We define a PLN as a trusted network of current and former colleagues or other people that are valuable to you as a professional or in other areas of your life. Rajagopal, Verjans, and Sloep (2012) refer to it as “the network of people a self-directed learner connects with for the specific purpose of supporting their learning”. The value of a PLN lies in the fact that the people in it provide access to the knowledge and expertise necessary for you to better perform your role (Milligan, Littlejohn, & Margaryan, 2014). According to them, many organisations now recognise the need for new organisational structures and workplace practices that support continuous learning to maximise innovation. To put it simply, these structures and practices, one of which could be a PLN, are critical for the organisation to survive in a competitive world as well as for individuals to help the organisation to survive so that they can keep their jobs. Another reason why a PLN is important is because work – and especially knowledge work – has become increasingly cross-disciplinary, which means that people with different skills work together to solve novel problems. In this context ‘training’ people doesn’t necessarily always make sense but effective planning and structuring your own learning and then interacting with others to learn does.
BUILDING A DIGITAL PLN
How can teachers create digital PLNs that are meaningful and powerful? Choosing a digital medium and connecting with other professionals can be overwhelming. It’s important to remember that, unlike with personal mentoring relationships, a PLN really doesn’t require a personal connection. You follow someone on Twitter who provides you with links to resources, inspiration, and advice through their tweets—they may not even realize how they’re helping you. And you can follow multiple role models for different purposes (e.g., one for subject-specific resources, another for general classroom management).
The first thing to consider when dipping your toe into a digital PLN is what you want out of it. Is a personal, reciprocal relationship important to you? Or are you happy quietly following a person or group online without much interaction? Are you seeking others to vent with and to share best practices and resources, or inspiration from innovative, cutting-edge teachers? You’ll also need to consider how you enjoy interacting online—do you lean toward visual, auditory, or textual learning and communication? This process may take some trial and error, but you’ll know once you’ve got the right fit.
There are a variety of social platforms you can use to create a PLN: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest.
Once you’ve determined your purpose and the platform that’s right for you, start seeking people to connect with and follow. I strongly suggest creating a professional account if you already have social media accounts. This will help you identify as a teacher seeking a PLN. Your username should reflect your purpose. For example, my teacher accounts use the name Teacherevolution, and my bio on these accounts clearly states my professional interests: English and literacy, secondary education, 21s-century learning, and inquiry-based learning. Many social media programs allow you to select interests or topics of interest to you, which will help you connect with other teachers.