I am currently writing a chapter regarding open and networked learning. I have used the term Personal Learning Network (PLN) dozens of times over the last few years, and have seen it mentioned countless times in blog and microblog posts, and other forms of media. However, I cannot seem to find a solid reference or definition for the concept of PLN. I sent out several email messages asking people if knew of an existing article or reference for the PLN definition, and I have yet to receive a response. About the best lead I could find was a post from Stephen Downes that mentioned “Dave Warlick has taken the concept of the Personal Learning Environment, renamed it (to Personal Learning Network).”
I thought it was appropriate to ask the question to my PLN (or what I perceive as my PLN) via Twitter. I asked if anyone had a definition for a PLN, or if they knew the difference between a personal learning network and personal learning environment (PLE). I received varied responses, and the majority of these are pasted below. To make more sense of this conversation, read these from the very bottom to the top as they are in reverse chronological order.
There were a number of interesting perceptions revealed regarding PLNs and PLEs. Participants of this conversation seem passionate about these topics, and there are some very interesting research questions that begin to emerge. If anyone has suggestions for existing academic research that relates to PLNs and PLEs, please let me know.
And this conversation itself seem to have sparked some creativity around these questions. For instance, @bookjewel posted this conversation to Plurk, where @catspyjamasnz (Joyce) developed and shared this diagram (below) that describes her current understanding of the differences between the PLE and PLN.
I also received a Twitter direct message from @BlancheMaynard who shared this important distinction:
PLN is organic; PLE is mechanic. You can use ‘tools’ like Twitter within your PLE to access your network, but the tool isn’t the network.
And, I received a very thoughtful email from @jrichardson30 (Jeff) that helped to give me insight into PLNs and this very conversation. I have included only a small piece of this message as I am hoping Jeff posts his thoughts in their entirety in his own space.
I have a PLN but really haven’t tried to describe it. I have talked about PLN’s with the teachers at my schools but I really haven’t defined it in any certain terms…much less in 140 characters (actually, 132 characters by the time I added in the @courosa to respond on Twitter). So I distilled out what I thought was a somewhat thoughtful response and tweeted it. Well, just like any good steward of Twitter, Dr. Couros quickly responded to my answer. But his response was another question! Isn’t that what good teachers do…use good questioning techniques to get students thinking on higher levels? Of course it is. And he must be a good teacher because his question led me to closely examine what a PLN really is…to discover what it means to me personally. It’s not that defining a PLN has been a pressing issue for me or something that I have lost sleep over. It’s the fact that I entered into a conversation, shared my thoughts and then the conversation didn’t just end. It was been furthered by another person’s response and question…a true conversation.
This conversation has become a learning opportunity for me, my chance to create meaning and gain a better understanding for myself…a meaning and understanding that I can then share with others in my PLN. Maybe I can further this conversation or enter into a new one, but the difference will be that I have something NEW to bring to the community because of my personal discovery as a result having a PLN. Isn’t that our goal for our students…for them to authentically engage in the learning process so as to create/discover meaning that is useful to them personally and then hopefully to contribute to the larger society? Isn’t that what a good citizen does? I believe that is what a PLN is all about…To act as a source AND catalyst for this sort of thought-provoking conversation and authentic experience mentioned above that leads us to a point where are required to engage, to reflect, and ultimately to contribute instead of just consuming.
From a simple question on Twitter, I received dozens of twitter replies, direct messages, and email responses. While I am still having trouble defining exactly what this is, I know that what I observe to be my PLN has dramatically changed the way I view teaching, communities, and the negotiation and formation of knowledge.
So let’s keep the conversation going. What are your thoughts?