Defining a PLN: What PLN? Whose PLN?

If you teach, at some point you realize there is no such thing as a "class" to a student. If you address any assembled group of students as "the class", you've already communicated to your students that you are out of touch with them.

Now we have the way-too-often-used term "PLN" or "Personal Learning Network" which, to me, is synonymous with the misnomer "class". Let me be clear-->There IS NO SUCH THING AS A P.L.N. just as there is no such thing as a class. The way one goes about learning online is personal. One may belong to a handful of social networks, subscribe to a handful of feeds, do some bookmarking, use Twitter, or not. A PLN is not a thing. It's not something you go and "get" (as in: "Why you need to get a PLN").

Go ahead and use the term if you want to but realize that it means absolutely nothing to anyone who is not YOU. Using 'PLN' with the first person possessive determiner "my" is even worse, as in, "I love MY PLN". What? Might as well say, "I love my REALITY! Thank you, REALITY!". The point is that a PLN is exactly that: a PERSONAL. LEARNING. NETWORK. which is defined specifically and exclusively by the one who is doing the surfing of the networks that make up the specific PLN. It doesn't have an absolute reality that can be defined or fixed. Which makes it's use problematic.

I am genuinely glad that so many educators are finding their way to social media, tools and technologies that may help them be better, more informed, relevant teachers. But so many have recently been deceived into thinking they have to bind their learning inside a cocoon of this thing called a PLN (which usually means Twitter and one other Social Network). It's like thinking New York is the United States. It's not about individuals or groups of individuals controlling information. Information is free and you should be able to gather it wherever you like without feeling that you stepped outside the bounds of "your" "PLN".

It's about learning, after all--yours and your students. OK- AND the learning of your colleagues and peers. Go ahead, though, and drop the acronym PLN once and for all and you will discover this thing called the Internet. On the Internet there are multiple, unbounded places to learn anything, anytime, anywhere--from anyone. You can share what you discover if you want to but you don't owe anyone anything. You should be free to go where you like, when you like. And that's the way it should be.

Go ahead:
  • Join conversations on Twitter
  • Participate in Social Bookmarking and Annotating
  • Create blogs and write blog posts
  • Jump In on Twitter 'Chats'
  • Join Social Networks (note: NetworkS is plural)
  • Subscribe to podcasts
  • Watch and comment on videos
  • Connect with people at conferences who you met online

Just, please, don't call doing these things your P L N (Awesome video, by the way). It's just you learning and contributing in the world of ideas and information.

So. Be polite. Give credit where credit is due but if you win Teacher of the Year, please...please don't thank 'your PLN' while tears run down your grateful face. It would be like thanking 'Your' Consumer Goods Network for all of the material possessions you have acquired in your lifetime. It's like thanking your 'Reality'. Try defining THAT.
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