Challenges for Connected Professionals: The shadow-side of the PLN

When you speak with teachers who maintain a Personal Learning Network (PLN) for professional learning, most of them wonder how they ever lived without it.

Being able to tap into the global ‘hive mind’ to seek inspiration, new pedagogical approaches, feedback and collegial support is pretty awesome. Prior to the development of digital social networks,  teachers were limited in how many individuals and resources they could access; and many of the channels they did consult were one way, and often, top down.

Today, teachers are creating connections using hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, joining groups on Facebook and sharing and curating resources in Scoopit and Pinterest. They are able to contact expert researchers to seek up to date content knowledge, canvas the experience of peers and mentors and drop in and out of professional conversations at any time or place that suits them.

What’s not to love?

While for many, the PLN offers amazing learning experiences, there is no denying that getting the best out of a nebulous, continually changing and almost completely virtual network requires a particular skillset. My recent research found that teachers teachers who engaged with PLNs for professional learning could be described as Connected Professionals. Connected professionals are teachers who see themselves as lifelong learners. They are autonomous, networked and participatory in their learning approach, and display social network literacy.


The teacher as learner may possess these attributes, but this does not mean that engaging with the PLN is not without challenges. While the learning possible through a PLN can be pretty incredible, there is also a shadow side – and this shadow side is not always addressed.

This post introduces the challenges that engaging with a PLN may present. It will be accompanied by a series of posts exploring each challenge in depth, and offering strategies to manage and minimise. Not every teacher feels confident and comfortable embracing professional learning through a PLN, and some of these shadow sides may be reasons for this. It is my hope that through this series of posts, those who have not considered using social networks to enhance their professional learning, and those who may have just dipped their toes in, may feel encouraged to explore further, with the knowledge that there are ways to deal with some of the less positive features of informal, open and digitally connected learning.

So…what are the challenges teachers may experience when developing and engaging with their PLN?

(Please note this is not an exhaustive list! I have focused on the most significant issues which are likely to influence everyone; individuals may possibly encounter other challenges, unique to their own learning approach and context).

Managing these four challenges is an important part of cultivating an effective learning experience through your PLN.

Join me over the next series of posts, as I address each one in detail, and provide some strategies for how to overcome the shadow side of the PLN for a more rewarding professional learning experience! The posts include:

Managing “Infowhelm” or too much information through your PLN

Managing time when engaging with your PLN

Managing learning through your PLN for quality, credibility and authenticity

Managing a professional digital identity when engaging with your PLN



Bridgstock, R. (2016). Graduate employability 2.0: Social networks for learning, career development and innovation in the digital age. Queensland University of Technology.  Retrieved from

Downes, S. (2010). Learning networks and connective knowledge. In H. H. Yang (Ed.), Collective intelligence and e-learning 2.0: Implications of web-based communities and networking (pp. 1-26). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference doi:

Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and connective knowledge. In. Retrieved from

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., . . . Watkins, S. C. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design (9780988725508). Retrieved from Irvine, CA:

Jones, C., & de Laat, M. (2016). Networked learning. In C. Haythornthwaite, R. Andrews, J. Fransman, & E. M. Meyers (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of e-learning research (pp. 43-62). Los Angeles: SAGE. doi:

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