What exactly is a PLN?
A professional learning network is a system that you design to help structure and systemize your ongoing professional learning. The key to this definition is that it is a system you design. We’ve all experienced the widely varying applicability of conference sessions, workshops, and trainings we’ve attended. The beauty of a PLN is that you strategically identify the topics, sources, and format for what you learn, according to your particular needs and preferences.
My PLN includes keeping current with a range of blogs and articles in my field of educational technology, attending conferences to learn and network with colleagues, and utilizing online training resources. This works well for me. For others, Twitter, print-based journals, and face-to-face workshops at a teaching center are essential ingredients to their PLN’s. The key to developing a useful and enriching PLN is to determine what works best for you. The strategies noted below may be a helpful starting point for you.
Strategies to build a powerful PLN
- Get the most out of your professional organizations.
Professional organizations can be an extremely helpful nexus to discover great resources as well as attend conferences. For me, the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) is critical to my professional learning. Between the Digital Library that includes full-text journal articles as well as conference proceedings, the annual conference, and the Academic Experts networking portal, AACE is an excellent resource for me.
- Read and review for key journals in your field.
Reading the journals in your field is probably an obvious choice to mention here. What may be less so is reviewing manuscripts for the same journals. I review between 10-15 journal manuscripts a year. I do this, in part, as a way to pay it forward. I also gain a great deal from the experience, though. I’m able to see new contributions before the lengthy publication process puts them out in the wild. I also benefit tremendously from seeing other reviewers’ feedback to gain insight into how others read the same piece, as well as to see the literature and theoretical framework suggestions they make.
- Design a blog reader system to stay up-to-date.
In my field of educational technology, things change quickly so I can’t depend on the traditional academic communication challenges to stay abreast of new developments. I suspect this is true for many other fields, as well. To supplement journal articles in my PLN, I have also developed a system for subscribing to a number of blog feeds so that I’m notified, through a feed reader, each time a new post is published. For video-based tutorials, please see my posts on setting up the system and organizing and archiving useful material. I also really enjoyed reading this post from Bonni Stachowiak on how she organizes her personal knowledge management system.
- Identify resources to learn new skills.
Again, perhaps it’s because of my focus on educational technology, but I find on-demand, video-based tutorials and courses extremely helpful. Lynda.com and Udemy are both excellent resources to learn a range of new skills from software applications to productivity strategies. You might also consider enrolling in or auditing courses on your campus or those available online. Finally, teaching centers can be extremely helpful for new resources, workshops and training experiences on new teaching strategies.
- Leverage social media to connect with and learn from others.
It’s only recently that I’ve started to really understand the potential for connecting with others via social networks – Twitter in particular. I’ve never really been into Facebook or Instagram personally, and I think this has made it a more difficult transition to using social media as a personal learning tool. The more I engage in Twitter, the more I see its value. Whether it’s through following particular hashtags related to teaching and learning or by connecting directly with other “Tweeps,” I’ve made really valuable connections and unearthed resources that I never would have through the other components of my PLN.
So, what next? I’d encourage you to consider some of the possible components that might contribute to your own PLN. Think about the format that works best for you. Also, consider identifying a range of different sources, rather than emphasizing a single one (e.g., professional journals). Then, try it out for a few months. You’re never really done with your PLN. You’ll continually add to and subtract from the components you develop. And while the journey is a process, you’ll learn more about teaching and learning in your field, and about yourself.
So, what is one “must have” component to your own PLN?
Please post your comments below.