Sunday, July 7, 2013

Personal Learning Networks

Personal Learning Networks (PLN) can take a variety of forms, and be as involved as you want them to be. Meaning that you could be a silent subscriber and follow blogs, articles, social networks or communities and add very little of your own  to these posts. You could simply read what others have contributed and reflect on tips, tricks, attitudes, pedagogy and other philosophies as they pertain to your own teaching and your own classroom. Or you could be a blogger, and active contributor with posts, comments, and other contributions. Or you could have a range of anything in-between  The beauty of the PLN is that it is free, it is personal and can be customized to fit exactly what you want. Before you dive right in to a fully functional PLN, I would advise taking baby steps to become comfortable with the format, and online security, and your digital footprint before you start contributing globally. 

Baby Step #1 

The PLN is an important piece of being a well rounded educator. Creating your own learning network helps keep you informed of  cutting-edge news, views, tool, application and best practice in education. With the availability and ease of access of technology tools, a PLN is a very quick and easy community to build and collaborate. Again, collaboration can take a variety of forms. It useful to create a network and follow what other say, to reflect on your own practice and obtain new ideas to use with your own students. A good first step to creating a PLN would be to find sources that pertain to your interests and organize them into one location to quickly check. For example if you use a news feed resource like Feedly  to stay current with world news, and you also use  Facebook for a PLN you can go here and get the rss link for your Facebook notifications and add it to your news feed reader of choice. That way you can minimize the amount of places you need to navigate to to keep current with your PLN and daily news. Within your news feeder you can create a category that is dedicated to your PLN. I use Feedly as my news reader of choice. It is very easy to customize and easily allows you to organize content in a way that makes sense for you.  Another first step would be to create a group or circle on a social media site you may or may not use. For example, if you use facebook to keep current with friend gossip, there is a good chance that some of those people are educators, similarly there is a good chance that you are friendly
 with coworkers and other people in the education world. Create a group or circle of these individuals for your own ease of access. 

Baby Step #2
As you build your PLN, a good first step would be to become part of the communities that interest you, and follow the conversations. As you become more comfortable with checking these sources and staying current you could jump to the next level and start recording your own reflections, ideas, and advice through a blog or other online journal format. If you use a blog, there are settings to make it private so your thoughts are not yet visible to the entire digital world, or if you use something like Google drive to create a journal it is easy to make that private as well. Reflection is an important process in learning. As you create and participate in your PLN, it is important to process the information you acquire. As much as you think that you will remember what you read, it is a good idea to keep track of the things you agree with, don't  agree with, and describe any alterations you would make to ensure that something you read is the best fit for your own needs.  As you start recording and reflecting on things you discover in your PLN and are comfortable checking your news sources, reflecting on tips and tricks and even trying some things in your own teaching. You could start contributing to your PLN. Again, since the PLN is created by you, and tailored to your interests, it is a good chance that the blogs you follow don't know who you are. However, you have ideas and opinions that are worth communicating. 

Baby Step #3
Once you are comfortable checking news sources, and finding cutting edge tools and pedagogy within education, and are reflecting on things you learn, your contribution is important. A big part of the PLN is contributing. Whether you believe it or not, your opinions, attitudes, experience, and ideas are worth sharing. This step can take a variety of forms. As I mentioned before, your PLN may include blogs, news sources, Google Plus, facebook feeds, twitter feeds...etc. All of which you may not necessarily contribute. Before you start to contribute to your PLN you have to be aware of your digital footprint, and citizenship to participate respectfully and your contributions are well received  You could start adding comments and questions to these blogs or news feeds. The form of your reflections may take on a different persona and can actually be published as part of your PLN. If you organized a group of individuals on a social media site like Google Plus and have individuals that you personally know, it is time to alert them of the PLN.  This could be a formal explanation of the intentions, or it could just be a comment or question relating to something you read in your PLN. As comments start rolling back in you are on your way to creating an environment where the contributions will be  valuable and become an extension of a productive faculty or team meeting. 

The PLN is a great tool for the individual to expand their own horizons as an educator. There are ranges of involvement and levels for which you can contribute and participate in a PLN. I would recommend that the most low key PLN would be the most beneficial. As soon as it starts to feel like work or become a burden, you will lose motivation and stop participating. Look at this way, as an educator you are probably already constantly looking at things in your everyday life saying "whoa that's great, how can I incorporate that into my classroom?" A PLN is a place to have those moments and share what you did. It is an important piece of education, especially with the ease of collaboration. 


  1. I have never had a PLN. I find it beneficial to use it going forward. I thought that it would be harder and take more time than it really does. Thank you for the Facebook tip! I hesitate using Facebook in my professional life. I just see it is a separate entity that is for my personal use not my professional use, but I do see you point about combining things to make it easier.

  2. I like how you described a PLN. It made it sound very welcoming and nonthreatening. I may just have to use some of your words when presenting this to my faculty (giving you credit of course). I like how you stressed putting your own ideas out there is not necessary to have a PLN, but when a person becomes comfortable with the formats and types of postings it would be good to add some of their own tips. You had some great points in this post.

  3. You presented this in a very clear, non-threatening way... :) Nice job! I think teachers would really feel comfortable giving the idea of a PLN a shot after reading this. Thanks!