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Find out what you need to know about personal learning networks and how to make them work for you.

You’ve heard about PLNs, but what are they and how are they different than PLCs? Read on to find out how personalized learning networks can help you pursue your own professional interests and be a better teacher.

What are personal learning networks?

Personal learning networks (PLNs) are a reciprocal learning system in which educators participate by sharing with and then learning from others. PLNs are personal in the sense that each of us selects our own set of connections as we pursue self-directed, independent learning experiences, most often online.

Why are they important?

PLNs have the potential to profoundly affect both professional and personal learning. Networking can help boost your energy, stimulate personal growth, and lead to a revitalized individual practice. Self-organized networks can also lead to opportunities to join or create powerhouse communities of inquiry and practice, which are distinguishable from PLNs by their deeper levels of thinking, collaboration, and engagement. In The Connected Educator, I explain why teachers and administrators working to advance their practices need and benefit from both localized professional learning communities (PLCs) and worldwide PLNs. Networks are about what you want to learn. Communities are about the collective us and what we are building or improving together, systemically. PLNs are the do-it-yourself piece in the 21st-century professional development menu.

What is the most important thing to know about PLNs?

Professional learning networks consist of streams of people, information, expertise, learning objects, and images that interest you. Growing and nurturing a PLN is a complex process. Educators must master digital tools and select trustworthy sources — individuals, resources, and organizations — in a safe, effective, and ethical way.

Networks are where you find ideas and information to bring back to your existing professional communities to develop them into programs, create action research with them, and implement them in your schools. Through these network connections, you also find people with whom to grow ideas and start new collaborative projects. The potential for your network to help you learn lies in its diversity, the quality of relationships, your ability to filter well, and your willingness to give as well as take.

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