CELFS Teaching and Learning Network

Personal Learning Networks and Communities of Practice

by Blair Matthews

We are often guilty of talking about the “next big thing” in teacher development and using unfamiliar acronyms to talk about them. Such fads often tend to fade away eventually. However, one particular acronym has endured: that of the PLN – Personal Learning Network.


A personal learning network refers to participation in informal communities, often (but not only) online, with the specific objective of learning something. It is personal because you control how much you want to participate. It involves learning since connections are made with the intention that learning will happen. Finally it requires a network because there is a whole world out there with potential connections to both global and local perspectives.

Linking Theory to Practice

We like to underpin our practice with some kind of theory. A personal learning network can be characterised as a type of Community of Practice, a theory of professional learning which involves interacting and learning with others as part of everyday social practice. A community of practice is typically based around a shared or common interest, which can be formal or informal (in our case EAP). The community both generates knowledge through social interaction (a process known unhelpfully as legitimate peripheral participation) and acts as a repository for that knowledge.

Learning is not something that individuals do – being part of a broad network provides access to a wide collective intelligence which can be accessed as a resource. In your personal learning network, you may act as a contributor, an archivist, a researcher, an organiser or even just a listener. Any role that you take, active or otherwise, in some way contributes to the building and storing of knowledge within that community. A simple retweet or a shared weblink may provide others within your network with potential new and useful information.

Building a PLN

The obvious starting point is online. There is an active network of EAP teachers on Twitter and Facebook. You could follow the hashtag #eapchat for weekly discussions, follow some interesting people on Twitter, like Stephen Krashen,  who might follow you back, or our very own colleagues. Alternatively, you can take a more active role by participating in conferences, such as @BALEAP2017 or IATEFL. You can pursue more specialised interests and share this with your network. All contributions big or small are useful.



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