Professional learning networks, or PLN’s, aim to bring together practitioners with a common goal. In education, this can mean keeping student and staff information secure, applying best practices when using educational technology, creating shared visions for school leadership, helping students become change agents and many others.
You may have a professional learning community within your school, district or organization, or you might have a departmental or grade level time meeting where you speak about hot button issues, challenges, and solutions. Even if you have those great resources, it is equally important to be part of a community outside of your immediate circle.
Whether you share information in person, asynchronously, via email or videochat, PLNs are lively spaces where people routinely share resources, start collaborations and have conversations about common concerns and practices that help you grow as an educator and expand your knowledge.
With so many platforms available to connect with people, it may seem overwhelming to get started. One easy way to begin is by asking yourself these three questions:
1. What am I most interested in learning?
This may be the most crucial question when it comes to joining a professional learning community, as you want to ensure that the community matches your interests. For example, if you teach high school biology, perhaps an elementary school science PLN might not be for you; a high school science community may be a better fit. Likewise, if you’re interested in learning more about an area of interest, professional learning communities can give you insight into that topic and help you grow.
2. What do I want to get out of joining this community?
Professional learning communities can be great sources of knowledge, but there can also be a lot going on in these communities – from events and forum posts to meetups, and more, there are so many ways to collaborate and share! Taking note of what you’d like to get out of joining various communities can help you determine the best ways for you to contribute and share your own knowledge.
3. How can I contribute to this community?
If want to be an active member of any professional learning community, consider how you’d like to contribute. There’s a misconception that, within a professional learning community, you may always have to be “on,” or always available to be a part of the conversation. However, it’s important to give as much time to the community as you feel is appropriate and can help grow your professional goals. As a personal guideline, I aim to participate in my PLN twice a week. For me, participation looks like sharing something that I did that week at work, offering a resource, posting an article or even leaving a positive comment or question on someone else’s post. This helps me stay engaged with the community without overextending my time.
Once you figure out the answers to those three questions, here are some platforms you may use to find and expand your professional learning community.
In education, Twitter is where many folks go to share the most up to date news and resources, ask questions, receive feedback and look at what others are doing in their fields. You can find many professional learning communities on Twitter related to various subject areas, such as English language arts, science, mathematics, educational technology and school leadership by searching hashtags (like #edtech, for example). However, there are concerns since Elon Musk took over the site, specifically about privacy, security and compliance that have had many consider going to different platforms, such as the ones listed below.
This originated as a networking platform with an emphasis on career-building and job transitioning, but it has morphed into much more. On this platform, educators, school leaders and district leadership share up-to-date information about what they’re doing and how they are supporting others, as well as giving top-of-mind insight into what is going on in their industries. It can be a powerful tool to examine next steps for career growth, explore opportunities in education and look for educational collaborations. Additionally, the #teachertransitioning tag on LinkedIn has also given a voice to educators who still work in the field but are no longer in the classroom.
Facebook continues to have robust communities for various subject, grade level and administrative areas. Participating in Facebook communities can present some logistical challenges if it is blocked by schools and districts, but many educators, school leaders and district leadership find Facebook groups and communities to be a wealth of knowledge and a safe space for them to speak about various issues as well as problem-solve together.
Voxer is a voice messaging app for your smartphone with live voice (push-to-talk), text, photo and location sharing. You can hear messages as people speak or listen later at your convenience. The app works on both Apple and Android devices and can be a great platform for voice sharing.
TikTok is a video app that has taken the world by storm for its 60-90 second videos. It has a large number of educators sharing tips, tricks, resources and examples of of what they are doing in their classrooms and schools. The platform has also launched the #LearnonTikTok movement, where leading educators, experts and real-world skill creators bring together education and learning on TikTok.
Mastodon is a new platform focused on micro-blogging and short text (similar to Twitter) that has grown since the announcement of new leadership at Twitter. Many math educators have been flocking to this platform for community.
Similar to Mastodon, Hive is a new platform that has grown since the new leadership at Twitter. It is a mobile-only social app that is also similar to Twitter. Participants can follow each other, like each other’s posts and engage in conversations. Unfortunately, the platform has also suffered from some security challenges, but does seem like a promising alternative for those looking for a space similar to Twitter and Facebook.
While this platform does currently have a very lengthy waitlist due to people migrating from Twitter, PostNews is a new platform and Twitter alternative that is described as a place to access “premium news content without subscriptions or ads.”
It doesn't matter which platform or platforms you use to build or expand you PLN. The most important thing is that you dedicate time to connect, contribute and collaborate.
Victoria Thompson is an ISTE Community Leader and education industry executive at Microsoft Education. She began her journey teaching fifth and sixth grade math and science in Summerville, South Carolina. After completing her master's degree in curriculum and instruction, she moved to the Seattle, Washington, area in 2018, where her career has pivoted to focus on digital transformation, STEM integration in schools, technology in instruction and using technology to bridge equity gaps in education.