growing a PLN

I'm at the PIE Conference (Pencil Integration Technology) and someone presents a plan regarding how to build a Personal Learning Network.  He mentions a step-by-step procedure:
  1. Join the pen pal networks.  Follow people and let them follow you. It's vital to the exchange of information.
  2. Join a Social Address Booking Club and share information about your favorite places to go an learn.
  3. Subscribe to at least one scholarly journal. 
  4. Write a pencil log (plog) and subscribe to other pencil logs, too.  Jump in and start writing comments on the margins of their journals. 
  5. Find a few experts and go have a pint with them.  If you are a member of the Temperance Movement, have a cup of coffee instead.
  6. Go to various conferences and connect in person
  7. Go to the public chat rooms.  Sometimes they get big and crowded, but most towns have a place where educators can go and mingle and talk about specific education-related issues - sort of the opposite of a staff lounge. 
I ask Paul the Pre-industrial Poet about this and he says, "I'm not sure I agree.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  I think the list is great, but I can't imagine someone has to follow each of those.  I know you well enough to know that you hate Social Address Booking and I could never write a plog as often as you.  I know you are a wallflower and would shrivel up in a public chat room, but you could handle scholarly journals well."  

"I wonder if PLN's are not something someone builds, but rather an organic process.  Maybe they have to evolve individually." 

"Maybe.  I mean, maybe it's more like gardening.  You have to set up the infrastructure and organize things.  You don't just toss seeds out.  But it grows slowly." 

"I like your growth metaphor."  

"There is a danger in it, though.  I once got caught up in growing my PLN, thinking that bigger was better.  I finally realized that unsustainable growth is what caused the Panic of 1893.  Unsustainable growth is what causes our city to become a giant pollution house."

Note: the impetus of this blog post was a conversation with Philip Cummings on Twitter.  I enjoyed his thoughts on a PLN.


  1. The first I heard of the idea of "cultivating" a PLN came from David Warlick. Here is his article "Grow Your Personal Learning Network"

    I like the gardening metaphor. I'm planning on teaching a PLN class at our Area Education Association this summer for teachers. I have some of the same thoughts as you do regarding bigger/better etc., but I think introducing teachers to the tools and working with them to figure out what works for them is key.

    You've noted before about the quantity of folks I'm connected with on Twitter. That number truly isn't something I look at. I use Twitter Lists to organize that's how that big number feels a lot smaller.

    Oh, and I would have cloaked all that in an 1890s metaphor but I have a headache. Parent teacher conferences were last night and my evaluation observation is today. Sorry :)


  2. Ha ha!

    You are so twenty-first century, Russ!

  3. I just can't help it.

  4. Anonymous11:00:00 AM

    I, too, will forego the 1890's metaphor because I'd have to spend too long researching.

    Glad to know my thoughts weren't original! :0) I've been thinking about this a lot since our conversation on Monday.

    The gardening metaphor is true for all learning and developing. I am reminded of "The Garden Song" by Noel Paul Stookey (Peter, Paul & Mary - he's Paul). I first heard it as a kid, but it has greatly shaped my approach toward teaching/leading. "Inch by inch, row by row. I'm gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and hoe and a piece of fertile ground. And inch by inch, row by row, someone bless these seeds I sow. Someone warm them from below until the rains come tumblin' down." (I'd have made a great hippie had I not been born in 1970.)

    It took me a long time to see real benefit in a PLN. But one day, this teacher from Iowa contacted me on Twitter and taught me about social bookmarking (thanks, Russ). Instantly, I was hooked. Later, the same teacher introduced me to a teacher/blogger in Arizona who constantly challenged what I think about education and learning. Both are a valuable part of my PLN.

    I think I'm guilty of over pruning/weeding a little. Until recently, I didn't actively look to connect with new folks. I liked a small, tight and controllable network. Starting to rethink that, but not sure I'm ready for a huge network. (I'm interested in your list categories though, Russ.)

    Best regards,

  5. It is so interesting you wrote about PLNs in this post. We are working on those as an ongoing project in my EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I had no idea what a PLN was, where to go to begin to build one and how it could be useful to me. The more I research, learn and build my PLN, the more I am beginning to see how useful it can be. I see now that this will not be a project that will ever be 'finished', but instead will evolve throughout my teaching career.