The boundary nodes that make up a personal learning network (PLN) - those within one degree of separation - may consist of any combination of the following:
- Individuals or groups of individuals (f2f/online)
- Concepts, notions, ideas, thoughts, opinions, etc.
- Technologies: blogs, wikis, online communities,
These types of nodes (i.e., individuals, concepts and technologies - ICTs) influence each other depending on the type of interaction that exists, and the type of interaction depends a lot on the direction of communicate flow (i.e., uni/bidirectional), power structures, and identity to name a few. Since nodal learning is personal (individuals have choices in how they connect), there is (or should be) a high degree of autonomy that ultimately determines the degree of diversity and openness within the network topology. In addition to the types of communication that exist between the ICTs, each learner must also continually reevaluate the attributes which influence how the connection will be maintained in the future.
So if the term PLN is the whole enchilada, why choose PLN over the term personal learning environment (PLE)? Well, it has to do with the word environment. Intuitively, one can see how individuals have more control over how they interact with ICTs and less control over their learning environment or learning ecosystem. Sure, we have more control than we have in the past with respect to the when, where, why, how, etc. of our own learning, but our boundary nodes are the direct result of a series of personal decisions. In my mind, a learning environment (which extends beyond the boundary nodes) is not personal in ways that a learning network is.
So given the number of possible ICTs that can make up a PLN, what becomes more important is how individuals decide on which boundary nodes to connect with and how they choose to communicate with them in terms of means, ways, and ends (in that order). By building capacities first, the individual is more likely to become responsible (i.e., able and willing) for pursuing personal goals than if "personal" goals are being dictated beforehand much like how mission or vision statements (or course objectives) are typically handed down in a directive fashion.
Using a single term, a PLN, makes it easier to describe the interaction or influence between individuals, concepts, and technologies that connectively make up a "support system" for personal development.