Creating Professional Learning Networks, Discovering New Content, and Growing Professionally


Creating Professional Learning Networks, Discovering New Content, and Growing Professionally

Chris Thompson headshot
Chris Thompson
SEEC Data Specialist

Welcome back to the last installment of the Digital Skills for Teachers for the 2017-2018 school year! I would like to congratulate you for sticking it out with me this far, and for all of the effort you have put in throughout the year to help ensure that students have the best learning experiences possible.  Summer is quickly approaching which means some much needed time off and some good old R&R. However, just because school is not in session, does not necessarily mean that the learning stops after the final bell.  Similar to preventing the “summer slide” in students, educators can prevent their own summer slide by engaging in a different type of R&R – Research and Relationship building. This month’s article will address the benefits of participating in professional learning networks (PLNs) and other ways to ensure that educators stay at the top of their game.

What are professional learning networks?

Professional learning networks represent one way in which educators can perpetuate their learning during the summer and throughout the year.  Many definitions for professional (or personal) learning networks exist, but one definition provided by Jane Hart is “A network of trusted connections with whom an individual interacts (and learns from) on a regular basis.”[i]  Essentially, a PLN represents an entity in which you “gather, collect, communicate, create and also share knowledge and experience with a group of connected people, anywhere at any time.”Professional learning networks may be facilitated in person or online, but the focus of this article will be on groups that are accessible via online means.  For a brief snapshot of what a Personal Learning Network is please watch this short video here. [1:39]

In the world of education, a number of PLNs exist that are focused on certain topics, grade levels, and even for different positions or roles (e.g. administrators, teachers, special educators, etc.).  Although the true essence behind PLNs is for continued learning, PLNs can provide a host of different benefits.  An article by TeachThought summarized 10 different benefits for engaging in a PLN which are shown below:

  1. Find great resources, lesson plans, and conferences
  2. Share your resources and ideas
  3. Following amazing educators and their blogs (or social media accounts)
  4. Get support when needed
  5. Make international connections
  6. Flatten your classroom walls
  7. Collaborate globally on projects
  8. Find round-the-clock inspiration
  9. Learn the latest trends in education
  10. Never run out of ideas for new things to try with your students

As you can see, PLNs can provide a number of different benefits, and many people like them because of the level of flexibility with which one can participate.  However, if one is looking for a group of specific educators who meet on a regular basis, then it may take some time to find the group that fits your specific needs.

How can I start building my professional learning networks?

Fortunately, with the prevalence of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram) and many resources being curated and made available online, one can begin creating and expanding their professional learning network instantly.  Some tips on building a PLN provided by Tom Whitby (an education blogger) include the following:

  • Create a Twitter account that is focused on following educators
    • For more tips on using Twitter for your PLN check out this article
  • Build a circle of connected educators on Google+
  • Follow education blogs
  • Follow education chats that are specific to your content area
  • Join and participate in education groups on Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Accept invitations to collaborate

Once you have begun following people or groups that are related to the content/professionals with which you want to interact, it may be helpful to set up some accounts on online bookmarking or curation tools such as Diigo or Evernote to help you keep your information organized.  In my January 2018 digital skills article, I highlight various bookmarking and organizing tools that are useful for educators (read here).  Outside of setting up accounts and getting tools in place, do not be afraid to ask questions and see who other members of professional learning network are following or connecting with.

Alright, I’m sold…who should I be following to get started?

Disclaimer:  The following list is not comprehensive, and the discussions/content presented in each may not be representative of this author and/or the South East Education Cooperative.  The author and the SEEC are not financially supported by any of the groups listed.  It is recommended that you use this list as a starting point to help you establish your own professional learning network.



People on Twitter

Twitter Chats

Digital Skills article series recap

This article is the final installment of a larger article series focused on Digital Skills for 21st Century teachers discovered through an Infographic from Below is the schedule of digital skills that were addressed each month.  If you, or someone you know, is using technology effectively to engage in any of these skills find the appropriate article and post about it in the comments section!



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