PLN is a personal (or professional) learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in an informal learning environment.
A professional learning network is not considered a community in the sense that an individual may not know everyone they choose to include in their network. Further, a PLN would cut across different communities. It may include different networks. For example, a community of science teachers could have networks that cut across Twitter and facebook but a new teacher starts to create their network only on one of the platforms.
All definitions of Personal Learning Networks have stressed the importance of building networks of blogs usually through RSS.
The term personal learning network is often attributed to Dan Tobin in an article written in 1998. In a personal correspondence with Clint Linode Tobin noted:
What I was referring to was my informal network of colleagues and professional acquaintances to whom I could turn if I needed information, i.e., people who could help me learn whatever it was that I was seeking. I still have a large personal learning network and am part of many other people’s PLNs as well, although none of us use that term.Personal correspondence between Dan Tobin and Template:clintlanode
The first noted use of the acronym PLN and referring more to networks in terms of technology came from Dori Digenti:
As technology and change gain momentum, no professionals can claim enough mental bandwidth to maintain learning in all the necessary endeavors they are engaged in. An organization can sustain its collaborative learning only by building interdependence among members. This is where the personal learning network (PLN), born of series of learning collaborations, can be a valuable tool for enhancing and building interdependence
The PLN consists of relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning. The currency of the PLN is learning in the form of feedback, insights, documentation, new contacts, or new business opportunities. It is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other.Collaborative Learning: A Core Capability for Organizations in the New Economy
PLNs took off with the popularity of Twitter and the #edchat . In 2010 the concept of PLN combined with on the ground events at EdCamps.
In line with survey findings, interview results revealed that teacher collaboration increased following Edcamp participation, particularly collaboration facilitated through technology among members of a professional learning network (PLN). Participants reported using Twitter, Voxer, and Schoology to maintain communication and enable ongoing collaboration following an Edcamp.Educators’ perspectives on the impact of Edcamp unconference professional learning
- Some  have argued that the rise of social media combined with the demise of Google Reader have lead to less interaction in blogs and a lower quality network.
- The community around PLN, edchat, and the edtech leaders that emerged has been noting as lacking diversity. Especially in the professional conference circuit.
Last year at ISTE, Ruha Benjamin gave a stellar keynote that according to my sources, made a few people uncomfortable. I wasn’t even there but I heard about it all the way in Canada. It’s like people walked away in their feelings and said…”bump this, I’m gonna just ignore all this diversity nonsense and spin the wheel of white tech blogger/speaker folks instead”…because priorities.
Angela Maers speaks “You matter” so loud that people believe it…unless you are us. We know that our voices don’t. Imagine living in a reality where you know that your voice literally doesn’t matter.Rafranz Davis, Edtech Still Doesn’t Get Diversity and We’re Tired