The Importance of a PLN. . .

In response to a recent blog post that I wrote about Twitter as a tool for learning, Pauline—a college student following my blog as a part of a class project—wrote:

I'm still working on my PLN, but I'm failing to see the importance of it. I think that most of the time when people have questions, they just research and read blogs and websites and so forth when the question arises.

I could be wrong, of course. I know that's how I think. I'm following a few people on twitter for my EDM class, but again, I'm failing to see why it's so important. Maybe you can explain it better?

Good questions, Pauline—and for many people who are new to building a PLN, their benefits might seem sketchy at best simply because we've become so comfortable with our current learning practices and processes. 

I can tell you, though, that my own digital learning network has changed the way that I work.  In fact, rarely a day goes by that I don't learn something—a teaching technique, how to use a new tool, what's happening in the world of education beyond my own building—-from the people that I join together with online. 

Let me point you to a few posts that I've written that might convince you to invest a bit more time into your PLN building efforts:

Twitter as a Tool for Professional Development

In this post, I give several practical reasons why I've decided to use Twitter to build a PLN.  It's a great post if you're interested in an overview of why digital forums can be sources for real learning for teachers. 


Lathered Brilliance, Superman Underoos and Social Media Spaces

In this post from my blog—which started with a few thoughts in the shower—I give a tangible example of how my own personal learning network made my life easier by pointing me immediately to thoughts and resources that I needed.  It's connected to the idea that environments that build walls stifle innovation.  PLNs are the ultimate wall-busters. 

 

Why Teachers Should Try Twitter

In this article for Educational Leadership magazine, I work to explain how Twitter has served as a tool for customizing my professional development—tailoring it to meet my own professional needs—-which is something that rarely happens in the typical school setting.  I also introduce some of the nuts and bolts details behind how to go about building your PLN.

 

Technology Facilitates Connections

As I explain in this post, I believe that all true learning depends on connections between individuals.  I push your thinking.  You push mine.  We both learn together.  Those are skills that are enabled when one builds a PLN using digital tools because we can make our thinking transparent to more people, more often.  What really drives me is a desire to start teaching my own students to use digital tools in the same way. 

 

Twitter Hashtags for Educators

One of the reasons that I think many people underestimate Twitter is because they haven't figured out how to use hashtags to search for content that might be valuable to them.  Even if you aren't actively networking in Twitter, you can still quickly find content connected to your work by searching through the links that I share in this post and in this post.

 

Does any of this make sense to you?  I think if I had to summarize the importance of building a PLN, I"d say something like, "PLNs help teachers to refine their core beliefs, to test their newest hunches, to find likeminded peers, and to efficiently access a constant stream of valuable resources."

Radical readers, do you have any additional thoughts for Pauline?  Why is your PLN important to you?  What steps or strategies should someone interested in building a PLN take first?  What other resources on PLNs can you share with her?

Let's fill up the comment section with a collection of our best thinking on the role that PLNs can play in the learning of today's teacher. 

7 comments

  1. Briancollege33

    I am already convinced that a collaborative approach is the hallmark of a great classroom, now I see how twitter can add in professional development. Call me a recent convert and thanks for the hashtag listing.

  2. John Faig

    I agree with Meredith and prefer to meet with people than chat electronically. Truth be told, the beer meeting mentioned by the previous commenter sounds like the best idea of all! The sad fact is that there is precious little downtime for teachers to meet with other teachers on a casual basis. On the rare chance that teachers have some common free time, they are always thinking about some unfinished task. Good luck trying to meet with more than one other teacher. Teachers use their free time to help students, grade, prep, or respond to one of the millions of parent and student e-mails. As a result, I like to network electronically when I am out of school and relaxing at home. I also enjoy perspectives from teachers at other schools

  3. twitter.com/mrscienceteach

    I agree with Meredith that the “personal” part of PLN is what I tend to value the most. Having a beer with folks whom I respect is an experience I remember long after the conference is over. In fact, I often have the best conference experiences when I spend most of the time talking and sharing ideas with others.
    But, I think that Twitter and blog comments help to set the stage for those interactions. That’s critical for me.

  4. Tiffany Morris

    Mr. Ferriter,
    I attend the University of South Alabama and am a student of Dr. Strange. I am taking his EDM 310 class. We have been instructed to build our own PLN, and I, too, was unaware of how important this can be. I am used to my own style of learning. However, after reading this post and your post about Twitter, I understand how collaborating with others can benefit everyone. I am now more interested in expanding my PLN, and I thank you for clarifying its importance.

  5. Matt Townsley

    “they just research and read blogs and websites and so forth when the question arises.”
    Personal learning network, broadly defined, includes the writers of the blogs and websites a person would read to answer these questions. So, Pauline, the people you are referencing are part of a “PLN”, just not the part of a PLN that you’re probably thinking about…twitter followers. Here’s a piece by David Warlick which explains PLNs better than I can: http://davidwarlick.com/wiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ConceptMapPLN

  6. Bill Ferriter

    Meredith wrote:
    The beauty of human beings is that they can offer much more sophisticated reactions than blogs and websites, which sometimes don’t offer any reaction at all. Websites are great for information, but rarely is that all I’m looking for. For me then, the value of connecting to colleagues across the world is just that, the connection, not necessarily the information.
    Great stuff, Meredith. I couldn’t agree more. The most important “takeaway” I get from my own network of co-learners is the relationship that I share with them.
    Their willingness to push against my thinking wherever it is shared improves who I am as a thinker.
    And my only beef with the term PLN is that it is getting really buzzwordy!
    I don’t want to see an important concept—-that individuals can use digital tools to craft a customized network of minds to learn from—-to be lost in the craze that inevitably follows any buzzword in education.
    Rock on,
    Bill

  7. Meredith (@msstewart)

    I think some of the value of connecting with colleagues (Not a big fan of the PLN term) depends on the kind of difficulty/challenge for which you want to use it. The beauty of human beings is that they can offer much more sophisticated reactions than blogs and websites, which sometimes don’t offer any reaction at all. Websites are great for information, but rarely is that all I’m looking for. For me then, the value of connecting to colleagues across the world is just that, the connection, not necessarily the information. That’s not to discount the great links, etc. that I get from Twitter or sites like the English Companion Ning but to say that it often pales in comparison to the conversations that happen (via email, Skype, in-person) and the relationships that form. It’s like asking why do you need friends if you can hire someone to come to your parties. It’s just different.