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.’

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: , ,

15 thoughts on “Personal Learning Networks — The Beginning”

  1. A great archaeological dig!

    Thanks David, I really needed to be able to trace the lineage of the acronym PLN to my satisfaction, just in case I was ever asked the question.

  2. Thanks for publishing my PLN to your blog! (I used to create it) I would like to add that this is ever changing and expanding! I would also like to add that it is important to recognize not only what one learns, but how one contributes to the knowledge of the masses as well!

    Jen Hegna

  3. David,

    I admire your candor. The simple exercise you shared demonstrates how difficult it is to engage in even mundane and recent historical research. You also perform a service by acknowledging that ideas have origins and transform over time.

    My only concern is that “PLN” may have already descended into a cliché at best and self-parody at worst.

  4. let’s try this comment again. The term ‘Personal Learning Network’ is directly derived from ‘Personal Learning Environment’, which as history shows was first used at the The Personal Learning Environments Session at a JISC/CETIS Conference in 2004.

  5. I think “Personal Learning Landscape” was the term used for the Colloquia system back in 1998-2001. “PLE” was present as a concept when I joined CETIS in early 2001, but I don’t think we used the term publicly until the meeting Stephen mentioned in 2004.

    The most important inspiration for PLE was Illich’s four learning networks in Deschooling Society (1974). (Amusingly enough, this was the only book about education I owned at the time of joining CETIS!)

    I don’t think we ever really claimed to “invent” anything by coining PLE, but to give a name to the strands of opinion that were at that time very much on the fringes in elearning and had difficulty getting discussion in the mainstream.

    To this day we’re not satisfied with any of these acronyms, but they have served as a useful means for a group of people with similar dissatisfactions with the mainstream to identify each other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *