A personal learning network (PLN) is really just another way of describing a community of peers and other valued people who influence your personal development in a positive and reciprocal way. Their views, ideas and what they share with you and others prompt discussion and thought, just as your expertise and experience can spark ideas in others.
Think of it like networking plus. It may include people you have met on courses and industry events, but it can also be those you have worked with or had a formal relationship with in the past, such as a coach, former manager or mentor.
Social media is really driving and facilitating PLNs today, and platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter are excellent tools for establishing, growing and maintaining a quality network. These channels are only as good as you make them, however.
Getting the basics right is key to ensuring you find the right content and attract people interested in the same subjects.
When setting up profiles, you need to be clear about your interests and specific areas of expertise. That includes using the right keywords in your profile (for example, learning and development, coaching, HR); using the right hashtags; and monitoring and searching for the right hashtags.
Following people whose work you’re interested in is essential, as is following professional bodies such as the CIPD. Take a look at their followers and who they are following. This will help build your own followers, too, as many will reciprocate.
Look up the organisations, businesses, authors and thought leaders you admire and include them in your online content by tagging them in posts occasionally. Put yourself out there: don’t be afraid to ask questions or request help. Social media gives you access to people and resources that were previously unavailable. Even marquee names often reply if approached politely.
Groups and forums in person and online are a great way to grow your network or community. And top people and organisations host gatherings, talks, and workshops, often publicised online. All these are great opportunities to learn new approaches, and to meet your community in person.
Ian Buckingham is business transformation consultant, author and coach