How to Draw a PLN – An Exercise in Reflection

After the #etmooc Blackboard Collaborate session Tuesday night with Alec Couros on Connected Learning, I started to think more about my PLN and the prompts that were suggested. How would I define my PLN – in words, in imagery? Being a visual person, I wanted to represent it with a graphic, so I started to think about the best way(s) to do that.

At first, I thought a general mind map might be a good choice. I mentally jotted down “PLN” as the central bubble, expanding outward to three core bubbles of “early childhood education,” “educational technology,” and “global education.” I began to reflect on who and what else belonged in my image but struggled to come up with an accurate depiction. I realized I was struggling with competing wants – trying to arrange my PLN around topics (e.g., ed tech) versus around three W’s: who (e.g., colleagues), what (e.g., Twitter), and where (e.g., at school).

mindmeister PLN

I took a break from trying to name and categorize to search for the best tool to create my visualization. I debated Google Drawings, Mindmeister (which I’ve used successfully before to collaboratively map PLNs among participants in a course I taught – see the image above), and finally settled on trying a new tool, Idea Sketch. I chose this app because I was interested in working by touch (I thought) so I wanted something available on my iPad, I wanted to be able to start with a text list since I had already written out some of my map, and I wanted the ability to color-code.


After exploring Idea Sketch for a little bit, I realized it was still going to be a lot more time consuming to create my map there than on paper. A perfect example of when technology can become more of a hinderance to efficiency than a tool  supporting progress. So, I went “back to the drawing board” both literally and figuratively. I started fresh with a piece of paper and decided to re-think the idea of a central “PLN” bubble.

What was really at the center my PLN? I realized that at its core, it was connected learning, teaching, and sharing – with people. I reflected how, at times, I am also at the center of my PLN, drawing connections between three fields that I am passionate about and rarely see intertwined (early ed + ed tech + global ed) but many other times, I’m simply another node, as Joichi Ito suggests, floating in and out of other nodes and networks in my PLN.  I’m not just making connections, I’m looking for them, I’m learning from them and others and at times I can become backgrounded in my own PLN, there as an observer, to “lurk” or shadow conversations that allow me to break down the already thin walls of my PLN and see through into other people’s networks. Sometimes I have the privilege of helping to create ties between someone else’s network and my own, which is always exciting and inspiring, and sometimes I simply have a chance to be a participant in another person’s network and try to support that person as much as I can.

With that in mind, my image of my PLN took on a new form. I knew I couldn’t fit every person and community in my image but I wanted to have enough examples to give a general representation. I created one large circle to define “My PLN,” one with a fuzzy outline because it’s pretty nebulous, at times even transparent or non-existent, as I connect and intersect with others. Then I added three interconnected circles inside, one for each topic that I’m passionate about, allowing for overlaps because many of the W’s I’m engaged with are related to more than one topic. For example, my job as a Lower School Tech Coordinator, allows me to work with students and teachers in early childhood education while focusing on educational technology and using it for global collaboration projects. From there, I began filling in each bubble with organizations, chats, and other types of networks that represent people and communities (e.g., #Kinderchat, SIGELT, Global Classroom Project, and the Tech Team at my school). Outside of these three bubbles, I placed more of the generic “where” and “what” labels that are the environment and home for my PLN, such as “Twitter,” “conferences,” and “Skype.”

I’m confident that this depiction is a) a work-in-progress and b) still not a perfect representation of how I’d like to display my PLN, but it comes pretty close. I also appreciated how much reflection I was able to engage in simply by trying to create this drawing of my PLN. I thought much more about the difference between communities and networks of people and the layers they add compared to the tools and environments that help me to connect. I examined the boundaries and my own place within my PLN more closely and took time to step back and consider where various pieces live within my PLN map.


I (re)discovered that there are many more intersections between global education and educational technology than early childhood and global education, due I believe, to the necessity of technology to connect people across time zones, languages, and countries. I hope that with this awareness in mind, I can re-focus my own energies on seeking out more networks and communities who are integrating ed tech and global ed into early childhood education to add to my PLN.

Ultimately, now that I have my PLN sketch, I want to think more about how it looks and how I see connected learning, teaching, and sharing as the center. Those are the ideals I have built my PLN around and I want to keep them in mind as I consider the idea that there is “strength in weak ties” and in new perspectives. People who are not immersed in my PLN (weaker ties) and who have different passions, can add so much to my own learning and I want to think more about how I can make sure to value that and make my network permeable enough to see, hear, and share their views too.


17 responses to “How to Draw a PLN – An Exercise in Reflection

  1. I love the evolution of your PLN. The sketch captures the idea of what is included in a PLN — all those neighborhoods @bhwilkoff described. I’m glad I found your blog! Looking forward to learning with you. Sheri

  2. Wow, Maggie, this is so cool! I am not a mindmapping person, which is weird, because I do enjoy visuals, but this exercise is definitely a testament to the complexity of learning networks and how everyone’s network is organized differently to meet their needs. However, at the heart of all learning networks, are people and relationships! Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • Thanks Lyn! Even as a visual person, sometimes I feel like mindmaps aren’t a good fit because they aren’t very pictorial (it’s more about words and cookie-cutter bubbles) and they often feel a bit constrained to me, which is one of the reasons I walked away from Mindmeister and Idea Sketch – I wanted more freedom for expression. I’m glad we’ve been able to connect and I’m looking forward to learning with you!

  3. I really enjoyed reading your thinking process as you worked out the mindmap. Like Lyn, above, I am not usually a mind map person but this has given me some encouragement to try and think through my own PLN, how it works, and how I can tweak it. I enjoy sharing and learning through my social media networks but I am developing specific goals and I think I need to focus on how to achieve them. Thanks for this.

    • I’m glad my PLN sketch could provide some encouragement and I’d love to hear more about how you conceptualize your own PLN. I have been learning so much from seeing and reading about people’s various ways of mapping and defining PLNs. I also like your idea of having specific goals. I try to set them at various points in the year but I also sometimes lose sight of how to implement/achieve them. Thanks for your comments!

  4. The thought put in to this is great. It helps visually define a PLN – something many of us need. The word definition leads to so many questions about how – concrete type things. This visual lets the rest of see/reminds us how intensely personal (simultaneously external) a PLN can be. Also motivational is how you’re using your visualization as a tool for improvement. I’m not #etmooc-ing right now b/c of other time commitments (NSTA new(ish) teacher program) but I appreciate your sharing with us your learning/reflection/growth. In the manner of so many other connected educators, I think I’ll “steal” it!

    • Thanks Keri! I usually work better with visuals because that’s how I often conceptualize things in my head. Many of my ideas have a 3D mental form so putting them on paper helps that visual to grow, deepening my own understanding of it. I’ve been reflecting on the personal yet external nature of PLNs as well and trying to work through how to really draw or find the words to describe that intersection. I know the idea of neighborhoods has been circulating but I think my view of a PLN is closer to an Italian village on market day – full of people you know (family, friends, confidants) yet bustling with an endless flow of new activity and visitors. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and stopping by my blog!

  5. Well done, Margaret. You’ve given me several new ways to think about this important topic–beginning with your insights into connected learning and teaching and sharing! Interesting use of mind-mapping software as well! Thank you.

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  7. Reblogged this on mpnENGAGED and commented:
    Pretty interesting map. Great way to reflect upon where you want to go in your learning.

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  10. This is my next step. Putting it on paper, understanding who I need to pay attention to and who to ignore and what I need to share in order to be a benefit to others as we learn and grow. Thanks Margaret!

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