How to Develop a Personal Learning Network

Instructor: Maryalice Leister

Maryalice has taught secondary and college English and trained new online teachers, and has a master's degree in Online Teaching and Learning.

PLN is the acronym used for the coming together of professionals for the purpose of learning. The Internet provides unlimited possibilities in what a professional learning network looks like and how educators can develop their own.

Why a Personal Learning Network?

The noise in the high school hallway is deafening, filled with student chatter and slamming locker doors. You stand alone in your empty classroom, wondering yet again how to reach the persistently unreachable students who just filed out at the bell and really, can anyone help you learn the tech tools that would better engage all your students. You know there has to be a way to get the help and support you need.

A personal learning network is a perfect solution and can be as simple as meeting regularly with one other trusted professional who is also looking to problem solve or embrace current tech trends. It can also be as extensive as a network of hundreds online who are focusing on the same questions or needs. Your job is to determine how you will go about connecting and with whom, what you want to accomplish, and how soon you can start!

Taking a few steps to frame the network as a professional learning event not only formalizes the learning but provides a way to organize what is learned for greater impact. After all, a teacher's life is busy, and a successful intervention and process as a result of trial and error can be easily forgotten in the week to week building of lesson plans. The PLN process will hold you accountable, benefit all involved and clearly demonstrate why you have entered into a PLN commitment.

Step One: The Reflection

Advance reflection on what the questions are and where the answers might be found is important. Some key decisions should be made as you prepare to reach out:

  • What is the amount of time you are willing to devote each week to networking with peers?
  • Is networking more beneficial when conducted in one place or across several venues?
  • Who should be included in the network, for what reasons, and can it change over time?
  • How will the participants collect and share data and information?

All of these questions are important to make your PLN a productive and satisfying experience, one that will benefit all those involved directly or indirectly: yourself, teachers, students, parents, and administrators. While not every stakeholder will factor into your immediate network process, the ripple effect will inevitably move outward to reach all with whom you interact.

The ability to explain why you are networking and the results of that process are important to your success. Make the commitment in advance to be a reflective learner, not only during the initial decision on focus, but throughout the process. A large number of online tools and apps are available for personal note taking or journaling to get you started and organize your focus and commitment.

Step Two: The Plan

Now that you know what networks you need and who you would like to include, it is time to start building. First and foremost, begin asking those you want to be part of the process. Maybe you already know who they are because the reason for the networking has grown from a specific departmental or school need, but the time has come to make it a formal commitment.

Provide a question or two to answer, the potential path your discussions or research will take, and the anticipated outcome. Choose a process that fits your needs, one that you feel confident will have easy follow through, be engaging, and accomplish your goals. If your first choice is that hour after school with department members but it is likely to be canceled for other meetings and activities, decide instead to work online through Google Hangouts or a simple blog conversation. Don't be afraid to change meeting places or times by mutual agreement if responsibilities change. Remember: a professional learning network is yours to define.

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