Building Professional Learning Networks

For this weeks module, we were tasked with researching digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment. For my post, I wanted to focus on best learning practices and how educators can seek to build learning networks that explore and evaluate digital tools. PLNs are an essential part of lifelong learning for teachers.  A PLN consists of the people you informally learn from and share ideas with, as well as the resources, tools, and materials that support your learning.

With a strong professional learning network we can:

  • Locate classroom resources and develop lesson ideas
  • Find solutions to challenges you face in the classroom
  • Build your own digital literacy skills and learn how to integrate these skills in the classroom
  • Establish collaborations to conduct research or set up professional development opportunities

How to Build a Professional Learning Network:

As we’ve seen, personal learning networks (PLNs) can include both face-to-face and virtual connections. Developing collaborative face-to-face relationships with the teachers in your local area is an essential part of growing your PLN.

Developing Face to Face Options:

  1. Lunch and Learn
  2. Peer Observation Groups
  3. Action Research Groups
  4. Mini Conferences

Developing Virtual PLN Options:

Benefits: While face-to-face networking is invaluable to your PLN, virtual engagement offers many benefits:

  • Connecting anytime, anywhere, with anyone:  using the web can help you overcome networking barriers related to time, place, and social distance.
  • Opportunities to reflect:  online discussion forums, blogs, and courses can encourage you to reflect on and comment on your teaching practice.
  • Finding information or support:  as a consumer of information in your network, your virtual PLN can help you solve classroom challenges, learn about new methodologies and teaching techniques, locate resources, and find mentors who might not be available locally. 
  • Sharing your expertise and ideas:  as a producer of information in your virtual network, you can help others by talking about your experiences, classroom lessons learned, and research findings.  You can also mentor others.
  • Modeling how to be a master learner:  building an online presence and learning how to work with e-tools shows your colleagues and students that you are intellectually curious and willing to invest time in your own professional learning.
  • Developing your professional reputation and identity:  establishing an online presence and participating in virtual discussions and e-courses helps others in our field get to know you. Depending on the media you use (blogs, social media tools, collecting e-certificates from online courses, etc.), you create a visible record of your commitment to professional development and lifelong learning, information that may be of interest to colleagues and prospective employers.

Possible Virtual PLN Components

  • Blogs – short for “web logs,” web-hosted sites that teachers use to share reflections, ideas, and resources
  • Webinars (short for “web seminars”), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), other online courses
  • Established online PLNs for educators, such as Edmodo
  • Social media platforms
    • Social networking sites, such as Ning communities, Facebook, and LinkedIn
    • Microblogging platforms, such as Twitter
    • Social bookmarking sites, such as Diigo and Delicious
    • Content sharing sites, such as YouTube, Instagram, and Pintrest
    • Collaborative content development platforms, such as Google Drive tools
  • E-mail – direct messages and listservs (e-mail lists that teachers can subscribe to)
  • Instant messaging, chat rooms….and more!

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