Getting Involved with a Digital PLN
Teaching is, by nature, a collaborative and community-driven profession. Over the past few decades or so, this need for professional teamwork has evolved into the concept of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).
While the PLN moniker itself has a foggy origin, it is generally accepted to mean a group of colleagues and fellow educators that can turn to each other for professional support, advice, and discussion. These communities share useful information, best practices, and moral support in an effort to grow both as educators and as active learners.
In the digital age, this PLN concept has taken on a new life as educators from around the globe can now collaborate and share with each other. Creating a digital PLN is a tremendous way to improve your teaching practice. What’s more, it’s easier to get started than you might think!
The Best Digital PLN Platforms
Before jumping into a digital PLN, you need to have access to the necessary tools. While there are numerous sites and forums dedicated to teacher collaboration, some of the best PLN activity is happening on social media networks.
Twitter is one of the best social media outlets for active PLN growth and participation. Its low barrier to entry (simply setup an account and go) means teachers of all digital comfort levels can connect with each other and participate in authentic, engaging mutual support. Most importantly, there is a robust “Twitter chat” scene filled with educators ready to share, learn, and connect.
Twitter chats are regularly scheduled conversations on Twitter focused on specific topics. Joining in on these conversations is a great way to grow your digital PLN and share your own expertise at the same time. The true value of these chats comes from the small-group conversations that inevitably spin off from the main discussion. It is in these deeper dives that more meaningful connections get made.
It is worth noting that there is a slight learning curve involved to make sure your contributions to Twitter chat conversations are seen by the participants. There are plenty of helpful guides to walk you through the basics. Furthermore, free web tools like TweetDeck are available to help make the process even easier.
- Huge population of active educators
- Easy to use platform
- Hundreds of regularly scheduled “Twitter Chats” on a wide variety of educational topics
- Free tools like TweetDeck help keep engagement organized
- 140 Character limit can feel restrictive and lead to overgeneralization
- Popular chats and topics can turn into overwhelming, difficult to follow conversations
- “Tweets” are visible to everyone on the internet
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a social media platform dedicated to making professional connections is a great way for those in the education profession to connect. LinkedIn strips out much of the social part of social media (think kitten videos, unsolicited political views, and family vacation pictures) and leaves users with a clean, business-first networking tool.
For educators there are a number of LinkedIn groups worth joining to share news, ideas, and materials. Joining these groups typically requires an invite or request to do so. As daunting as that sounds, the gatekeepers typically only request information regarding your interests, experience, and reasons for seeking membership. As long as your profile (a glorified digital resume) is up to date, some variation on “looking to grow my digital PLN and share my experiences with others” should be enough to get you inside most LinkedIn education groups.
This extra barrier to entry is just another layer of protection ensuring that communities remain free from the spam and nonsense that can easily infiltrate more open social media platforms.
If you are looking for a way to participate in a digital PLN without fear of being overly exposed to the rest of the World Wide Web, LinkedIn is a solid choice.
- Professional network rather than a social one
- Interactions are only shared with those you have chosen to connect with
- User profiles are essentially resumes – you can take users’ experience into account when evaluating advice
- Finding and joining a group requires more effort than other networking platforms
- Some groups are more focused on self-promotion than real, professional collaboration
The internet has plenty of other platforms where teachers have come together to form learning communities. Traditional social media venues like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest all have sizable pockets of active teacher participation. Similarly, Google Educator Groups are good options for educators interested in supporting each other with Google’s educational technology initiatives.
Newcomer Slack is emerging as a venue for digital PLNs looking for a more robust, asynchronous channel for sharing insights and materials. There is no character limit and file sharing with fellow group members is easy. Like LinkedIn, membership is curated by the individual groups so there is a degree of participant accountability to keep discussions on track.
Whatever option you choose, growing your own Personal Learning Network is a surefire way to become a more collaborative and engaged educator.
Sheldon Soper is a New Jersey middle school teacher with over a decade of classroom experience teaching students to read, write, and problem-solve across multiple grade levels. He holds teaching certifications in English, Social Studies, and Elementary Education as well as Bachelor's and Master's degrees in the field of education. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education, technology, and parenting websites. You can follow Sheldon on Twitter @SoperWritings and on his blog.