What is a personal learning network and why do I need one?

You can listen to the podcast episode on this topic here.

Learning a language can be a lonely journey. Therefore it’s helpful if you have people around you who will help, encourage and inspire you, particularly on days where you lack motivation or need a bit of extra help. A personal learning network (PLN) is basically a group of people who you bring together informally, usually online, to accompany you on your journey. They don’t need to know one another but they all contribute in some way to your learning.

What are the benefits of having a PLN?

1. It’s rare that you can get all the help that you need from just one person. A teacher may teach you new information, but then you need to go away and practise what you’ve learned so that you don’t forget it. That’s why it’s good to have other people in your network with whom you can practise.
2. Often we know that we’ve learned something when we can explain it to other people. If you have other learners in your network, you may be able to help them by explaining something and as you’re going over it again in your own mind, it reinforces what you’ve already learned.
3. It’s a great way to make new friends who will share your interest in language learning and who can give you some help or encouragement.
4. People in your PLN can make you aware of new resources, articles and information in the language that you want to learn.
5. We all have limited time. If you restrict your language activities to just one language exchange partner, you will only be able to practise when they have time. If you widen the net, there is more likely to be someone online or available when you want to practise or have a conversation in the other language.
6. It encourages you to be spontaneous with your responses. For example, if you’re having a conversation, the focus is on being understood and you don’t have time to build the perfect sentence. This pressure can feel uncomfortable but it trains your reactions in real-life situations.
7. Everyone explains things in different ways. It’s unlikely that all of the people in your PLN will be teachers but someone may be able to explain something in a way that makes sense to you, even if your teacher’s explanation or the information in your grammar book did not make sense. Maybe it’s just a picture or an analogy but it can make all the difference because you will remember it.

Who could be in your PLN?

  • Your teacher.
  • Other people on your course if you are taking part in a group training programme.
  • One or more language exchange partners.
  • People who speak the language that you want to learn. These could be friends, or people who share the same interests as you. They don’t necessarily want to learn your language but you can converse with them on a topic that is of interest to both of you.
  • Other learners whom you’ve met online. There are many Facebook groups for learners of different languages. More advanced learners can help intermediate learners, intermediate learners can help beginners etc. You can often learn by reading other people’s questions – either because you know and can share the answer or because you can learn by reading other people’s answers.
  • People who write or produce podcasts or videos in your target language. These people may not be as willing to engage in conversations but some will.

How do I keep in touch with my PLN?

There are many ways in which you can do this but here are a few suggestions:

  • Using Facebook – in groups, interacting with posts or by using the messenger.
  • Using online programmes for chatting or talking such as WhatsApp, Skype, Viber or Facetime. This is great because you can keep in touch with people in other countries without having huge phone bills.
  • Face to face meetings.
  • Writing emails.
  • At events held in your target language.
  • On twitter.
  • By following and interacting with bloggers and podcasters.
  • Your experiences

    What are your experiences with personal learning networks? Who is in yours and how has the network helped you?

    More from English with Kirsty

    If you would like more articles like this and other news from English with Kirsty to be delivered straight to your inbox, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter.

    Kirsty working with students

    Author: Kirsty Wolf

    I am an English teacher and a language enthusiast who also speaks German and Romanian. I help motivated professionals to improve their English so that they can communicate confidently and authentically.

7 thoughts on “What is a personal learning network and why do I need one?”

  1. Kirsty,
    What a great idea! I wish I had known of the concept of a Personal Learning Network during the many times that I have tried to learn new languages. Just now I’m beginning to learn some Turkish for when I travel to Turkey next spring. I have a phrasebook and the Duolingo app where I can hear Turkish spoken and work to get the right pronunciation.

    But I have no one to work with me and practice with me like I would if I had a PLN. If you have any suggestions for how I might find people also learning Turkish, I’d appreciate hearing them! I live in a rural area far from a major city.

    Thanks for your article.


    1. Kirsty, thank you so much for these three resources. I appreciate your time in locating these for me. I’m sure they will help a lot.

  2. Hey Kirsty,

    That Personal Learning Plan can be used in so many areas of my life thank you. When I was a Uni the teacher would hand over the information and I would take as many notes as I could but still left the class feeling overwhelmed. It was only in a study group that I could ask questions and have others answer what confused me. So I saw teachers not just as the University Professors but those I often interacted with.

    I was not aware there were so many apps for face to face on line. My favorite is skype.

    I think I have said it before but I have always admired anyone who challenges themselves learning another language. I tried Mandarin for a while and now I think I can count to ten still. But I was taking this up by myself and you are right, had I had course to go to and other networks, the likelihood of me continuing would have been higher.

    Thanks for great food for thought.


  3. Hi Kirsty!

    That is a very interesting and totally new concept to me. I know accountability buddies; but to create a complete and personal network is a great idea.

    Thank you, Ilka

  4. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments.

    Yes, I like Skype too but I was happy to know about the other services when Skype went down a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure if it affected you but I had to quickly find other ways of connecting with my learners.
    If you decide to give Mandarin another go, see if you can find some Mandarin speakers who want to learn English. I’m sure it will help with your motivation, especially if you naturally get on with each other because then you’ll want to spend time together.

    Have a great week!

Share your thoughts with us!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.