20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network

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January 3rd, 2013 31 Comments Features

Personal Learning Network

Networking is a prime form of 21st century learning.  The world is much smaller thanks to technology.  Learning is transforming into a globally collaborative enterprise.  Take for example scientists; professional networks allow the scientific community to share discoveries much faster.

Just this month, a tech news article showcased how Harvard scientists are considering that “sharing discoveries is more efficient and honorable than patenting them.”  This idea embodies the true spirit of a successful professional learning network: collaboration for its own sake. 

As educators, we aim to be connected to advance our craft.  On another level, we hope to teach students to use networks to prepare for them for a changing job market.  But what is the best way to approach PLNs?

Learning networks are based on the theory of connectivism, or learning from diverse social webs.  Connectivism implies that learning relies on communicating ideas with others.  PLNs facilitate learning through meaningful interactions.  The advantages of PLNs today are two-fold.  In one way, they can improve classroom teaching and help develop new projects. On the other hand, they act as a form of communal intelligence that changes societal perceptions. 

What are some ways to grow your PLN and improve the quality of your interactions?  As you will see, there are diverse ways to build your network and many new management tools.   Here are some simple tips:

10 Tips For Using PLN’s

  1. Keep the spirit of collaboration as your driving force.  PLNs are all about working together.  Be reciprocal and resourceful.  Don’t think about what you have to gain, first think about what you have to give. Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do.  By buying into the process and sharing useful information, your PLN grows naturally.  Collaboration creates a common ground and allows others to see your interests.  Genuine interest builds a solid, authentic network.  Try to see the big picture of how your ideas can change the world.  Social responsibility is the best kind of motivation for establishing a PLN. 
  2. Join an online community.  Nings are online rings of people with similar interests. Sharing ideas and contacting people for direct feedback is more effective in a community setting.   Communities such as, Classroom 2.0  and The Educator’s PLN provide a meaningful circle of experts.  They provide professional development resources, such as online events, and are a great place to start networking.  Plus, using Mightybell, Edmodo, or Ning you can create your own virtual space to share pictures, documents, calendars, or projects. 
  3. Join a Meetup group.  Meetups are common thread interest groups that meet in the real world.  The groups can also extend in social networks.  For instance, social studies teachers in your district or city might create a group to share teaching ideas.  Meetups take online networks and bring them into the real world.  And if you can’t meet online try using a cyberspace, like Google+ HangOut, SecondLife, or Skype. Some university academics even have virtual labs on SecondLife.
  4. Become a beacon of light.  PLNs rely on open sharing of information.  So if you know something, share it!  It’s best to start with a specific interest and then grow into other topics as time goes on. Become an expert in your niche by researching current trends.  This will draw a larger following on your network, because you can provide a novel source of information.  You might write a blog, start a Scoopit page to repost interesting articles, share a free tool, or create a Youtube video.  Cater to your strengths and use what’s comfortable for you.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  After all, PLNs are all about learning.  But don’t ask questions that you can easily research yourself.  Try simple searches on TED talks, Wikis, blogs, or news articles before posting a question. Try to be specific and think of how a question might generate interest from others.  For example, you may want to refer to an article or research study when asking a question.  Be specific!  This will generate the best answers.
  6. Be an active participant.  Brain power is the main asset of a PLN.  Spend some time to identify a specific cause and communicate it on your profile.  Let your knowledge of a specific cause help grow your PLN.  Keep up to date with your niche.  Stay relevant.  Try to post at least once a week.
  7. Remember to be polite and acknowledge contributions to the rightful owner. Show common respect for the people in your network.  This may seem like common sense, but can be a pitfall.  It took me some time to learn “web etiquette” over the years, but it has helped me tremendously.   Send thank you notes, acknowledgements, and use your true voice.  Not only does it make the other person’s day, but it will help you gain more meaningful connections. 
  8. Designate a professional and personal account.  I keep my social life on Facebook and my professional life on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.  There can be some crossover, but it’s best to keep it minimal so things are easy to find.  Certain groups will appreciate different types of content.  Your Facebook friends might find your baby’s stories adorable, but your Twitter followers might not appreciate extra messages cluttering their inbox.  Do this in ways that are comfortable to you.  You might designate accounts for each sphere of your life.   
  9. Create a landing page.  It may be a good idea to consolidate all of your accounts on a landing page.  A webpage or personal blog will make it easier for people to find you.  It will also create a space where you can showcase the different projects you are working on.
  10. Engage newbies.  It is best to include a mix of newbies, peers, and experts.  Having this type of diversity in knowledge allows you to increase your mentoring skills.  It keeps with the essence of collaboration.  One blogger in Australia provided a great visual and commentary on how varying levels of expertise are vital to developing a meaningful PLN.  He describes how he learned in a PLN learning MOOC that the 3’Rs have been replaced by the 3 C’s Collaborate, Communicate, and Create.  PLNS create new projects through the power of active collaboration.

10 Tools & Strategies for Establishing a Productive PLN

  1. Use Diigo, Evernote, Pocket, or Delicious to bookmark links.  You can access them anywhere and on any device.  For example, Diigo is like creating your own personal library.  Diigo is the preferred tool for educators.
    • It allows you to highlight paragraphs and clip pictures while you are reading.
    • You can bookmark a page in a “virtual” library or online archive, even PDFs or videos.  You can add your own tags to search for information later. 
    • Your entire school and class can add Diigo as a group, so that you can share resources.  For example, a chemistry class might share a digital periodic table, online lessons, or practice assignments.  Here is a great video about how to set up Diigo specifically for education.  They have specific accounts for educators to create a shared school library.
  2. Use a reader to subscribe to blogs.  Google reader allows you to manage multiple subscriptions to blogs. This allows easier access to new research.  You can also use an application like Scribd or Yahoo News Social to publically share what you read with others. 
  3. Establish your own platform. Consider establishing a blog site on WordPress or blogger.com.  A blog provides a worldwide stage to share your views of education. You can spread your passion and find kindred spirits.  From there, you can develop lasting connections and plan new projects.  Fellow bloggers will appreciate the time you put into creating meaningful materials. Your ideas can be then be re-shared as a link. Many teachers keep class webpage or use applications such as PB works to share ideas. 
  4. Share on Twitter first. Twitter reigns king, for now.  Anything can change with technology, but Twitter is the most commonly used tool among academics for expanding PLNs.  LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ also provide access to different types of networks. Later, you can use other tools to further expand and manage your network, such as Skype and Google tools. Many new platforms are emerging so stay current by reading tech or social media news on a site such as, Mashable.
  5. Consider your role. The article “Individual Learning” sheds some light on learning roles. Consider your learning style when designing a specific approach to your PLN:
    • Activist-Learning by doing, such as writing a blog.
    • Reflector- Learn by reviewing situations, such as posting opinions to articles.
    • Theorist-Prefer to learn by researching information and data, such as by creating a model.
    • Pragmatist-Apply learning to real situations, such as by creating a project that uses PLNs in the classroom.

    According to Wikipedia, PLN roles can include,searcher, assemblator, designer of data, innovator of subject matter, and researcher”. 

  6. Aggregate resources together. Applications like FlipToast and HootSuite allow you to merge all of your social media accounts into one interface. You may want to play around with different types of portals until you find the one that is right for you. Map out an organized plan for using your PLN. There is a great chart of resources for mapping out your PLN plan on this blog.
  7. Take a free course to learn about PLNs. MOOCs are Massive Online Open Courses that are free to the public.  For instance, this course complete with handouts shows you how to establish a PLN.  You learn actively by taking small steps to create your PLN, such as creating a blog, twitter account, and content.  
  8. Stay current with new tools. For example, try Pearltrees. This is one of my favorite new tools for PLNs.  Pearltrees is basically a visual organizer for your links.  Pearls are collaborative and public.  You can add pearls as you browse and share them with others on Twitter and Facebook.  Customize your experience.   There are many specific tools on different applications that allow you to customize and organize your PLN to fit your own needs.  Chrome and Windows 8 have several free applications that are worth trying.
  9. Simplify logins. You can speed up the log in process by installing a Password management application.  To further simply your PLN, use Google to keep a shared document drive, email, chat, and Google+ networking in one place. 
  10. Establish a classroom learning network. Share your own expertise with other educators on a website or blog.  Create a class website or teach students how to create their own PLN. You might want to design a classroom project that relies on using one aspect of PLNs.  Doing so allows you to learn new ways to use PLNs. A YouTube video, The Networked Student, does an excellent job of explaining how a student might engage in a PLN. Teach students how to establish a PLN in small steps.  For instance, they might use Google scholar to research a paper or share ideas on Google Hangouts. 

PLNs are a powerful change agent. And in today’s world an online professional learning network is indispensable.  Technology allows easy access to an unparalleled network of professional resources. Growing your network can lead to opportunities for professional growth and help change the future of education.

Feel free to add the InformED team on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

About 

Miriam Clifford holds a Masters in Teaching from City University and a Bachelor in Science from Cornell. She loves research and is passionate about education. She is a foodie and on her time off enjoys cooking and gardening. You can find her @miriamoclifford or Google+.

31 Responses

  1. […] 20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network […]

  2. Dwight Carter says:

    Miriam,

    This is an excellent list of what and how to establish a PLN! I especially appreciate all the links you include so that newbies can get started or others can enhance their PLN. I’ll share this post with my staff at Gahanna Lincoln High School. Thanks!

    Be Great,

    Dwight

  3. Fast Forword says:

    You made some good points .I did a little research on the topic of Academic Software in Brisbane.

  4. Jim Bellanca says:

    love this post. Lots of practical ideas! I will be digging into it more on my flight today to Sydney.

  5. […] 20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network […]

  6. Nice Article, really enjoyed reading!

  7. […] "Networking is a prime form of 21st century learning. The world is much smaller thanks to technology. Learning is transforming into a globally collaborative enterprise. Take for example scientists; professional networks allow the scientific community to share discoveries much faster.Just this month, a tech news article showcased how Harvard scientists are considering that “sharing discoveries is more efficient and honorable than patenting them.” This idea embodies the true spirit of a successful professional learning network: collaboration for its own sake."  […]

  8. […] on newsroom.opencolleges.edu.au Me gusta:Me gustaSe el primero en decir que te […]

  9. James McConville says:

    Great post – my suggestions. Would offer that educators avoid NING and other paid services in favour of twitter or G+. IMHO I’d rather have ads than have to pay a monthly.

    James
    http://www.mcconville.ca/

  10. […] 20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network by @miriamoclifford […]

  11. […] On 01/22/2013, in Australia, Connectivism, learning ecosystem, PLNs, by Daniel Christian 20 tips for creating a Professional Learning Network — from newsroom.opencolleges.edu.au by Miriam […]

  12. Miriam Clifford says:

    Thank you for all the positive feedback. It was my intention to provide practical solutions for educators to grow their PLN or start one. So glad to hear this is being shared with educational staff! James-I agree that free technologies are best. But the Nings I recommended in the article, educators can join for free. I believe the cost goes to the organization keeping the page. Please keep reading and commenting! -Miriam : )

  13. […] 20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network. Tagged as: collaboration , personal learning networks , […]

  14. […] Create a Facebook page just for your faculty group: Social media today is what cocktail parties were to coworkers back in the 1950s, but now professional and personal news is shared across the cloud rather than a crowded room. Borrow a page from your students and start sharing interesting articles, stories of funny teaching moments, and department information through a Facebook page just for you and your colleagues. Don’t be surprised when invitations start to fly back and forth; your department will become a friendlier one when there’s more informal, low-pressure contact. Just remember to keep it professional and preserve student confidentiality. Read more about creating a professional learning network. […]

  15. […] When it comes to avoiding burnout, Venosdale feels that the most important thing a teacher can do is to keep their love for learning alive and to connect and collaborate with other educators. […]

  16. […] and premium versions, and of course, there are many other options out there. And check out this InformEd blog post for additional […]

  17. […] a personal learning network (or PLN) can be another great way for students to take control of their learning. This is particularly true […]

  18. […] 2014, the development of a Personal Learning Environment and Personal Learning Network for each student is essential. The plethora of training information available needs to be trawled […]

  19. […] The Iliad. If you’re discussing 19th century US politics, talk about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Collaborate with other instructors to see what material students will identify with if you bring it up in your […]

  20. ttkodtks says:

    Thank you for all the positive feedback. It was my intention to provide practical solutions for educators to grow their PLN or start one. So glad to hear this is being shared with educational staff! James-I agree that free technologies are best. But the Nings I recommended in the article, educators can join for free. I believe the cost goes to the organization keeping the page. Please keep reading and commenting! -Miriam : )

  21. Sabrez Alam says:

    Hi Miriam,

    Creating a professional learning network is very important these days.

    You have posted some of the most important points in your post to make the best professional learning network.

    Thanks,
    Sabrez Alam
    Sabrez.com

  22. I’m very happy that I discovered this article. I was actually searching the web for a good post on PLNs and this one is by far the best I’ve found! I really like the 10 tips for using the professional learning networks that you mention. The ten point really took my attention, I never thought of engaging newbies for enhancing the overall collaboration, I’ve been always striving for experts. I will really start to follow your advice.

    Regarding the tools that you mention, although I use most of them, there are some that I’ve never heard of before. Thanks for putting them all together and sharing your knowledge unselfishly!

    Great job!

  23. Sokken says:

    This is an excellent list of what and how to establish a PLN! I especially appreciate all the links you include so that newbies can get started or others can enhance their PLN. Thanks!

  24. Thanks for sharing such a pleasant idea, article is good,
    thats why i have read it entirely

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  26. Marian,

    Thank you so much for your perspectives. I am beginning my seven week of my DBA program and establishing a PLN. Your advice is invaluable!

    Dianne

  27. Thanks for you tips, and I think your ideas is very useful for those who need to build confidence by trying in communication with other people by learning network.

  28. I recently came across your article and have been reading along. I want to express my admiration of your writing skill and ability to make readers read from the beginning to the end. I would like to read newer posts and to share my thoughts with you

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