What is a Personal Learning Network?

As an educator, it’s important to understand everything that shapes your students’ education, both inside and outside of the classroom. You’re trained to study lesson plans and develop learning strategies and abide by district-wide standards. But what about your own development as an educator? What rules exist to help you maintain your professional growth?

As a student, it’s also important to understand what impacts your intellectual growth. Believe it or not, the people you interact with have as much of an impact on your education and mental well-being as the worksheets you diligently tackle, the essays you write, and the textbook chapters you’re assigned to absorb. So how do we create opportunities outside of traditional tools? Where can students collaborate and learn from a variety of different professionals?

Many believe the answer is in personal learning networks.

In short, a personal learning network (PLN) is a group of people who you connect with to increase your knowledge of a particular subject.

We’re breaking down this definition into three parts, so you understand exactly what a personal learning network is and how to use it to your educational advantage.

What’s Personal?

A PLN is personal for two reasons. One, you shape absolutely everything about it.

You personalize exactly who you want in your network, what you want to share, where you want to engage with people, and what you’re interested in learning about. Everyone approaches a PLN differently depending on their preferences and individual goals. Some log onto a network solely to listen to the conversation. Others prefer sharing more of their personal findings, ideas, or reflections and listening for feedback.

You also pick the platform. Many prefer online forums and chat rooms, social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube, and online portals specialized for PLNs like Educators PLN. PLNs typically occur on social networking sites, and we all know how personalized social tech can feel. Use video, use chat rooms, share photos and text, see each other’s faces. Or don’t. You pick the way you engage with others based on your needs and learning-based preferences.

Second, while you don’t need to know people in your PLN personally, you will form personal connections with them based on shared ideas and experiences. Everyone has a different energy, personality, and perspective. Collaboration only serves to enhance that excitement and that personalized passion for teaching.

So, what’s personalized? The who, what, when, and where of your experience, in addition to the energy surrounding you. Every PLN is different depending on who brings what to the table, so yours is guaranteed to feel unique.

How to Learn?

Collaboration is at the heart of growth and development. You’ll be amazed who in your field will say something you’ve never thought of, or mention a point of view you’ve never considered.

If you’re an educator speaking with other educators, depending on where they teach, who their students are, what tools they’ve used in the classroom, and what their background is, you’ll uncover learning opportunities for your students that you’ve never considered implementing.

On sites like Educators PLN, common discussion topics include teaching strategies, discipline methods, cutting edge software, and hot topic educational issues. Thanks to the widespread reach of Internet access, users contribute national and global perspectives.

Where to Network?

As previously mentioned, most of this learning happens online on social networking sites. But the heart of every network isn’t the platform, but the people who enrich conversations with unique backgrounds and specializations.

It’s also important to consider platforms like Wikipedia or YouTube for quick, often technical questions that can be answered with a quick search and the tap of a play button. While these may not be the sites you imagine enriching your professional development, they provide answers without you having to bother colleagues, and, if used correctly, can be valuable tools for everyday use.

We also recommend platforms like Hootsuite to organize online feeds and conversation threads, Instapaper to bookmark and save articles and Evernote to capture annotated resources quickly.

Why is this Important to Educators?

PLNs are useful for everyone, no matter the profession.

However, they’re especially important for educators because it’s likely a school district lacks the funding to support teachers with professional development.

You may not have access to pricey seminars and up-to-date software, so create your own tool and join a PLN.

Who Else?

Many believe that students themselves can benefit from personal learning networks. Check out this Ted Talk that suggests we allow students to seek out their own resources and their own team of educators under the direction of existing teachers. Kids need to collaborate for their own personal growth, so why not provide them with the tools to do so while they’re still in a classroom with four distinct walls?

Get Started Now

Get on Twitter, start a blog, reach out to professionals on LinkedIn, attend webinars, take online courses and subscribe to content produced by fellow educators. Take control and enrich your classroom with a PLN perfect for you and the students you’re responsible for.

Choose your Reaction!