Growing Your Personal Learning Network

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Professional Learning
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Growing your PLNSummertime is here. It’s every teacher’s favorite season. In addition to having time to relax, summer is the perfect time for learning something new professionally – without the daily pressure of school work. A wonderful thing about the Internet is that makes it easy to learn new skills and connect with like-minded individuals. Many educators embrace this concept wholeheartedly and have used some online, interactive tools to grow their own personal learning networks.

A personal learning network (PLN) has always existed through our workplaces. A PLN is a way to share ideas and collaborate with others. The learner interacts with other professionals to share and acquire new information and skills. We still have our traditional places to share information: the teacher’s workrooms, professional development sessions provided by our schools, and other opportunities such as workshops, conferences, and grad courses.  Now, however, the virtual world is beginning to overtake traditional methods by offering many different types of online experiences where educators can learn and collaborate. Best of all, a lot of it is free. Our PLNS become our own personal flipped classrooms. So grab a cold beverage, a device of your choosing, and find a comfy spot on your porch or patio to explore some virtual learning this summer.

Email and Listservs

This may seem like an old-timer’s method to Millennials and Generation Z, but it is the “quick and dirty” method of having interesting posts delivered to your inbox. You probably already belong to a professional organization that hosts a listserv or elist of like-minded educators, or that at least sends out periodic newsletters of interest. If the shared information is not helpful or interesting, don’t be afraid to scroll to the bottom of the message and look for the “unsubscribe” button. Some lists have their own rules for unsubscribing, based on twenty-year-old pre-graphical interface software, so be sure to save the first welcome message to the list that will tell you how to unsubscribe.  

You may need to learn how to control and organize this mail. Gmail has a wonderful “mute” button that automatically archives additional comments of a particular discussion. Gmail and other mail applications such as Outlook have many ways to filter, organize, and save messages, making it easier to keep up and glean the best.

Free Educational Communities

Teachers love to share knowledge about their profession and how to enhance teaching and learning. Fortuitously, there are so many sites organized just to do that.

TeachersFirst: Of course, our number one favorite is TeachersFirst. “TeachersFirst is an online community for teachers by teachers. With thousands of lessons, units, and reviewed web resources for K-12 classroom teachers, our website is designed to enrich teaching and learning for both teachers and their students.” Besides an amazing collection of online resources and ideas for the classroom, TeachersFirst offers Ok2Ask,  a series of live, online hands-on virtual workshops for teacher professional development. OK2Ask sessions are free and provide certificates of participation which may be used towards professional development credits at your school. Be sure to join TeachersFirst so that you can take advantage of member benefits such as saving resources and creating a customized start page, just a small part of what TeachersFirst offers. This incredible free, robust site offers a professional social and learning network for just about any educator. Two activities make this the main base of many PLNs: sharing by members in a special interest group called a “Community,” and webinars given by educational leaders and innovators. Join and choose a “Community” to belong. Register for webinars, watch recordings, earn CE certificates, and read posts by other members.

Social Media Tools

Twitter, has become one of the most powerful tools for PLNs, providing immediate sharing and feedback for teachers. Watch this Ok2Ask webinar for getting started on Twitter. Watch this Ok2Ask’®: Tech it Out: Twitter for Teachers (and the classroom) for more helpful tips. Jerry Blumengarten’s Cybraryman has some of the best suggestions for educational hashtags and Twitter chats .

Check out this TeachersFirst Ok2Ask session for more ideas on using social media for your PLN

Blogs might seem a bit old school now, too, but they can be the best places to learn from thoughtful, innovative teachers. Find a blog to follow at this site, Teach 100, A Daily Ranking of Education Blogs

Whatever you decide to include in your personal learning network, make sure that it is fun, stimulating and enjoyable, just as all meaningful learning should be. Remember even in the summer, you should “learn something new every day.”


About the author: Paula Deal

Retired high school media specialist, Paula Deal, has been a pioneer in many shifts in the library sciences throughout her career. Paula contributes a monthly column on research, digital citizenship and other ways to find and use media resources in the classroom.