Origins of the Term 'Personal Learning Network'

I intended this to be a comment to Dave Warlick's post on the subject, but his comment system won't accept my submission. I think that this post shows the futility of anyone trying to claim credit for the term.

I have found a reference to a 'personal learning network' in a document dates April 8, 2000, by the Treasury Board Secretariat, Government of Canada. This use, although dates, is consistent with uses of the term today. "Personal Learning Network has PC based, multimedia learning activities that employees can tailor to a learning map.

There's another resource, dated 1998 (but the metadata says 2001-08-05, which is still pretty early), Building Your Personal Learning Network, by Daniel R. Tobin

In 1999, something called a 'Personal Learning Network' actually won an award for a company called Quisic.

Another 2001 reference is the book, 'The Learning Web', by Gordon Dryden, which has a chapter titled "Your personal learning network".

This page, apparently from 2002, refers to "building each student’s personal learning network."

Milton Ramirez (tonnet) uses the term on June 10, 2003. "Most importantly, thanks to Education & Tech we have been able to build the most respectable Personal Learning Network in Education, we had the opportunity to start writing for the most important international network of bloggers and citizen journalists, Global Voices Online." The site is down, but available through Google Cache.

The first reference from George Siemens I find is September 30, 2003. "Most of us belong to more than one learning community. These multiple communities form a personal learning network. If a learning community equates somewhat with a course, then our learning network is equivalent to a degree program."

He follows up October 17, 2003. "A network, in the context of an ecology and communities, is how we organize our learning communities...resulting in a personal learning network."


  1. Thanks Stephen but as usual you seem to raise more questions!

    Tobin's description of a network seems quite loose and more like an internet oracle.

    Defining the term "personal learning network" seems quite a challenge which needs to be done before finding out its origin. There may be synonyms. Is a Community of Practice a type of personal learning network? Would the 19th Century impressionist painters have claimed to have had a personal learning network of like-minded artists?

  2. Well, the point is, it's rather more trouble than it's worth to find the origins of a term as common (and as vague) as 'personal learning environment'.

    Indeed, I would say one of the major problems with academic (and journalism) these days is exactly this desire to personalize and identify individuals as the author of accomplishments and concepts that were actually performed, bit-by-bit, by a large group of people.

  3. I had been curious and tried to find out the origins of the PLN/PLE acronyms to no avail. my post attempted to trace the etymology of the terms. I never expected to find the genesis of the term, as it obviously evolved, like most of these things do. It continues to be a fun and useful excercise for me to have attempted as more connections have been made in the process.

  4. I found this abstract, and would love to read the article, from 1979.

    I would be very surprised if the term was only a decade old. The concept / practice is obviously extremely old, although the methods will have changed with technologies and societies.

  5. Well the term doesn't appear in the abstract. I too would like to read the article, but it is blocked from public view.

    I see no real evidence to suggest that the term is older. It is true that people talked about some of the same concepts, but I think that until the internet came along people didn't really see learning in quite the same way.

    We would need a much better schoraly reserach system (one involving open access) to prove this, however.

  6. Hi Stephen,

    Clint Lalonde has traced the term back to Dori Digenti in 1998/99 here:



Post a Comment

Your comments will be moderated. Sorry, but it's not a nice world out there.

Popular Posts