Thursday, October 27, 2011

50 Great Ways to Grow Your Personal Learning Network

Personal learning networks have always existed, but modern technology has put a new spin on how and where we connect with others. These days, personal learning networks, or PLNs, extend far beyond friends, family, coworkers, college classmates, and teachers, and can encompass experts and learners from around the world in just about any given field.

Through social networks, email, video, and online chats, learners can connect with and learn from a wider range of people than ever before, yet building a successful PLN that doesn't overwhelm you can be challenging. With so much information out there, it can be hard to know whom to follow, what to read, and how to fit it all into your daily schedule. Here, we offer some tips that can help you not only build and grow a better PLN, but also get more out of the experience and give more back to your online community.

The Basics

These basics will help you get started with creating and building your PLN.

  1. Seek out experts on the web.

    If you're looking to learn, there's no better place to find information than from sites written by experts in a given field. Look for blogs, websites, Twitter feeds, and podcasts produced by the biggest names in your area of interest.

  2. Learn more about PLNs.

    If you've never really given much thought to PLNs, there is no better time than now to learn more about what they are and how to use one. There are loads of resources on the web that can help, as well as a host of great books you can get at the library.

  3. Don't use your PLN to market yourself.

    A PLN should be about learning, not about selling yourself to others. Authority and expertise will follow if you are a good online citizen and participant. Trying to market yourself will only reduce the trust others have for you and their willingness to help you.

  4. Follow online etiquette.

    If you want to fit in with your online community, learn the rules used by others and follow them. If there are none explicitly stated, follow general online etiquette guidelines.

  5. Filter.

    Unless you're some kind of human-computer hybrid (and I think it's safe to assume you're not), there is no way that you can possibly read, follow, or consume every resource on a topic. Filter out your PLN so you're only looking at the best, most interesting info and let the rest go by the wayside.

  6. Look at your own PLN history.

    Going back through blog posts, tweets, and other online data can help you not only get a better sense of what you've learned, but may re-ignite your interest in topics and lead you to new and better connections.

  7. Don't just consume, contribute.

    The most important element of building a PLN? Don't be a lurker! Throw in your own two cents from time to time, help out others, and play an active role in the online community.

  8. Be yourself!

    The whole point of being part of an online community is to offer your own unique perspective and ideas, so don't try to be someone you're not.

Useful Tools

If you're not already using these great PLN tools, give them a try. They could add more to your experience and connect you to new resources.

  1. Employ a social bookmarking site.

    One of the best ways to keep track of articles you find interesting and to share them with others in your PLN is by signing up for a social bookmarking site. There are several to choose from, including Digg, reddit, Delicious, and StumbleUpon.

  2. Set up a Google Reader (or other RSS) account.

    An RSS reader will save you the trouble of visiting every blog you read individually. Instead, head to your RSS reader and page through articles from all of your favorite sites in one place.

  3. Don't forget about video sites like YouTube.

    Videos on YouTube can help you learn about everything from building a PLN to repairing your computer, and everything in between. Find a video you like and subscribe to the user's account to get updates on their latest content.

  4. Check out aggregator sites like

    On, readers can search for a topic of interest and find dozens of blogs and posts that fall under that topic. It can be a good way to learn about new blogs or do some exploratory reading on a topic.

  5. Subscribe to some quality podcasts.

    Use the web or iTunes to find podcasts on your topic of interest. You can download them to an MP3 player or smartphone and listen to them on the go for a more mobile learning experience.

  6. Try Google Docs for collaborative projects.

    If you don't already have a Google account, signing up may be worth it just to get access to this great online office suite. Users can edit and collaborate on shared documents, and even keep a running chat going.

  7. Give Skype a try to connect with others in your PLN.

    Modern technology makes it possible to directly connect with others in your network right over the web. Skype is often free and is easy to use, allowing you to see and talk with experts all over the world.

  8. Set up alerts.

    Using Google, you can set up alerts for topics that interest you. Just make sure to be specific so you won't get alerts that aren't really relevant!


Twitter has quickly become one of the best tools in any online learner's arsenal. Use these tips to make the most of your Twitter interactions.

  1. Start using Twitter to follow those in your field.

    These days, just about everyone has a Twitter account, so join in the discourse and get one of your own. You'll be able to search for and follow people who are key figures in fields you find interesting.

  2. Look for chats on Twitter.

    Twitter can be a great place to chat with learners in your PLN. Be on the lookout for Twitter chats or host your own.

  3. Practice reciprocity.

    If someone regularity retweets you, give them a retweet now and again. Or at the very least, send them a thank you for spreading your content.

  4. Tag people in links you think they'll like.

    Found a link you want to make sure certain Twitter friends will see? Just tag them. You can also tag great links with hashtags so that anyone interested in that topic can easily find your tweets.

  5. Use smart ways to find people to follow.

    Sometimes you'll just stumble across great Twitter feeds, but generally you'll need to seek them out. Use the lists of feeds you already follow to get some great leads, or check out some of the Twitter directory sites to find users with your interests.


Blogs are some of the best places to find information, share your thoughts, and actively engage in conversation. Use these tips to get more involved in the blogging scene and improve your PLN.

  1. Start following blogs you find interesting.

    Have a favorite blog? Start making it a daily read, along with others on similar topics.

  2. Create your own blog.

    Once you've gotten your feet wet in the blogosphere, why not start your own blog? If nothing else, it can serve as a record of your ideas and interests throughout the year.

  3. Support others.

    If you really want to grow your PLN, then you need to comment on other blogs. The idea is that you'll spark a conversation, and that blogger will start reading and commenting on your blog in kind.

  4. Share your expertise.

    A blog is a perfect place for sharing your expertise on a topic with others. You may still have a lot to learn, but you can share what you know and your personal experiences on your own blog for others to learn from.

  5. Use blogrolls as resources.

    Blogrolls aren't as common as they once were, but when you find one, plunder it, especially if it's on a site you frequent. You'll find links to sites that you're pretty likely to enjoy reading, with very little work on your part.

  6. Don't be afraid to contact bloggers.

    Have a question or a comment for a blogger? Don't be afraid to reach out and email them. Most bloggers love getting email and some may even create a post about the issues you bring up.

  7. Save interesting content for later.

    Don't have time to read all those blog posts right now? No worries! Simply bookmark them or use a service like Instapaper to archive them for future reading.

  8. Interact with sources both big and small.

    Big blogs may be where that action's at, but when you comment on smaller blogs you're much more likely to get a response.

  9. Search and monitor the blogosphere.

    You won't find great information just by sitting around. You have to search for it. Use blog search engines to find sites you might like and monitor the top stories on a given topic.

Social Networks

At the heart of any PLN are social networks. Through these tips, you can make the most of social networks as tools to learn and connect.

  1. Join a professional social network.

    These days, there are social networks out there for just about everything, from gardening to rocket science, so it should be a snap to find one centered around your professional field or in something you want to learn more about. For example, educators can connect on sites like Classroom 2.0 or The Educator's PLN.

  2. Create circles of interests on Facebook or Google+.

    Google+ makes it easy to create a special social networking circle for your professional relationships or PLN. Facebook has since followed suit, though perhaps less successfully. Whichever site you use, take advantage of this tool so that it's easier to share and interact with just those in your PLN.

  3. Connect to your network with LinkedIn.

    LinkedIn can be a great place to keep all your professional connections in order, chat, or ask questions. If you don't have an account, set one up.

  4. Contribute and read through Wiki sites.

    Sharing your knowledge is an essential part of being in a PLN, and Wikis are a pretty easy way to do that sharing. Check out what others have written and throw in your own two cents.

  5. Find a great online community.

    One of the things that should be central to your PLN is an online community focused on your interests. Here, you'll find links, people to connect to, and engaging conversations.

  6. Share links of interest.

    If you find something of interest, get the word out there. Share links on your blog, through Facebook, or on Twitter.

  7. Create a professional online presence.

    It's fine to use the web for fun, but you also want to maintain a professional web presence you can use in your PLN.

  8. Use social networks to connect not only with people, but also with organizations and businesses.

    They can have a lot to offer you in terms of learning, and they may posts links and information that sparks your interest.


Want to get serious about growing your PLN? Then you have to connect with others. Use these tips to learn how to better communicate and network online.

  1. Start conversations.

    Why wait for someone else to do the talking? Start chats and threads on topics of interest to get people talking, posting, and engaging.

  2. Keep in touch with those you meet at conferences and other events.

    Don't let connections fall by the wayside! Get business cards from people you meet so you can connect with them online later and bring them into your PLN.

  3. Participate in webinars.

    Webinars are easy ways to learn more without even having to leave home. You'll be able to learn from an expert and engage with other participants before and after the event.

  4. Follow conferences and events you can't attend online.

    Just because you can't afford to travel to a foreign land for a conference doesn't mean you have to miss out. Many conferences are live Tweeted, blogged, or streamed, letting you sit in no matter where you are. Some may even be entirely online already!

  5. Ask for help.

    Want to engage your PLN? Ask for help on a problem you're facing. You may just find a solution that works better than one you could have come up with on your own, and you'll have made some new connections in the process.

  6. Spend time developing relationships.

    Spend a few minutes each day interacting with people in your PLN. This can mean posting to message boards, engaging in chats, or just responding to emails.

  7. Don't let language be a barrier.

    With the wealth of online translation tools out there today, there's no reason to miss out on a great resource just because it's in another language. You may just find some of your best advice by reaching out to those in another culture.

  8. Reach out to those outside of your field.

    Few fields are ever truly independent, so it's a good idea to expand your network to include experts in other fields as well. For instance, you might work as an artist, but you can learn a lot by seeking out resources in business, marketing, and networking.

  9. Ask others for advice on new blogs, feeds, or other resources.

    Look to your network as a source of information on where to find the best blogs, Twitter feeds, and other learning resources. It'll save you some legwork and help strengthen relationships.

  10. Challenge your worldview.

    It can be easy to simply seek out resources and people who share your views on things, but a truly valuable PLN should incorporate some resources that challenge your beliefs as well. Seeing things from a new perspective and gaining different insights into a problem can be an invaluable asset.

  11. Build trust.

    One of the greatest assets you can nurture as you grow your PLN is trust. Be a reliable source of inspiration, advice, and learning for others, and you'll do a lot to strengthen your network.

  12. Take advantage of meetups.

    Your PLN doesn't have to just exist in the virtual world. Take advantage of chances to meet at conferences and other professional events when you can. It can help to strengthen your network and may help you make new connections.

Taken From Online College

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