor of Digital Learning Day, this post is dedicated to one tool that many, even those who are incredibly plugged in to social media, take for granted – a Personal Learning Network or PLN.

What is a PLN?


A personal learning network is just what it sounds like – it is the people who help you learn and grow as a professional and a person in all sorts of overlapping and serendipitous ways by sharing information and resources that they gain from their PLN as well as experience and personal quests for knowledge. The members of your PLN have interests and knowledge and experience that intersects with your own and in mutally beneficial ways. Jeffrey Heil gives a nice overview here: “What is a PLN?” Also, Alison Seaman discusses why and how you should create your own PLN in “Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy.” Lisa Nielsen of The Innovative Educator has also blogged extensively about PLNs. There is also an active discussion and sharing of resources using the Twitter hashtag #PLN.

Creating Your Own

NetworkCreating your own PLN can be as organic and informal as you like. Some people crave a more structured atmosphere and so seek out the support of an actual coach, such as my friend Janie Santoy of Boldly Leap, while others build their own network of resources devoted to a specific topic, such as my friend Lee Skallerup Bessette and her #FYCchat community. There are all sorts of coaching and mentoring experiences available and social media offers a plethora of options for building, creating, and connecting with the right folks. You can join Facebook groups such as this one about TechRhet as well as Google+ Communities like Comp-Rhet.  Similarly, some blogs such as ProfHacker and Hybrid Pedagogy provide terrific resources but also introduce readers to a wide network of people they can add to their PLN.

My own personal network includes a collection of people, organizations and hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ plus several blogs. In addition, the National Writing Project multiplies the size of my PLN through its networks and resources. Recently I participated in #BlogTank which was organized by Amy Rubens which also expanded my network. I still subscribe and read to several academic journals but unlike my PLN they are not a part of my daily learning. I typically check in via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ at least once a day and frequently more than that. If I am working from home then my PLN is my water cooler break which allows me to connect and rejuvenate and often find inspiration as well as commiseration. My PLN feeds my writing, my teaching, and my research as well as provides a lot of personal support and inspiration.

What does your PLN look like? How does it feed you? Do you have tips for building a PLN that I have not included here? Or perhaps you have also shared a list of resources or written about your own PLN. If so then please share!

Author: Deanna Mascle
#TeachingWriting and leading #NWP site @ Morehead State (KY): Passionate about #AuthenticWriting, #DeeperLearning, #PBL, #Ungrading, and #HyperDocs.

1 thought on “PLNs, Serendipity and Learning

  1. Hi Deanna,
    thanks for sharing this on PLNs
    other great conversations took place on that topic a few weeks ago during #xplrpln MOOC organized by Northwestern University if you want to have a look…

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