What is a Personal Learning Network?

A personal learning network (or PLN) consists of ideas, materials, and social relationships.  Each of these three elements cannot be described in the absence of the other two.  For example, I cannot talk about Twitter being part of my PLN without understanding the relationship Twitter has with the ideas I share and to whom I share those ideas.
How many times have you heard educators of 1:1 schools ask, “Now that I have an iPad, what do I do with it?” Any one of the three elements of a PLN cannot be taken out of context when determining its meaning.  Materials, such as technologies, can be  expressed in terms of environments, places, and spaces, as well as any related objects that make up those environments, places, and spaces.  New technologies are constantly being introduced to the public, but they become no more or less important than the ideas and social relationships that make up the holistic set of associations.  Thus, there is an iterative and reciprocal dynamic between ideas, materials, and individuals that continually impact each other to the degree they remain connected.  Being connected emerges when a change or the existence of one (ideational, material, or human) node causes a synchronous or asynchronous change in another.  To understand any one of the three elements of a PLN (an idea, technologies, or human relationship) is to understand this three-way association from both a diachronic and synchronic standpoint. 
A PLN is not constructed, built, nor created. Nor does it grow, develop, nor flourish.  It does not start from nothing to become something.  It is and will always be present. 
What has changed over the years is the way individuals communicate, and how they communicate can best be described as having an understanding of the complexity of a PLN.  This understanding emerges by asking two separate but related questions: 1) How has my PLN changed over time? And 2) What does my PLN currently look like?
A PLN is inherently personal to the degree the individual has autonomy in making decisions about how ideas, materials, and human relationships come together.  Any barriers that hinder ideas, materials, and human relationships will ultimately impede one’s PLN.
The ideational, material, and social relationships that connectively form a PLN are both causes and effects.  Each is a result of something happening before it and each is a potential cause for something happening after it.  Similarly, a PLN as a connective whole acts as both a cause and an effect.
A PLN is both intentional and incidental.  An individual will purposefully use a PLN for some sought after goal, but will also recognize the frequency of ideas, materials, and social interactions that cannot be anticipated.  An awareness of one’s situated PLN leverages the potentiality of intentional and incidental learning, and offers insights into how they each relate to one another. 
Earlier, I mentioned that a PLN is not constructed, built, nor created. Nor does it grow, develop, nor flourish.  But what a PLN does do is adopt and adapt to a degree on its own and to a degree based on autonomous decision-making that occurs from the individual.  The individual sets out to  _adopt_ and _adapt_ a PLN in order to become more _adept_.

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