Personal Learning Networks — The Beginning

Jen Hegna's PLN
Flickr Photo by Jen Hegna

I’ve gotten this question several times over the past week, via Twitter, “Who coined the phrase, Personal Learning Networks?”  I’m not sure why I’m the person being asked, but I first used the term in a 31 December 2005 2¢ Worth blog post, Year End Reflections.  In that post I wrote:

What’s new is that these discoveries, by their own nature, caused a breathtaking loop of new discoveries, each leading to something else, just as dramatic. It began with Blogging, which I had been doing for nearly a year. However, when I started reading the blog postings of other educators, and learned to subscribe to their writings with aggregators, I began to understand the importance of XML and to explore RSS. I started to integrate these technologies into my web services and staff development and to form, what I now call, a Personal Learning Network of people who have something to say that helps me do my job.

I’d not heard or read the term before that time, at least to the point of acknowledging it.  My intention was not to lable something new, but to find a way of expressing what I was experiencing at the time.

To look further back, I started with a Technorati search — and although typically find this tool to be very good at this sort of research, it was no help, since we can’t sort results based on date.  Then I went to Google’s Blog Search, which will sort by date.  I searched for blogs from 1 Jan 2000 to 31 Dec 2006 that include the key phrase, personal learning network.  The earliest was Heidy Trotta’s 13 December 2005 post, Contributing to the Whole.  In it, she refers to Personal Learning Network while discussing George Siemens 12 December 2004 paper, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age — in which he uses the phrase on page 3.

A Google Scholar search lit up with George Siemens’ groundbreaking work, but also listed a 2005 book, The New Learning Revolution: How Britain can leade the world in learning, education and schooling, by Gordon Dryden and Jeannette Vos, where they devoted a section to the book to “Your Personal Learning Network: Linking home, school and the real world together” (pp 113 – 127).  However, the secion was more about learning environments in general than personal digital networks.

Moving on back, I found Yann, Denaual, Tapio Koskinen, and Vana Kamtsiou’s Scenario Planning and Gap Analysis, 8 Apr 2004.  It seems to refer to “Relatively homogeneous types (of) learning groups, which (are) geographically widespread…” as “highly sophisticated training environment(s) already in place compris(ing) LMS, (or) Smart Personal Learning Network(s).”  It was difficult to gain more from this work, as it seemed to have been a translation from Dutch.

At any rate, I would have to say that the phrase, as we typically use it today, was most likely coined by George Siemens in his discriptions of connectivism, and that I probably, subconciously, captured it in reading Siemens work, and used it in that 2005 blog post.

Added 10/6/09 — Stephen Downes has done even deeper research on the origins of PLN/PLE.  Check out Origins of the Term, ‘Personal Learning Network.’

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.