Open education
Open education

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Open education

4.5 Personal learning networks

Figure 12

In MOOCs, and also in other online learning communities, the phrase ‘PLN’ (personal learning networks) is often used to emphasise the role of the network of peers that are important in learning. As we saw with the idea of little OER, use of an individual network not only provides a means of disseminating and finding resources, it also provides a means of discussing ideas and connecting with peers.

The concept of a PLN grew out of earlier talk of a PLE (personal learning environment). The idea of a PLE is that with the advent of so many free, easy-to-use tools that are not formally controlled by an institution, people were constructing a set of tools that helped to structure their informal, everyday learning. This was in comparison with a virtual learning environment (VLE, also sometimes called an LMS or learning management system) for instance, which is very structured and is organised and hosted by the institution.

A PLN emphasises that it is the people in the network that are significant, and places less focus on the actual technologies. For instance, you may have a well-developed network of peers in Twitter that helps inform your professional practice, but if that network migrated to another tool, for example Google Plus, the personal value to you is derived from the people and their expertise, not the specific tool they use.

Activity 15: Defining a PLN

By signing in and enrolling on this course you can view and complete all activities within the course, track your progress in My OpenLearn. and when you have completed a course, you can download and print a free Statement of Participation - which you can use to demonstrate your learning.

Click on 'SIGN IN to enrol' to get started.

You can find out more about registering and OpenLearn in our FAQs.

Activity 16: Examining a definition

Timing: 2 hours

Now you have your definition of PLN, think about the relationship between a PLN and studying on a MOOC. How do the two things interplay? How might developing your PLN aid your learning on a MOOC? How might undertaking a MOOC aid the development of your PLN?


  • Write a blog post of up to 500 words discussing the potential synergies between a PLN and studying a MOOC (and any negative effects, if you think of any). If you are content to use Twitter to share your thoughts, Tweet about your blog post using the hashtags #h817open and #Activity16 and spend up to half an hour browsing other learners’ responses.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has over 40 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus