10 ways to help students develop a PLN…

There has been some discussion lately about the precise meaning of the term PLN. I’m not sure why it matters actually. Like any other word in the dictionary (!), it has more than one definition and might mean different things to different people…

personal learning

My PLN is my ‘personal learning network’. It comprises the people I learn with and from, some face-to-face and others online, around the globe.  They  challenge me and make me think. They share with me, support me and collaborate with me. They argue with me, question me and force me to clarify my ideas. Wherever they are, whether I have met them in person or not, these people are part of my PLN.

As teachers begin to let go of  ‘the old way’,  to relinquish control and allow kids to take responsibility for their own learning, students too need to develop a PLN.  As teachers begin to step down from the position of  ‘boss of learning’, students need the skills and opportunities to learn from and with a wider network of people. How do we help students develop their own PLN’s? I think generally when people ask this question,  they mean an online virtual network. Kids are clearly great at developing such networks themselves! What educators need to do though,  is teach kids how to learn with others.

10 ways to support students in developing a PLN…

Start simply…

1. Arrange the tables in groups.

Provide opportunities for students to engage with their in-class PLN.   Encourage conversation.  Encourage cooperation. Encourage collaboration. Set tasks that allow students to construct meaning together with their PLN.

2. Let them talk.

Don’t do all the talking. Don’t be the filter.  Allow them to respond directly to each other. Even if it’s a frontal lesson where you need to explain new material, allow 5 minutes here and there for them to talk it through amongst themselves. Use thinking routines like ‘Think, pair, share’.

3. Be part of their PLN.

Model what good learning looks like and sounds like.  Share your own learning. Learn with and from your students. Don’t pretend to know all the answers. Discover and uncover new things together.  Don’t overplan. Explore and investigate with your students.

4. Promote an out-of-class PLN.

Let them work with students from other classes. Provide cross level opportunities. Arrange electives that allow collaboration across grade levels. Organize learning experiences that involve other teachers.

5. Flatten classroom walls.

Create global connections. Collaborate with kids in other countries.  Set up a Voicethread so kids all over the world can respond. Find classes learning about the same issues to debate with on Skype.

6. Learn from experts.

Invite speakers from your local community. Bring in people from anywhere in the world via Skype. Encourage students to pursue their interests by finding people they can learn from outside of  school and online.

7. Encourage conversation with family.

Invite parents to share in the learning, in person, or by commenting on class blogs and wikis.  Set tasks that involve parents, grandparents and siblings. Send student questions and wonderings that haven’t been addressed in class, home for discussion.

8. Learn through blogging.

Start a class blog.  Write for an authentic audience. Ask teachers from other schools and in other countries to get their students to comment. Get your kids to read and comment on other class blogs. Develop a conversation. Develop a relationship.

8. Focus on communication.

Whoever’s in your PLN, you need to know how to communicate. Listening is just as important as speaking. Teach them that it isn’t always about you. Model consideration and mutual respect within a PLN.

9. Define the student’s PLN.

Increase awareness that learning doesn’t belong only at school. Ask them to think about who they learn from and with. Get them to create a mind-map showing their personal learning network.  Keep adding to it as the network grows.

10. This one’s yours!

How can we support our students in building a personal learning network?

Series of posts on ’10 Ways …’ #7

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning

10 ways to foster a love of learning

10 ways to create a culture of thinking

10 ways to grow as an educator

10 ways my thinking has changed

10 ways to think about your learning space


36 thoughts on “10 ways to help students develop a PLN…

  1. Thanks for sharing these ideas. I’ll be honest, I’ve not thought about student’s PLN development. Over the last 2 years, I’ve been developing my own, but I haven’t even thought about the students. This is very timely as I finalize my ideas for what I want to do this year.


  2. This is a great blog post. I really like that you extend the PLN concept to students; after all, PLNs can and should be built by everyone everywhere, regardless of their level/year in school or life and regardless of what they are interested in. Social media has opened and will continue opening doors for everyone who wants to learn and develop and broaden themselves and their experience of the world.

    #6 and #7 are both awesome points, and resources that we, as educators, need to tap into more and more. This brings me to #9, which I passionately agree with: learning can happen anywhere, anytime, in any context, as long as we take the time to reflect on our experiences so that we realize we are learning… we should strive to help students understand that learning is boundless and isn’t something that should just or can only happen within a school building. We should highlight their outside-school experiences where they are learning, to make all of their learning more visible to them. I am a big believer in NOT separating “school” from “the real world”… they should both be considered “the real world.” And if we can show students that the things they are doing outside of school results in learning, I think they’ll buy into and enjoy the moments that they learn within school.

    One last thing… I really enjoy reading your blog. You write about valuable concepts and ideas in a very accessible manner, and I truly appreciate it. As a pre-service teacher, I am adding many of your blog posts to my Diigo bookmarks and I will revisit them prior to and during my first year of teaching and I’m sure many times after that. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with us.



    1. Thanks for the feedback, Stephanie. Glad you enjoyed the post and find my blog useful. I still find it hard to believe that I have real readers out there who value what I have to say!!


  3. A great post with many encouraging suggestions. As a Teacher Librarian, I’ve run Literature Circles in conjuntion with English Teachers in Secondary Schools and have never thought about the fact that in these sessions students interact in much the way you describe they should in a PLN. Interesting…..


  4. A thought-provoking post… I often struggle to encourage students to use more than one area for their research as they feel that they can find the majority of answers in one source. I like the idea of discussing it as a Personal Learning Network as I think most students will be able to visualise the concept much clearer. For example, a didactic teaching style encourages a learning dialogue between a teacher and a student – if you then asked a student to develop their understanding further they may be at a loss as to how this can be achieved as they have already discussed their ideas with ‘an expert’. However, if they had a mapped learning network then it would highlight that they could discuss their learning with their peers, their parents, other teachers on websites or by consulting other literature. This has given me an excellent idea for a display! Thanks.


  5. Helping students establish personal learning networks is a great idea! What a way to inspire them to pursue knowledge beyond “just enough to pass this week’s test”. I am a strong proponent of class blogs and will encourage the teachers I work with to explore the suggestions made in this article.


  6. I am just reading “Communities of Inquiry” in the “Taking the PYP forward” book. It is all about THIS! PLN, community of inquiry…. whatever you wanna call it… it’s important when you want students to take responsibility for their own learning!


  7. I really like that you didn’t limit the student PLN to other students, it is anyone and everyone who helps in their learning process. This includes teachers, students, family, and friends. Your idea for mapping the network is great! I am wanting to do this myself!


  8. Ed, the focus in my grad class this week is on PLN and I can’t wait to share your ideas on student PLNs. I teach middle school and having a network of support at this age is critical. I will learn to talk less and listen more.


  9. Thanks for sharing this idea about PLN with students! I think this is a great idea…here I have been learning about PLN for teachers, but never once thought about applying it to students. What a great way to get students more involved in their learning and to have control over their own learning. I am really trying to find ways to make my classroom more student directed than teacher directed. I teach in a self-contained special education classroom (actually our program is all self-contained)… I teach Media Technology and came into the classroom with no curriculum and have had to develop my own. I really believe though, giving students the opportunity to take charge and responsibility, one can be amazed at how much better students will do!


  10. #10. Engage them in Learning Games. Playing develops trust among peers whether they are your team mates or opponents. The more fun the game, the higher the chance of the students play it again. One characteristic of a good PLN is its sustainability and learning relationships formed with fun and trust has a high chance of enduring beyond the classroom or the school.

    Make sure that rules and goals of the game is clear. Ambiguity can lead to miscommunication, which can lead to conflict. Or, open rules can be used to create space for creativity.


  11. Nice post – Thanks for the thought provoking items here.

    I have been thinking about teaching social networking in class with my students and realize that I am really thinking about teaching them to form a PLN. I didn’t think of it that way before, but it really helps me to do so. Your suggestions are great!

    One way I have been thinking of approaching social networking is having my students create a goodreads.org account to find suggestions for books they might enjoy, write reviews to an audience, and track their reading progress. However, I don’t know if that is the best forum for them, since so many members seem to be adults. Do you know of any teen/young adult social networking sites that center around books, reading, and reviews? Advice would be appreciated.

    Many thanks,


  12. For teens and young adults, facebook is best. You can easily create a facebook group for such discussions. There probably are existing ones, I’m not sure how to find them though. The best place to get help is on twitter!
    Alternatively, start a blog for this kind of discussion and then use twitter to find other similar aged students around the world to connect with for an authentic collaboration.
    @tash and I have been discussing using edmodo to create a world reading group for primary school kids. What age are your students?


  13. Pingback: PLN | Pearltrees

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