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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

Timing: Timing: 0.5–1 hour

As with many new terms, PLN is used in a variety of contexts. The Wikipedia entry defines it as:

‘an informal learning [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]  network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.’ (Wikipedia, 2016)

  • Use search tools to find other definitions of a PLN, and come up with your own hybrid. If you wish to do so, Tweet this definition (across several Tweets if necessary rather than abbreviating it) using the hashtags #h817open and #Activity15.

Use the box below to make notes.

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Activity 16: Examining a definition

Timing: 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.