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Personal learning networks: Advice from the trenches

4 min read


Recently, I had the opportunity to record a Google Hangout with four connected educators on “Growing Your PLN.” Lyn Hilt (@l_hilt), Nick Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher), Lisa Dabbs (@teachingwthsoul) and Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) joined the conversation and shared a wealth of advice on how educators can develop a strong personal learning network.

What is a personal learning network?

A Personal Learning Network is an informal learning network that enables an individual to work collaboratively, connect, share, encourage and grow professionally alongside both local and global connections. In the conversation, Provenzano shares how he connects with his PLN via social media, some of whom may be in the classroom next door, and others around the world, as these connections give him an ever growing network of people who he trusts in the field.

“It’s amazing what one tweet can do or what one tweet can start,” shares Dabbs, in discussing how social media can create a chain reaction of connections. Larkin shares how his PLN enables him to obtain “up-to-date information on virtually anything.”  Whether he’s connecting with districts on 1:1 implementation or some of the other latest trends, he’s able to find connections that can help mold his thinking or support his change process. The support system of a PLN has transformed classrooms and is changing the way connected educators are growing professionally.

PLN and professional development

Connected educators are using Twitter to transform traditional sit-and-get professional development into a process that is continual and differentiated. Provenzano shares how he can tap into experts by connecting with go-to people in virtually all areas, and his PLN gives him a forum to reach out and ask for help. No longer is asking for help viewed as a weakness, but saying “Can you help me?” is encouraged and commonplace inside a PLN.

These connections and the sharing of ideas and best practices are major strengths of a strong PLN. One way Dabbs grows professionally is through Twitter chats; connecting with other educators on various topics or themes each week. Dabbs runs #ntchat (new teacher chat), as educators from around the world connect on supporting new teachers. Larkin shares how Twitter has changed the direction of his entire school district, giving him insight on new initiatives prior to implementation and how “there’s always a group of people out there that can help.” In addition, Hilt often turns to blogging to share ideas, solicit feedback and share resources; another dimension of her PLN.

Getting started

The panel shared various recommendations on how educators can start building a strong network. Provenzano shared how he recommends diving right in and to be ready to engage other educators, while Dabbs and Hilt share that it’s okay to take baby steps by following a handful of people to get started. All panelists agree that completing the bio portion of one’s Twitter profile is important and will help gain meaningful connections.

Dabbs recommends a “social media mentor,” someone that can help guide one on becoming connected, as @shellterrell did for her. Similar to Dabbs, Larkin adds that chats such as #edchat, or any of the weekly Twitter chats, can help educators get connected in areas relevant to them. Hilt shared that utilizing third-party tools such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite provide various ways to organize the stream of information and helps educators “weed through the feed” so the vast amount of information doesn’t become overwhelming. Other recommendations on growing a PLN include: connecting with educators through webinars (Dabbs), following conference hashtags and back channels (Larkin), as well as connecting with a diverse group of people such as authors, business leaders, etc. (Hilt)

 Watch: Growing Your PLN with @l_hilt, @patrickmlarkin, @teachingwthsoul, @thenerdyteacher and @thomascmurray

Tom Murray serves as the director of technology and cyber education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pa. A former middle-school assistant and elementary-school principal, Murray is passionate about proper technology infusion and differentiated professional development. He was the 2012 recipient of the Blended Schools Network Leadership Award and was featured in Tech & Learning Magazine’s Leadership Profile in December of 2012. Murray’s QCSD cyber and blended learning programs have been highlighted by, T.H.E. Journal, Project Red, the Innosight Institute, iNACOL, and on Digital Learning Day 2013, among others. Murray serves on the advisory board for T.H.E. Journal and has co-founded both #sbgchat and #edtechchat. Connect with him on Twitter @thomascmurray or at