Last year I started asking around, on Twitter, for the origin of the acronyms that I was reading so much about. ‘Personal Learning Networks’ (PLNs) and ‘Personal Learning Environments’ (PLEs) were so often used by the educators that I was following that it was surprising no-one really could source them.

Recently, I have had more luck. Both David Warlick and George Siemens were generous in their explanations and insights.  Stephen Downes’ comments and posts helped put it all together and one just followed the breadcrumbs.

Warlick’s explanation of the origin of PLNs and Downe’s comment that Warlick has been promoting the term in his articles and that:

“The term ‘Personal Learning Network’ is directly derived from ‘Personal Learning Environment’, which as history shows was first used at the The Personal Learning Environments Session at a JISC/CETIS Conference in 2004.”

completes the picture (although I do not understand the politics of this completely) and places these terms in context.

This post is really about framing these concepts for potential use in a NSW DET context. I believe that we should use PLN as a term for teachers/staff and PLE in relation to students’ learning needs. I wrote to a ‘system leader’ outlining this last year:

If we facilitated a model that emphasised each professional teacher developing their understanding and skills on how to create a Personal Learning Network (PLN) using Web 2.0 tools along with traditional notions of professional development (professional associations, regional networks, school-based TPL), it is possible that a quantum leap forward in how students were taught and learn, may take place

If we developed a model that emphasised each student having a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and facilitated staff understanding of how this could be undertaken, learning outcomes would not only be enhanced but potentially, teachers and students could adapt more readily to technological change due to the development of this most flexible of models.

Considering the evolution of the acronyms, surely we could use them to communicate the changed teaching and learning landscape.  How far do we educators (and our systems) have to go to get up to speed with the tools, and more importantly the pedagogy, that is needed for ‘our times’ and could this framing assist?

What are your thoughts on developing the PLE concept for students and that of a PLN for educators?

Finally, I am looking forward to Stephen Downes’ seminar next Tuesday in Sydney

NB Thought I’d update this post (October 2009) with a link to Stephen Downes’ latest archaeological dig.



  1. Hi Darcy,

    I agree with you on both points.

    1. Teachers and the PLN. PLNs are simply a practical and commonsensical way in which to share skills, acquire new skills and problem solve. PD on the fly. Just in time PD. Virtual quality growth.

    Our own very practical collaboration over the last few days is a simple down-to-earth case in point. I needed a venue from which to conduct a webinar. Tap into the PLN. Darcy Moore steps in and affords a sensible solution. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Thank you.

    It was via our PLN that we are both presenting at the MAC-Ict event this week. Nice.

    Students and the PLE. Yes. Students have readily tapped into email for example. We need to evolve these skills so that students establish community based sites via wikis, blogs, etc so that like minded students can share ideas, problems and tap into SMEs along the way. Give their techie skills a meaningful sense of purpose, direction and a ‘community’ focus.

    Cheers, John.

    • darcymoore

    • 15 years ago

    Funny you say this John, as I made the exact same point in my presentation today, that I know Anne-Maree via you and my PLN. We are all on Twitter and collaborating across sectors and regions. It is ironic that I found your blog via Tony Searl (who is on the mid-North Coast), but you live just down the road.

    • darcymoore

    • 15 years ago

    Oh, I was kinda hoping that Messrs Warlick, Siemens, and Downes would debate PLNs and PLEs here at my blog ;O)

  2. Here I am working on answering a question for a job application and you are writing exactly what I was thinking and writing.

    At my school we are promoting the use of Web 2.0 tools and resources for learning. Our teachers have been exposed to podcasts, RSS Feeds, wikis and blogs and these tools have the potential to develop their skills and knowledge 24/7. Tools like these, used for instruction, are transforming the professional development landscape for educators and they allow educators to experience learning in a different way. These learning experiences typically lead to educators becoming more comfortable of using the technology with their students. There is no doubt that these tools will only continue to be improved and refined to offer even greater possibilities in the future.

    Exciting times for learners!

    • darcymoore

    • 15 years ago

    Hi Blair,

    Thanis for commenting at my blog.

    In my presentations recently, I’ve been using these quotes, which resound with me and hopefully other educators:

    “The real voyage of discovery consists not in having new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
    Marcel Proust

    “We teach others by teaching ourselves anew.”

    Garth Boomer

    Hopefully, having a PLN will help teachers help students develop a PLE.

  3. Hi there, Darcy!

    I wanted to comment about this for days now. I agree with you on the value of using PLN for PD. However, I’m not that sure about creating such a strong difference between PLN for teachers and staff, and PLE for students.

    Why not? A couple of reasons:

    1. Are PLE and PLN that different, really? From my perspective, if you take the “N” away from the PLN, you’d still have a PLE. If I’m understanding well, the N part is just making emphasis in the importance of, um, the network, in the whole learning process, especially considering our current “networked” times…

    2. Let’s say PLE and PLN area really that different. If we are talking about networked learning, shouldn’t our students be developing their own PLN? If a PLN is an ‘evolution’ of the PLE idea, why should students have just a PLE, and not a PLN?

    I’d agree that learning needs for staff and teachers are different from those of students. But I can’t see why should we use two different approaches to support them. In the end, is not all about the learning?

    Again, it’s obvious the value of using these concepts to frame professional development and learning in general, I’d say. But having students thinking only in their PLE makes me think about something like “Uh, students are not ready to this PLN stuff yet. Have them develop their PLE until they need professional dev. Then, we’ll help them with their PLN”.

    Is that what we want, or did I misunderstood completely your point?



    • darcymoore

    • 15 years ago

    Hi Diego,

    You are correct, and as the history of the terms PLN & PLE reveal, any difference is confined to being semantic or political.

    However, the point to using PLN for teachers and PLE for students (and they are effectively the same thing) is to help develop a positive narrative about how we could shift everything forward for DET, the organisation I work for and with.

    To be completely honest, I do not care what we call
    ‘it’ but staff and students need to be independent and networked with learning at the centre.

    I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  4. […] is perhaps a good time for education to become less organisation-centric and more person-centric. Professional learning networks (PLN ) and personal learning networks (PLE) may just be handy acronyms for something we are beginning to imagine and create but they certainly […]

  5. […] asked the above question of my PLN on Twitter and what follows is the complete list of all school websites tweeted or emailed in […]

    • Eric Calvert

    • 14 years ago

    Thanks for the history, Darcy. (It’s so exciting when acronyms fight!)

    I’m wondering about using PLN to refer to the array of people/organizations to which once is connected, and PLE to refer to the digital interface for following/interacting with the PLN. (I’d actually like to use “learning portal” or “LP” for the latter notion. Could those of you who are still buying records please move on so as to free up the LP acronym? I understand the sentimental attachment, but please. Do it for the children.)

  6. Hi,

    I am not sure about ‘reserving’ PLN for teachers/staff. The PLN is, to my mind, a primary tool in continuing life long learning, and as such it is something we should help all learners to develop. Give a man a fish, and all that – give them a learning web, and they can catch the knowledge it is designed to catch. Show them how to build their own personal learning net(work) and they can adapt it so they can catch all the fish of knowledge that they need throughout life.

    • darcymoore

    • 14 years ago

    Retro is always cool (?) and LPs are coming back – did they ever leave?

    Oh, I do agree with you Pat. Basically, I thought that discussion re: PLN or PLE would assist with adoption.

  7. Generally, I use PLE to refer to the ‘technology’ (software and hardware used to make the connections – the immediate environment of the learner) and PLN to refer to the ‘wetware’ (people) – although, it can include other resources too, anything, basically, which can provide the knowledge you need to solve your learning (or other) problem.

    Looking back, I find it amazing that I was never taught how to nurture a network of people to help me learn. It just wasn’t how things worked – you went on a training course or bought a book if you needed to learn how to do something. If you were really desperate, I guess you might ask someone (is this a gender difference? ;-)).

    One of the affordances the internet gives us is the opportunity to tap into global knowledge on a subject 24 hours a day. But we need to know who to talk to, and how we might find them.

  8. I agree with most of what’s been said already, so rather than repeating it, I’ll try to add to it!
    Darcy made the point “Hopefully, having a PLN will help teachers help students develop a PLE.” – and I’m more moving down that route (have been for some time!) as it strikes me that unless you (as a staff member) believe that connecting with others is a useful way to learn, you’re going to find it very hard to encourage students (who, after all, see success in terms of marks, we have to set ourselves other measures of success).

    What I’ve felt for a long time, though, is that whatever you call it (PLE, PLN or anything else) is that the “Personal” is key. Sometimes I only want to communicate with a particular subset; sometimes I want to create just for me; to play with ideas, before I invite someone in.
    I don’t always want to use text or imagery or audio.
    My worry, therefore is when we try to build a PLE tool – as that’s difficult.

    That said, it can also be hard to justify to students why they need to spend time learning to use new tools, when they feel they’ve come to University to learn about Greek / Medicine (or beer for that matter!) So, then a purpose built tool starts to look like a good option.

    But, then I start to look back on my own student days. Are we simply expecting too much. Because learning & connecting excites us – do we expect too much from our students. (After all, as a student, sure, I didn’t have e-ways of communicating with friends/ family; phones meant a queue in the cold & phone card; mail involved a red thing with a slot in the top; chat was in the bar with a beer – but most of that was reserved for social activities.

    Probably my tutors were also lamenting the fact we didn’t talk about drumlins & moraines in the bar, nor discuss enzymes with old school friends. etc.

  9. I have been working on creating a single aggregation for my PLE from which I can navigate my PLN. I have come up with a design using PersonalBrain. Each node is link to a blog site or twitter or igoogle with RSS etc. I want to call this my personal learning platform – PLP. You heard it here first! Have you come across Molly Bob goes to school?
    She is good on PLNs etc.

    • Eric Calvert

    • 14 years ago

    I’ve downloaded several mindmapping tools and then stopped using them after messing around for an hour. I thought, “if I can draw the map, these things must already be connected in my head for the most part, so what’s the point?” (Granted, the exercise of making the map does make you think about categories and relationships more explicitly than you probably would normally.) What I’d like to see is a tool that generates visualizations of connections automatically based on my behavior that I can then view and use to reflect. For example, it would be great to have maps of browser sessions, since my sequence of pages viewed, terms searched, and comments left would usually represent a walk through a set of content/ideas connected by my interests. Since each of those sites/pages have all sorts of tags and metadata, smart software could look for patterns and relationships among these sites (including my sequence through them) to create clusters of resources around concepts/topics that could themselves be named/tagged, etc. This would be more like factor analysis than cartography. A fundamental challenge with mind maps is that, as you broaden and deepen your exploration of a topic, the more connections you start to see and thus the harder it gets to say “this goes here, not there.” When you’re talking about organizing a small set of ideas/concepts, (e.g. for thinking about how to structure a paper, presentation, or course/unit/lesson) they are great. But when you start talking about a tool like a PL_ that, in theory, you’ll use and build on throughout your life, scalability becomes a problem with the geographic metaphor. (For example, in the real world, there are a finite number of routes to get to Darcy’s house so it’s easy to map, but on the Web there are a potentially infinite number of paths to get to this blog post.)
    All that being said, I am not a particularly “visual learner,” so maybe I’m biased against mindmaps as PL_s. If anybody has created one that they’ve used successfully for an extended period of time, please share a link here or drop me a line.

  10. Not tried this yet but will do soon. Looks interesting given Eric’s wish list of a PL_.

  11. […] PLNs and PLEs « Darcy Moore’s Blog Information about the origins of the term "Personal Learning Network" (tags: PLN PLE) […]

  12. Hi Darcy,

    Just thought I would add a bit in here regarding a bit I dug up recently while working on an academic paper on the origins of the term Personal Learning Network and the acronym PLN.

    I found a reference to the phrase and the acronym, as well as a description that articulated the concept nicely for me in a 1999 article written by Dori Digenti (Collaborative Learning: A Core Capability for Organizations in the New Economy. Reflections, 1(2), 45-57. doi: 10.1162/152417399570160). In the article, Digenti uses the term “personal learning network” along with the acronym “PLN”.

    I recently wrote about it on my blog at

  13. […] had the same challenge but the innovators were able, to a certain extent, go round them. Having a Personal Learning Network (PLN) was […]

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