establishing your personal learning network

In today’s complex social landscape, each of us engages with many communities.  A personal learning network (PLN) is one in which people connect around common interests to exchange ideas, resources, and information.  PLNs can be professional, personal, formal or casual.  But in order to function effectively, they must be underpinned by a regular flow of exchange.

When carefully built, these networks serve as invaluable platforms for the mutual benefit of members.  A PLN facilitates a massive environment of collaboration and connection that simply wasn’t available to previous generations. So why not make the most of this unprecedented self-improvement resource?  Here’s how to expand your PLN with social media.  

2.1 expanding your personal learning network with social media

tapping into Twitter

Value exchange is the cornerstone of healthy PLNs.  So use Twitter to link followers to useful resources.  Educate, inform, inspire and enable your followers with quality links, brief insights, and interesting updates.  Pay close attention to the niche audience you want to build, however.  Whether you are an IT professional, an artist, a salesman or a doctor, keep your posts relevant to those who might have resources or expertise that can help you advance your goals. 

It is also important to thoughtfully curate the list of people you follow.  Fill your feed with thought leaders and intelligent Tweeters whose opinions and insights matter.  But filter out the noise by avoiding those whose posts aren’t relevant to your aims.  And be sure to take advantage of the scheduled online chats Twitter facilitates, as they can be a great way to open a deeper dialogue. 

blogging better

Unlike Twitter, blogs provide a forum for developing ideas, establishing a record of your interests, and opening dialogue about issues important to you.  So use your blog to provide a resource for readers, to vet your developing ideas, and to reach out to your community with questions.  You can also promote your blog by directly engaging with bloggers you admire—offering guest posts, leaving meaningful comments on their posts with a link back to your site, and linking back to them in your blogroll.  Bloggers rely on a network of mutual support to gain visibility, so be a good netizen, and support those who support you. 

leveraging LinkedIn

Perhaps more than any other social site, LinkedIn is a platform dedicated to building professional PLNs.  So in contrast to a site like Twitter, where it pays to filter those you follow in order to get the highest quality feed possible, LinkedIn is a site where the bigger your network is, the better.  So spend time each week browsing the “People You May Know” listings and looking through the connections of your first-degree connections, and be sure to add anyone you meet during the course of your work.    You’ll also want to follow and engage with groups, keep a close eye on professional updates from companies and key contacts, and give genuine recommendations (both to build your own presence and also to inspire reciprocal favors.

make Facebook fruitful

When used in a thoughtful manner, Facebook can be an invaluable professional resource.  So make a conscientious effort to follow businesses and people you find valuable, get industry news delivered into your feed by liking relevant blogs and companies, and create a professional Facebook page to share resources and start conversations.  The content of your posts and the quality of those you follow will dictate the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the community you engage with on Facebook.  So post thoughtfully and make the most of this powerful social network. 

Social media rarely produces quantifiable results for business professionals.  Yet it serves as a vital forum for public self-presentation and provides an incredibly useful information resource.  These networks return the value you invest in them.  People watch your activity, and even if they don’t respond, will recognize you as a provider of meaningful content.  So expand your PLN by becoming an important resource for others.  Eventually, the value you provide will multiply and return.

2.2 fifty ways to grow your personal learning network

A personal learning network (PLN) is a group that exchanges a regular flow of resources, information, and ideas for the mutual benefit of the group’s members. The internet in general, and social media in particular, have allowed us to create powerful PLNs on a scale that was never before possible. Today, these networks, which condense around common interests, have become vital tools in the business world. Those who have the strongest personal learning networks have the most opportunities to advance their professional goals. So it is high time you start expanding your own PLN, fast. Here’s how:

join productive online communities

Seek out and join communities with high levels of engagement and members with valuable content to share.  

develop relationships with thought leaders

Delve deeper.  Open dialogues with those you admire by commenting on posts, emailing with questions, and responding to the ideas they share. 

follow key figures in your field

Find out who the most influential people in your industry are and follow them to stay on top of relevant issues and learn from their wisdom.

incorporate alerts

Delve deeper.  Open dialogues with those you admire by commenting on posts, emailing with questions, and responding to the ideas they share. 

collaborate on Google docs

Google Docs is a remarkably powerful collaborative platform. So think up creative excuses to start Docs, and invite interesting people to contribute to them. 

share bookmarks

Social bookmarking sites are a great way to expand your online information network.  Find out what the people you admire are reading, watching, and contributing to. 

browse blogrolls

Every researchers knows how valuable bibliographies can be—and blogrolls are the bibliographies of the blogosphere.  Examine them to see who is influencing the thinkers you admire. 

reach out with questions

Don’t be shy.  Open dialogues and launch discussions with thoughtful questions that will fuel exchange in your PLN. 

provide value

In the online world, you are only as valuable as the content you share.  So be a valuable member of your PLN and provide top-notch content on a consistent basis.

collect and catalogue resources

When you find interesting content online, catalogue it.  Build a list of information resources you can share and return to. 

become a resource hub

After collecting and cataloguing, you can become an information hub by sharing.  The web is a flood of information; so filters are invaluable.  If you can act as a reliable one, you will be a tremendous resource for others. 

follow influential companies

The best way to get updates about the companies shaping your industry is to follow them. So do it. 

browse mutual connections

On sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, browsing through mutual connections can be a great way to find new connections and expand your network.  

promote quality content

When you consistently learn from or gain value from a blogger or member of your PLN, reward them by promoting and sharing their content.  When you do, everyone benefits. 

invite guest posts

Invite thought leaders and interesting people to guest post on your blog.  It will expand your network, merge your audiences, and make your blog more diverse.

write guest posts

Contributing to other blogs is a great way to raise your profile, gain new readers, and support the blogs you love. 

step outside your bubble

People tend to get stuck in online ruts by frequenting the same few information channels and rarely deviating from them.  So expand your network by reaching out to explore new territory.  Do it often. 

join webinars

Like attending lectures from the comfort of your own home, webinars let you interact with presenters and audience members before and after the events. 

seek teachers

Expanding a PLN means constantly seeking out people who can teach you new skills and talents. 

contribute to Wikipedia

Wikipedia is itself a giant personal learning network.  You no doubt already use it to expand your knowledge.  So why not give back and help support the resource that helps support you?

track hashtags

Follow trending topics and keyword phrases easily by using one of the countless online tools for doing so.  It will keep you in the know about the most important topics of the moment and position you to reach wider audiences by using hashtags that matter. 

contact bloggers

Send emails and post comments to build relationships with the bloggers you love and learn from.  Making a more intimate connection with a thought leader will provide you with new and unexpected opportunities. 

diversify your SM portfolio

Use every site you have time to upkeep.  Establishing a broad presence online will expand your PLN broadly. 

pay attention to podcasts

They provide tons of quality info and can be listened to on your commute.

do research

It takes time to find new information channels and resources.  Invest that time.

seek out filters

Just as it is vital to frame yourself as a hub for podcasting valuable information, so too must you find great hubs for gathering info. 

don’t market

It is off-putting and it undermines PLNs.  Market elsewhere. 

produce quality content every time

Be a consistent and reliable resource for valuable content.  People will recognize it and keep coming back. 

contribute to Twitter chats

Delve deeper into your social media platforms to take advantage of offerings like Twitter Chats.  

open dialogues

Connect a group of influential thinkers who may not already know each other and start a conversation.  

share hard learned lessons

Help others avoid the mistakes you made. 

chase interests into new information realms

Follow your fascinations down the rabbit hole of tangents and distractions.  The web is a massive, interesting place.  You’ll probably wind up somewhere useful. 

search smarter

Learn to search like a pro.  When doing research, Google variations on the same idea using as many different words, phrases, and languages as you can. 

use advanced search operators

If you don’t know what they are already, look them up now and start using them to narrow your search results on Google. 


Follow your fascinations down the rabbit hole of tangents and distractions.  The web is a massive, interesting place.  You’ll probably wind up somewhere useful. 

search smarter

Learn to search like a pro.  When doing research, Google variations on the same idea using as many different words, phrases, and languages as you can. 

use advanced search operators

If you don’t know what they are already, look them up now and start using them to narrow your search results on Google. 

hand out business cards

This one is obvious.  Make a business card and circulate it widely.

memorise your elevator pitch

Sit down and define what you do and what makes you valuable and distinct in the workplace.  Then have a polished, clear way to describe yourself and your work when someone asks.   

comment often

Comments are a great way to promote content, link back to your website, and start dialogues. 

share your enthusiasm

When you get excited about an idea, company, or person, share it!  Chances are others in your community will be excited too. 

build a platform for showcasing work of those you admire

You’ll be supporting those people, contributing value to the community, and acting as a publisher of great content. 

use Twitter lists

To filter your feed and focus in on the issues and people that matter most.

build a Facebook business page

Having a personal page is one thing, but a business page can really take your social media professionalism to the next level. 

spend time hunting “people you may know” on LinkedIn

Expand your network relentlessly, especially on LinkedIn where the more people you can connect to the more opportunities you will have to seize job opportunities. 

keep in touch

Send follow-up emails and quick hellos to keep your name fresh in their minds and to keep fragile relationships from breaking.

employ Instagram

Do it in a thoughtful way.  This is a powerful resource for self-presentation and non-intrusive self-promotion.  

use efficiency tools

Streamline your online efforts with tools that save time. 

never stop learning

Read industry news, watch tutorials, and constantly leverage your networks for learning. 

collect email addresses

Email lists are immensely valuable.  So if you have a website, you should be collecting them and circulating a newsletter.