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?

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    Kirsty working with students