Cultivating and Growing Your Personal Learning Network

edWeb member Peggy George is a big advocate for having a PLN and is edWeb’s most active member!

Do you have a PLN? Those who do swear by it and live by the mantra “alone we are smart, together we are brilliant.” A PLN can help you find and curate the best ideas and resources, and build a network of supportive peers in a time of constant change.

Steven Anderson, Digital Learning and Relationship Evangelist, and Shaelynn Farnsworth, Literacy Consultant, joined Lisa Schmucki, founder and CEO of for conversation with Larry Jacobs on Education Talk Radio on this topic. Larry kicked off the conversation with the question, “What is the value of a PLN and how has that changed over the past 10 years?”

Shaelynn is from Iowa, a state with lots of corn, cows, and computers. Iowa went 1:1 with computers for students in 2008 which meant that teachers could extend the learning beyond the four walls, so they needed to re-imagine learning. A PLN has helped Shaelynn learn from an extended network of educators how to to that. Shaelynn says a PLN helps teachers hone their craft, connect with experts, explore their passion, and collaborate with other teachers. In a rural school, it used to be that you might be the only teacher in your department so you were limited. Now you can reach out to a world of connection and opportunity. It helps teachers extend their learning beyond the four walls.

Steven Anderson, Lisa Schmucki, and Shaelynn Farnsworth discuss the value of a personal learning network

Steven Anderson published a book with Tom Whitby in 2104, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning. Back then, Tom Whitby estimated that about 15% of educators were “connected” via social media. Larry Jacobs asked Steven how much that has increased in the past four years, and while Steven didn’t have actual numbers, he says it has not grown as much as we all would hope. To maintain relevancy in the classroom, we need to maintain relevance ourselves. Are we using all the tools at our disposal to find the best resources? Alone we’re smart, together we’re brilliant. Steven said, “I’m not an expert in literacy but Shaelynn is. Why not go beyond the container of our school and our district and use a PLN to benefit from the research and curation of others.”

Even at an edtech conference like the recent FETC, not all hands go up when you ask if the audience is using social media. It still feels like a relatively small number of people are truly engaged. Twitter is easy, but may not be the best. Steven and Shaelynn are big fans of edWeb!

How can we help more educators cultivate and grow a personal learning network?

  • Districts need to see a PLN as a viable means for professional development.
  • We need to provide credit for educators to make the extra effort to build a PLN.
  • Teachers need more time.

Listen to the Education Talk Radio interview

About Steven Anderson

Steven W. Anderson is a learner, blogger, speaker, Digital Learning and Relationship Evangelist, author and dad.  He is the author of book The Tech-Savvy Administrator: How do I use technology to be a better school leader?  As a former teacher and Director of Instructional Technology and best known as @web20classroom, he is highly sought after for his expertise in educational technology integration and using social media for learning and communicating. Steven presents at conferences worldwide and is also responsible in helping create #edchat, the most popular educational hashtag on Twitter. He is an ASCD Emerging Leader, Microsoft Hero of Education and one of the top educational influencers on Twitter. Follow him at @Web20Classroom.

About Shaelynn Farnsworth

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a leader in the convergence between literacy and technology. As a high school teacher, she redefined her English classroom as not only a place to learn about literature but also explore how technology is shaping the future of communications. She continues this exploration as an education services consultant for AEA 267 in Iowa. There, her primary focus is on technology, literacy, and authentic intellectual work. Shaelynn is a staff developer, literacy coach, and supports districts in the implementation of initiatives. She is a Google Certified Innovator and has training in project based learning from the Buck Institute, instructional coaching, and reading and writing workshop from Lucy Calkins. Follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth and read her blog,

Education Talk Radio

Listen to the Education Talk Radio interview below: