Kickstarting A PLN

Like Chris Betcher (but to a potentially much smaller audience), I am planning one of my presentations for our annual CEGSA conference. My (somewhat pretentious) title is "Connected Global Professional Learning" and I have 45 minutes to convince some South Australian educators that the best place to learn in a professional context these days is online.

I plan to ask whoever's in front of me, "Who's in your Personal Learning Network?"

I also want to offer the most useful way to create and maintain an online PLN. As part of my plans, I want to show the 2006 model which for me centered around my blog, reading other blogs and commenting. This diagram shows the methodology I employed to great success.

I would propose that a 2007 model would have involved the use of a tool like Twitter or Ning, or a combination of both with blogging. Blogging isn't quite as vital in this model especially if you can find the ideal Ning community - Classroom 2.0 is an outstanding example of this. Twitter also enabled people to gain a sizeable network quickly without a big blog presence - an example is West Australian educator Russel Montgomery who posts at a quality blog without a huge Technorati dent, but has incredible reach with his Twitter network. (If you're reading, Russel, this is a compliment!)

My conundrum starts when contemplating a 2008 model. What would you recommend as the most current way to kickstart a PLN?

Believe me, you'll be credited in my presentation. (Even if more people will read this post and hopefully comment than will be in my session!)

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30 thoughts on “Kickstarting A PLN

  1. Pat

    I have been on Twitter for 6 months now and just joined plurk. I still feel that is the best way for me to connect with others. People share links to great blog posts, ustreaming professional development opportunities, and begin conversations that really help me grow professionally.

  2. Lisa Parisi

    I agree with Pat. I do blog but don’t have many readers. I do read blogs and leave comments. But when I need assistance or support or when I have information to offer, twitter is a better venue for this.

  3. Caroline O'Bannon

    My PLN all began with Twitter, although I am now an active Plurk user. Twitter is where I can mine resources while Plurk allows for conversations. From both I have found numerous blogs and Nings to follow and take part in. Let’s not forget social bookmarking either. Diigo is another source, but without having a network already in place, making those connections on Diigo would be a bit more difficult.

  4. Dan Callahan

    Twitter. 5 Recommended people to start following (besides loonyhiker, lparisi, cobannon, and dancallahan, of course):

    Then just start following anybody you see them sending @ replies to. Your network will build rather quickly that way.

  5. Langwitches

    I am advocating starting a PLN to the teachers at my school too. I am recommending to start their own blog, just to document their learning journey. Then I move on to help set up Google Reader with them by adding RSS feeds from other educational bloggers. Next in line is a account. Twitter is one of the most important PLN components for me, but I have found that it mostly just overwhelmes others. I am not recommending it to “jumpstart”a PLN, but rather to extend and deepen it.
    Looking forward to hearing/reading/listening to your presentation.
    Silvia Tolisano
    aka Langwitches

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  7. Sue Waters

    Hi Graham – you and I are doing similar presentations but for a different conference. I asked readers several questions including asking them to share “Your tips for educators on how to get started setting up their own Personal learning network”. You might want to check through their responses since there is a range of different ideas which might benefit your presentation.

  8. russel

    Hi Graham (and others)

    Thanks for the compliment.

    its interesting that this should come up as I have spent the last few days (off and on) trying to streamline my own PLN. The biggest problem I have found is that I have is that there are just so many social networking sites out there to choose from now. This is a problem for me because I have subscribed to many of them and found myself overstretched. It would be a problem for a newbie because they would have to decide which one to subscribe to and then avoid subscribing to too many.

    I have solved (to my satisfaction anyway) my problem by using a combination of the Flock (a browser) people bar and igoogle ( a google app). This allows me to keep abreast of the happenings in the various networks. However, it is an ongoing problem. For example, I’d not heard of Plurk until reading these comments. And I am torn again. Do I subscribe or don’t I?

    But anyway back to the point. I think that a blog and Twitter are still the central planks in my PLN. I use Thwirl to track my twitter network. I use Google reader to track a few friends blogs and I have trimmed my blogging down to one only blog.

    A word about Twitter: start small and grow slowly, keeping your network in balance. Keep roughly the same number of people you follow and your followers. If you follow many more than follow you , you look like a spammer. I block spammers and I think most people do. Start small and grow at a balanced pace. Let people follow you before you follow too many more.

  9. Pam Thompson

    Hi Graham
    I’d agree with Russel, that a blog and twitter would be the main elements of a PLN. I did find Twitter a bit tricky at the start, not knowing who to follow etc. I used a similar approach to that recommended by Dan in that I started with a few known names and then checked who they were following. You definitely need to have some idea on who to follow to start – so maybe your attendees could start with you? 🙂 I still feel a bit overwhelmed by the choices of networking out there – and remember to warn them about addiction!

  10. Darcy1968

    I have been very enthusiastic about Twitter since hearing a Pesce keynote and have found a wealth of educational and techie ideas since following lots of people (have been guilty of not having balanced nos and unfortunately have 1968 after my name which makes me look like a spammer but oh well). Yes, it is addictive – and endlessly fascinating.

  11. Brian Crosby

    Hi Graham … I think the comments so far about blogs and Twitter are correct, however I would have to add in Skype or some other video-conferencing / audio-conferencing software as being a possibility too.. Video-conferencing with those in your PLN is really key I think in being able to hash out the big picture of what you are communicating about and making sure you are both on the same page, especially if you are going to collaborate on something. Now I realize that may go beyond your “kickstarting” idea, but I have actually Skyped as my first contact with a few people (well email was how we made 1st contact, but then Skyped after that … it can be the way in for some.

  12. Angela Maiers

    Graham – I wholeheartedly agree with these smart folks. Twitter is a must (when it is working, that is!). It is an instantaneous community and resources stream with out the “upkeep” of a blog. It is a great way for teachers to dip their toes into the social media waters without feeling like they are getting pulled under by the Web. 2.0 Wave.

    A couple of other suggestions:
    Joining a Ning network, makes the conversation even more cohesive as you know that you will be learning and collaborating with like minded folks. Nings, again, create an instantaneous community and connection.

    Another way to kick start your PLN is to have teachers subscribe and participate in social bookmarking sites such as delicious or stumble upon. Diigo is a great start for educators as they can begin to share with other teachers sites, resources, blogs, and content they are soon recognized as the “resource” and connections form as a result.

    Regardless of the “tool” de jour, the important message I send teachers is this:
    21st century learning is no longer about being King of content-knowing everything.

    It is about connecting, collaborating, co creating, and becoming smarter because of those you surround yourself with. Knowing I have a worldwide network of passionate, dedicate, and talented educators surrounding me at all times is priceless!

    It may not be the first tool, but is definitely a something that can enhance one’s PLN

  13. Chris

    hey Graham… sounds like you and I are doing similar presentations, but for the same conference! I shoulda planned that better! I’m sure we will compliment each others presentations nicely actually.

    Call me old fashioned, but I’m still a big fan of the humble mailing list. It’s a very low barrier to entry – you just need to understand email – and the bang for buck is considerable if you can get plugged into the right mailing list. Oz teachers stands out as the obvious choice, but there are others depending on your speciality. Mailing lists may not have the Web2.0 bling associated with them but as a starting point for joining an online community and engaging in the conversation, I still think it’s a great place to start.

    Depending on the person, I’ve found that something like or Flickr can be a good entry to Web 2.0 as well… there are communities behind them, they use tagging and comment-like structures. A good starting point.

    Twitter has great potential, but I think unless they are naturally curious types it can either be completely useless (not following enough) or completely overwhelming (following too many) I’ve never really thought Twitter was a great starting point for a complete noob.

    Blogging is great for the right person, but I think they need to find their groove or build an audience if they are going to stick with it.

    It’s an interesting question… good luck with your preso…


  14. Dean Groom

    Good luck with it. Taking personal responsibility for their own learning is a real issue, much talked about at NECC. How many times do teachers ‘look for something’ that they can use toward their required ‘hours’ that year. I truely believe that lots of ‘good’ teachers figure that as the class is not a riot, results are ‘okay’ – might even get some band 6s, that what they are doing is just fine. All this self directed PD, starting as a newbie etc., is not a pleasant thought. Let’s face it, it is likely that lots of them will keep doing it for the next decade – given half a chance. They are not going to ‘get’ social networking or blogging, they are not going to get twitter of FB, as they don’t ‘need’ to get it.

    I would (and have) focused on one or two blogs and people – and push how easy it is to learn from them (and talk to them). Konrad’s is an excellent story to tell – among the many. To move staff forward, externalise the ‘enemy’, if you point the finger too hard, then they make nice noises and go back to the trenches.

    You want to be connected – as you know the benefits – you want the kids to – cause you see the benefits … whats the benefit/effort for the staff? – I’d start with a digital taxonomy and move from that – at least some of them will have some ‘context’ of what Blooms is….

    Love your work, let us know how it goes …

  15. Elaine Talbert

    Hi there,

    I note that Sue Waters has posted, so I will be a lazy blogger and do a cut and post of what I said on her blog. I wrote:
    <I have a blog, it’s not very well developed. I now use google Blog This and at least I can look like I am attentive.
    Over the last year I have invested a lot of time into researching learning 2.0 tools.
    Late last year, I put together a mini-paper about my personal, professional learning journey. I would be happy to mail it to you, since I can’t attach here. I also submitted my Top Ten Tools for Jane Hart’s website. There you can read lost of educators’ ideas.
    My journey continues lately (holidays) with Twitter. I am finally a fan. Plurk, maybe?
    I am a school principal now in IT. I share all my learnings with anyone who is looking for opportunities to enhance their learning and teaching .
    As a baby boomer, early adopter, I was able to show teachers the potential of technology tools to improve learning. The late majority still need some convincing and a lot of PL.
    Maybe we need the term PLON, personal better still professional, learning, (online) network. Although, face to face, with “warm bodies” will always be important for the truly social element of learning. No need for fake smileys then. Although, I can see faces on my TweetDeck. What more can you want?
    Finally purpose and quality teaching and learning practice must underpin any choice of application.

  16. ldumicich

    I think it would largely depend on the stage that your audience is at with ICT and web 2.0. I have people looking at me like I have gone mad at my school when I mention things like Twitter, Plurk, Nings and the like. Even reading other blogs can gain a bit of a ‘huh?’ response from some. However a mailing list is a great way to start as most poeple are familiar with email and it is easy to just observe for a while without having to contribute to the list. Something like Oz teacher net or edulists is good.

  17. Miss W.

    Having only started my PLN in January this year, I began with reading other people’s blogs, particularly those in Australia. Then I felt well I could pass on info to both my students and other staff at school by having my own and a class blog. Adding to the blogroll was a necessity as was visiting other blogs such as Sue Waters and the edublogger.

    How to read the blogs easily, led me to using RSS feeds through google reader. I then joined delicious and started organising my favourite websites and finally I joined twitter. This was enough to start with and build onto.

    Since those early days, I have tried with Skype (but still have problems), joined the OZ/NZ educators group with their flash and elluminate meetings and also joined a couple of nings which I don’t use often enough.

    One thing though that would make it easier, would be to have a group of teachers from the same school working together.

  18. murcha

    Hmmm…. Well I also am presenting on a similar theme but at another conference. I have found that PLNs have been vital to my successful and ongoing uptake of the emerging technologies. Classroom20 has been the best starter for me and I still return and find lots of contacts, forums and discussions to share with and learn from.
    Blogging has also given me contacts as comments have led to conversations and connectedness. Our involvement with an education dept grant has put us in the eyes of our education dept which has led to another set of PLNs and opportunities. has also been great value. Here I have met co-bloggers and classes to share blogging and cross posts with, which has let my students to develop their own PLNs. My students now write posts recommending sites and widgets etc (voluntarily)
    Twitter has been a huge impetus for the depth of my PLN and has led me to meet many Aussie educators and global educators.
    Mailing lists are still vital to me as well.
    Global projects especially the 1001tales and flathorizons projects have linked me up with PLNs who love flattening their classroom walls as I do.
    Even keeping podomatic accounts and slideshare has led me to other networks.
    I am also a member of blogging groups outside teaching and this has added another dimension to my PLNs.
    Often tweets are followed up with skype conversations. etc etc etc

  19. murcha

    Hmm Sorry I should have added how much I value the staff at our school Our PLN has become so much closer and involved as others have come on board with blogging and the use of web2.0tools.
    And the students themselves are part of PLN as I have got to know them and understand them a lot better and I am sure that they have me, as well. They also find lots of tools and share them with me and each other.

  20. Pamela Livingston

    Twitter, my blog (no idea how many readers, but run into a few sometimes), listservs, several Nings, email (egad!) Twitter opened up my PLN exponentially. I started following David Warlick and Will Richardson and then seeing who they follow (I’m plivings on Twitter) and now find it my most interesting vehicle to see what people are reading, viewing, doing and thinking about. I only follow educators and have a few times stopped following people who aren’t interesting to me (“eating a peanut butter sandwich”) or are annoying (complaining! a lot!) or in one case used profanity (not particularly offended but do present to groups and bring Twitter up on the screen and don’t want any horrified reactions – at least not to Twitter!) and of course stop the spammers. As an author/writer I am always seeking the verbal counsel of others – thinking out loud on different ideas – and Twitter has become helpful in this regard as well.

    I teach a grad school class to teachers and have everyone 1. subscribe to a podcast 2. join and start a page on classroom20 ( and next semester will also have them set up diigo accounts. They may use Twitter as an option and generally about half do.

    Twitter initially is like drinking scotch – an acquired taste. But eventually given time most people seem to find it integral to their PLN’s. Let’s hope we don’t break it too soon and that Google or someone big buys it quick – and doesn’t start charging us.

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  22. Pam Thompson

    Hi Graham

    A big omission on my part, and quite rightly mentioned by both Chris & Murcha, is the role played by mailing lists. My awareness of other educators and a myriad of resources was definitely kickstarted by ozteachers well before I became aware of blogs, twitter, & nings. Of course, many of those names associated with ozteachers are the very ones I follow via blogs & twitter :-). I have tried hard to get some of our teachers signed up with but only a few have taken up the challenge. Good luck with your presentation – I’m doing one for new bloggers but I’m prety nervous with it being my first one.

  23. Graham Wegner

    As I’ve been to see “Kung Fu Panda” today, I would like to thank all of you for your combined “AWESOMENESS”. I’m really interested in your responses as I can present more than my personal point of view to my audience. Based on last year’s response to my “Open Educator” offering, I am not expecting a big turnout so I think I will take a more personal off-the-cuff approach that weaves these responses with some key links from around the edublogosphere/twitterverse/etc. rather than talk at them with a Flickr infested slideshow. That way, they can take some possible strategy away with them (and add that purpose to their newly acquired skills from your workshop, Pam! I was hoping to attend so long as I don’t get in the way.)
    And Chris, I am looking forward to your keynote. My presentation will be a small splinter of your bigger picture perspective – adding to your message not appropriating it!

  24. John P

    I’m always a believer that to make any of these tools work you really need to have a purpose and more often that purpose is caused by an itch that needs scratching. Doing anything just because it is good for you usually doesn’t work for kids and works even less effectively for teachers.

    Looking at most of us in the Web 2.0 environment at the moment, much of our learning in our PLN is learning about the tools, how to use, how others are using them in the classroom, refining our own uses, assisting newbies, keeping up with the “Jones”, plus a slightly increasing interest in pedagogy and implications for education and schools. These provide for many of us, lots of reasons for continuing to prod, probe and contribute to the networks.

    I’m not so sure that the next wave of adoptees will have these same motivations, despite how much we think they should. Will they have the sense of cussedness or level of patience, (I know I vacilate between these two extremes), to make these tools work for them? I’m not so sure.

    Maybe I would be advising to start initially more local whereby if the network is not happening as it should then there is always a face to face option. A class based blog usually works best for introducing to students so maybe a unit based blog or wiki may best a safer introduction.

    A Ning maybe based around curriculum needs/development is a viable option though it would probably need at least one person with experience in monitoring, moderating and generally stirring the post every now and then. Having a space where you can store and access every dayfrom home and school the work tools has real appeal to some teachers.

    Ultimately though the real challenge is to begin to establish PLN that utilise but have a primary focus other than on Web 2.0 tools. I think that it will only be then that the will tools will really prove themself.

  25. Cathy-A Scott

    Hi Graham,

    I am a first year Bachelor of Education mature aged student in Queensland. In our first semester we completed a subject called ” Learning Networks” which touched on the idea of developing a PLN. I plan to set up my own blog soon and use to share resources with other students. I have your blog in my Google Reader. Keep blogging – I am really enjoying my on-line learning experience. I think a lot of pre-service teachers are hungry for this type of information but do not know how to access it.

  26. Ann Oro

    I started my PLN by listening to webcasts, specifically Women of the Web 2.0. As I had the chat window open, I began to learn from the people who were listening to the webcast and reply back to them. At the same time, I started reading (and then after a while) commenting on blogs. I started using delicious and adding people to my network. I probably joined the Classroom 2.0 ning about that time, too.

    Once I was comfortable in those sites, I did join Twitter. It really is my number one location for connecting and learning. I did not feel comfortable with it at first. I didn’t feel comfortable just joining the conversation. Once I had made other contacts with people through blogs, webcasts, and Classroom 2.0 I joined.

    There’s not one way to get started. The whole point, to me, is to make others aware of what is available.

  27. Frank's Blog - 21CT

    I am an EFL Teacher Trainer in Mexico. And jumpstarting a PLN here is a much more delicate process because technology is a little further behind as well a collaborative concepts. I started my teachers first with a Ning social/professional network because it had a ready-made network with lots of historical activity to dig into. Then after they were comfortable with that, I moved on to Twitter and RSS, then blogging. Why not blogging first? Because I wanted then to feel around their new PLN and see some examples of blogging first. This coming year, we plan to tackle podcasting, digital stortelling and other such fun stuff. If I can get them into my Lively EduBlogger Lounge, that would be the icing in the cake.

    When all is said and done, it is Twitter that is the glue that holds the other pieces together (and maybe just microblogging in general now that I have become a Plurker (karma approaching 60 thank you very much). While I have my own Ning where I started my team, META Web 2.0, I probably would have used Classroom 2.0 as a launch point.


  28. Dean Groom

    Graham, this seems topic of the week. I am not at the point where teachers are going to ‘find the time’ to read or write ‘educational blogs’. My push this term (and I’ll get 20 minutes if I am lucky) is to look at blogging as an eco-system, contrasting the traditional classroom ‘learning network’ with the edublogger ecosystem. This push to to get them to realise the benefits Konrad explained so well at NECC in developing critical literacies, and how pointless ‘grades’ are in marking week to week tasks, when in fact we should be looking at ‘where they are’ and ‘where next’ in term of them being readers, writers, critics and support to each other.

    I’m also going to explain PBL in terms of hte story that Sue Waters told last week, when she asked questions to Twitter – to explain that the sum knowledge of a PLN is greater than any single person (student or teacher).

    So, I’m not focusing on them as ‘bloggers’ but want to push them into allowing community blogging (21Classes, Ning) happen as a normal classroom activity, and then encourage them to comment and ‘knit’ together the collective thoughts of the group.

    A recent Year 12 Pilot (based on Konrads thinking) proved a massive success, and really added value to the group – overall they exceeded all requirements, and even now, as the deadline has passed, they are still using the group and talking about the topic.

    So I’m taking a hybrid approach, using the network to support my arguement and then using the school experience to qualify. To do that I need to draw on Konrad and Sues story – externalise the issue.

    I like to attack the flanks with Paladins in Age of Empires, before hitting them with wave after wave of archers.

    Let us know how it went – its great to see this on the agenda now.


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