Creating Authentic Online Learning Experiences through Personal Learning Networks

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Educators often struggle with creating meaningful peer-to-peer learning for online students. Findings regarding developing and implementing peer-based learning networks in online/hybrid programs will be presented. Experiential themes provide a model for developing PLNs in hybrid/online programming. Attendees will reflect on ways to create PLNs at their institutions.


Erin is a Librarian at Orange Coast College in Southern California. Prior to this position she was the Senior Director of La Verne Online, the virtual campus of the University of La Verne. Erin was brought in to develop and implement a strategic vision for online education at the University. Prior to working in La Verne Online, Erin was an academic research and technology librarian for more than 15 years. She also teaches online and is an adjunct faculty in the EdD in Organizational Leadership program at the University of La Verne. She is a 2018 IELOL alumni and a founding member of the Collegiate Online Research Collaborative (CORAL). Her research interests are in faculty trust and readiness for change; resistance and readiness towards online education in higher education, and effective leadership and organizational structures of online education.
Dr. Bouchey is Associate Professor and Dean of Online Education at National Louis University where she is responsible for standards of quality and service for online programming across the institution. Dr. Bouchey has had the opportunity to lead all aspects of an online campus and programming in her career and spends time each week in deep dialog with an engaged personal learning network discussing the evolving nature of online education. Dr. Bouchey holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University at Albany, an M.B.A. in Entrepreneurship from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a Doctorate in Education from Northeastern University. She is a co-founder of the CORAL Research collaborative focused on online leadership and scholarship; her personal research interests include the nature and future of organizational structures of online units in institutions of higher education, as well as inventive and high-impact pedagogical practice in online teaching. Dr. Bouchey writes and is widely quoted in the academic and popular press; her articles and curriculum vitae can be accessed here:
Dr. Monica Simonsen is the Director of Special Education Online Programs for the University of Kansas. In this capacity, Dr. Simonsen is responsible for recruiting and training instructors, coordinating course development and revision, and overseeing admissions and student advising. She is currently participating in the OLC"s Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning. Dr. Simonsen previously served as the Program Associate for the Secondary Special Education and Transition Services online graduate program and a Senior Research Associate at TransCen, Inc., providing technical assistance and research expertise to a variety of state and national transition projects. Prior to joining TransCen, Inc., Dr. Simonsen worked as a secondary special educator and transition specialist in Maryland, coordinated a post-secondary program for 18-21 year olds with intellectual disabilities, and completed her doctorate at the University of Maryland. She has been an instructor for KU since 2010 and has taught courses at the University of Maryland and at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Dr. Simonsen has authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and practice briefs. Dr. Simonsen's primary research interests are on the role of family and teacher expectations on student outcomes, the impact of online learning on special education teacher preparation, culturally responsive online teaching, and organizational structures that support high quality online learning.
Megan Kohler is a Learning Designer with the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute at Penn State. She has presented at international conferences, such as Open Ed 2010 in Barcelona, Spain, the International Conference on Arts and Humanities in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Online Learning Consortium in Orlando, Florida. Megan relies on her training and experience as a professional actor to create a fun and engaging experience within her presentations and design work. Among her professional accomplishments, she is recognized for her work as the lead instructional designer and project manager on Penn State’s highly-rated Epidemics MOOC. She conceptualized the MOOCs by Design Webinar series and served as the pedagogical lead for the Penn State Digital Badges Initiative. She continues to explore interesting opportunities focused on improving the online learning experience for higher education.

Additional Authors

Dr. Jessica Knott is Assistant Vice President of Community Strategy, Experience, and Management. In this role, Jessica manages outreach activities and strategies, including environmental scanning, experience design, communications and planning, based on a deep understanding of our community and member interests. Prior to the OLC, Jessica led a team that supported faculty and academic staff in creating quality, caring and exemplary digital experiences at Michigan State University.

Extended Abstract

As online programs continue to compete in an ever-crowded student marketplace, many colleges and universities find themselves needing to differentiate and create unique and authentic learning experiences for students.  A critical aspect of online learning that is often discussed, yet not thoroughly operationalized, is peer-to-peer learning. The Community of Inquiry framework has reinforced the importance of this type of learning in online classes; yet as educators, we often struggle with how to create space for peer-to-peer learning outside of traditional online discussions, peer review, or group work.

At the same time, as online educators are looking for new ways to uniquely provide programming, professionals are paying more attention to Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).  A PLN is “being part of a ‘connected’ community provides support for getting specific needs met, solving personally relevant and meaningful problems, and developing professional expertise” (Moreillon, 2016, p. 65).  PLNs can take many forms as one progresses in their careers. The authors of this study recently formed a PLN, stemming from a Online Learning Consortium’s Institute for Emerging Online Leaders (IELOL) cohort. This PLN has resulted in a research collaborative, personal and professional gains, and a forum to discuss best practices of online teaching and learning. The PLN is comprised of educational administrators from a diverse set of higher educational institutions across the United States. The roots of this presentation stem from metacognitive discussions amongst a PLN regarding developing and implementing PLNs in online and hybrid programs.

During this session, findings from an autoethnographic study of PLN members who have reflected on developing and implementing peer-based learning networks in online and hybrid programs at their institutions will be presented.  Through these collective experiences, themes from these experiences are framed as a model for developing personal learning networks which can be appended to online programming at any institution to augment traditional curricular learning, connect students through their shared academic and professional experiences, and create a sense of community and ambition that would compare to in-person community and connection building that often happens in on-campus programming.  Session attendees will be asked to reflect on the themes and the opportunity to create a co-curricular PLN for students at their institutions to serve as a proxy to the type of community that is created in traditional face-to-face programming.

After attending this session, attendees will be able to:

  1. Identify the benefits of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), and

  2. Create a vision for implementation of a co-curricular experient at home institutions.


Moreillon, Judi. 2016. “Building Your Personal Learning Network (Pln): 21st-Century School Librarians Seek Self-Regulated Professional Development Online.” Knowledge Quest 44 (3). ERIC:64–69.