The digital world offers many ways of connecting with fellow professionals beyond your typical day and location. Instead of waiting for the weekly professional development meeting or your planning period to connect with your school bestie, educators can access Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) and get suggestions, answers and numerous perspectives within a few minutes. Innovating Pedogogy (2016) states, “Where the pedagogy is successful, social media can give learners reliable and interesting content, as well as opportunities to access expert advice, to encounter challenges, to defend their views and to amend their ideas in the face of criticism”. Within the PLN we connect, relate, and create at any hour; without the constraints of school and district guidelines. How does this way of learning support our students and our practice?
PLNs are different than the yearly Professional Learning Community (PLC) teachers often participate in for one main reason; they expand beyond a community and are accessible by an often uncontrolled group of professionals who vary in buy-in from curiosity to experts. PLNs are evidence of our connections to each other by our professional digital identity. The theory of connectivism explains this new way of learning. According to (Mattar, 2018), “Connectivism or distributed learning is proposed as a theory more adequate to the digital age, when action is needed without personal learning, using information outside of our primary knowledge”. Within the PLN teachers are able to access knowledge that from educators who have similar questions, roles, and hopefully answers regarding what you want to learn about. You can read more about how PLNs can be supported by PLCs in Vicki Davis’s Modern Professional Learning: Connecting PLCs With PLNs
ISTE Coaching Standard 3.G states that coaches should focus on using “digital communication and collaboration tools to communicate locally and globally with students, parents, peers, and the larger community”. The PLN is a prime example of The Tripple E in action to support educational professionals within the digital learning sphere. “The Triple E Framework, developed in 2011 by Professor Liz Kolb at the University of Michigan, School of Education, was created to address the desire for K-12 educators to bridge research on education technologies and teaching practice in the classroom”. Educators are able to extend their own learning, enhance the experiences of students through the shared perspectives of others while engaging with like-minded professionals from all over the world.
So just how should we use digital communication and collaborative technologies in professional learning? It is as simple as joining and responding to the Facebook group, or as complicated as participating in the live Twitter Feed discussion. These experiences are better when they have someone to set the tone of the collaboration, monitor and manage the material posted when conversations get heated, and play digital housekeeping from time to time.
“In a recent survey, Teachers Network found that 80 percent of teachers said network participation encouraged them to remain in the classroom, while 90 percent said that networking improved their teaching practice”. Edutopia expands on the PLN possibilities in Resources for Growing Your Professional Learning Network. These opportunities have been around for years and are full of knowledge if you know how to access it. PLNs have the power to support you and your school bestie as you design that next unit, or offer a little support while you take a risk to utilize new technology to support the learning in your classrooms. Your empowerment within a PLN could feel endless; I encourage you to experience some of the positive consequences of practice within the digital world by engaging in a PLN.
A few final words of advice for Professional Learning Networks based on personal experience:
- The power is in the collaboration, and quality collaboration is based on respect.
- Ask clear questions so others can help you find quality answers and solutions.
- Do not judge someone who takes a moment to vent, instead offer solutions and perspective. Kindness always wins and sometimes it is easier to turn to a social network platform than people you have to work with every day.
- Give back! Take a few moments to share your thinking when someone reaches out. It is important to fill the bucket that you are willing to take from.
Enjoy the endless opportunity to Connect, Relate, and Create.
Creative Commons. (n.d.). Triple E Framework. Retrieved August 12, 2019, from https://www.tripleeframework.com
Davis, V. (2015, November 11). Modern Professional Learning: Connecting PLCs With PLNs. Retrieved August 12, 2019, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/modern-professional-learning-plc-pln-vicki-davis
ISTE | ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2019, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Mattar, J. (2018). Constructivism and connectivism in education technology: Active, situated, authentic, experiential, and anchored learning. RIED. Revista Iberoamericana de Educación a Distancia, 21(2), 201. https://doi.org/10.5944/ried.21.2.20055
Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Teachers Network – Free Lesson Plans, Educational Resources & Videos for Teachers, Educators & Instructors. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2019, from http://teachersnetwork.org