Saturday, January 09, 2010

2010 - the year of the Personal Learning Network?

One of the things I'll remember 2009 for is it was the first year that mainstream ELT teachers really took to using social media. This is something that Lindsay Clandfield mentions in a recent blog post on language teaching trends of the 00s). It was particularly interesting to be able to see blogs being set up by educators such as Ken Wilson, Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury.

Of all the internet memes that emerged in 2009, it was surely PLN (Personal Learning Network) that caught the attention of  the blogging educators.

The Twittering Classes 

This was mainly due to the emergence of Twitter as an essential tool for the connected teacher, although there are still many teachers who have decided it's not for them. Some have been put off by its trendiness (in the UK it became much talked-about because of Stephen Fry and other celebrities - the same seems to have been true in other places too) and others don't see the point of the 140 character limitation or think it's just a variation of the status update in Facebook.It is similar, but people are far more likely to connect to lots of other people in Twitter than in Facebook (For me it's 1800 on Twitter to Facebook's 721). I think this is the whole point - I get so much out of having an extensive network of people there , and the fact that its focus is on short messages is what makes it work so well

It's interesting to see  comments made by educators who have recently discovered the point of this social network, such as these words in a post at What's New in the World :

"I have found more resources and got more useful advice for professional development in 3 months on Twitter than in the previous 5 years without it. "

The blogger goes on to mention just some of the benefits of actively taking part in tweeting: the access to expert opinions, links to useful resources, advice and immediate feedback to any questions you may have. I would also add a few more to this: real time search (if you use a tool such as Tweetdeck this becomes even more useful), access to a quick and easy concordancer, debate on best practce.

PLN: Small Pieces Loosely Joined

Of course, Twitter is only one useful part of my own PLN. Having a blog and reading and commenting on other people's blogs is another, vital part. As is belonging to specialist social networks (usually using Ning). Facebook is also important, especially as there are so many teachers who use this social network and who don't use Twitter.

The Importance of Facebook

In fact, nowadays (at least in my situation) if you're not connected to people on Facebook, and other social networks, you'll miss out on what's happening (more and more people are using Facebook to organise events, etc.) in your social and professional circle of friends and colleagues.

Here's an example that comes from a conversation with a colleague yesterday - I was talking to someone about the TESOL EVO sessions, because I'd invited lots of people to take part through Facebook, and she asked me what we were talking about. The conversation that followed went something like this:

Me: Didn't I invite you too? Aren't we connected on Facebook?
Teacher: No, I keep my Facebook limited to close-friends and family

On the one-hand, I can totally understand the reasons for doing this, but this attitude is definitely not for me - I only started to appreciate the personal and professional advantages and benefits of social networks once I'd become more inclusive and widened my network to include people from all over the world and who I hardly know (or don't know). It's led to so many benefits: to me finding out about things I'd otherwise never have heard about, establishing friendships and reinforcing professional contacts, being invited to speak at conferences and take part in projects, etc (in some cases based on a single tweet being picked up by someone who was monitoring a term in Twitter!)

2010 - The year of the PLN

All of this is why I think 2010 will be the year when teachers many more mainstream start to embrace the idea of the PLN and begin to take a more active part in belonging to the global staffroom that is out there waiting for you, offering you friendship, support, help and advice - if you want it!


  1. Hi Graham, I think you're right that this year could be the PLN year. I'm thinking of mentioning it in more than one of my talks. And I had never heard of it before 2009. Do you think a PLN can be extended to include people you know f2f and not online?

  2. Yes, Lindsay - I'm happy it's going to be the focus of my IATEFL talk now too :) I think people's PLN definitely include f2f contacts - the online PLN is just an extension of that old faithful teachers' support group, the staffroom if you ask me - it's just that you can call upon so many more people from so many more places and whenever you want

  3. I like this summation very much. I must admit, I generally try to separate online spaces between the personal and the professional, although there is some overlap. Facebook, for me, is a personal space, whilst twitter is a professional one.

    I'll be doing a talk on this myself next month here in Japan, any readings that you chaps might recommend?

  4. I think this is the norm, Darren, it's just that for me, the edges are blurring so much, I've stopped trying to compartmentalise my online life - I don't know of much that might help you with your talk, but what I have seen of interest is probably bookmarked here: and

  5. Great thinking Graham - I like your post, it really resonated with me.
    I've been delivering a few workshops (late in 2009) ... and some really early versions of PLNs back in 2005 ... and I know that teachers are now ready for expanding their networks in 2010.
    So, I will be providing a short PD course (in Moodle) that has a PLN as its central theme, in February 2010. If you are interested in participating for free in this initiative, please let me know.

  6. Thanks, Carole - that's very interesting to know - I'd love to participate in the PD course you're running

  7. Great prediction, Graham. There is great potential in the years to come and it all starts in 2010.

    Aside: even without prior knowledge of PLN, has some attributes of a contemporary PLN.

    Again, thanks for the refreshing summary.

  8. Brilliant! But i was hoping to see your thoughts on Nings...this blog came up in my search- because it was tagged Ning. I convinced my local educational association to go with a Ning for our social network rather than Facebook mostly because Facebook is blocked in most US Public Schools for students AND teachers and Nings are not... and because a Ning pulls together the best of Facebook and hones it down to a group or a tribe that we can build ourselves. I will get them to also create a Twitter account for association updates and then...Muuwaa a Facebook Fan page! Baby steps. Great post!

  9. I have a personal Facebook account and a fan page for my business. This allows me to have an interaction on Facebook separately for personal and work matters. I wonder what's up for Facebook for next year.