Saturday, January 23, 2016

All About PLNs - Are Online PLNs Necessary?

In this week's Friday Memo to our staff, the topic I focused on was Personal Learning Networks, or PLNs. I don't think just knowing what an online PLN is creates enough motivation for an educator to create one. Creating or joining an online PLN is a scary process for some educators. It requires reaching out (fear, vulnerability), learning something new (fear, vulnerability), and change/stepping out of comfort zones (doing something new, applying new learning, listening to conflicting viewpoints - fear, vulnerability). 

It caused me to reflect on the question, "Are online PLNs necessary?" 

Online collaboration is not a foreign concept. From entrepreneurs to business organizations, it is part of the natural workflow as well as networking. There is value from connecting with others in same career field to share ideas and collaborate on projects. Each individual brings different experiences, knowledge, and backgrounds to the table, which creates opportunities for growth by each member of the group.  

Educators must be part of this process for two reasons:  1) Students today will be entering this world in their future. We need to prepare them for those situations. 2) As educators, we have the opportunity to learn from others to improve what we do for students.

In the Friday Memo, I shared a quote from Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby):
"We must remember that lifelong learning requires effort. We expect this commitment from students. We should accept no less from ourselves."  

Something else I shared with the staff in the Friday Memo was an article by Lisa Nielson (@InnovativeEdu), titled The PLN Matures. The Progression of the 21st Century Personal Learning Network. 

In the article, Lisa shares a story of how a PLN progresses to a final stage she calls Collaborative Creation. She tells stories of edcamps that are organized by virtual collaboration and educators within the same area of expertise who collaborate on projects virtually.

I collaborate with my PLN often and in many different ways.
  • When I organized a PD for our teachers on how to use Google Hangouts in the classroom, I got help from educators across the country. 
  • For the PD I have planned for our PE teachers next week, I reached out to Justin Schleider. I'm not a former PE teacher, so I wanted input on how to maximize the PD for our teachers. I contacted Justin via Voxer, and he got back with me almost immediately. I was amazed at the level of support and assistance he provided to me so that I can provide an awesome day of learning for our teachers! 
  • The Compelled Bloggers Community that I co-lead with Craig Vroom (@vroom6) is an incredible group of bloggers that stretches me to grow as an educator through reflection about my practice.
  • The #ALedchat team and the weekly twitter chat continues to teach me each week about different education topics. The many different educators with varied areas of expertise help me to learn either more deeply about a topic or they introduce me to a new concept or tool.
  • The Women in Education Leadership Voxer group amazes me each day with the empathy, expertise, and experience that we collectively use to support each other.
While I see the tremendous value of connecting online, I need to make sure that I help others to see the value. I don't expect them to automatically jump to Collaborative Creation, but I do want them to progress on the continuum. 

I also included the following video in the Friday Memo:

How to Build a PLN

If your device won't play the video above, click here to watch: 

I have some experiences planned for our teachers this semester to help them get started and grow their PLN. I would also love to hear your ideas! 


  1. PLNs have the potential to provide so much support, but as you mentioned, it can be scary - overwhelming, too. Before I got on Twitter, I just saw it as another social media outlet to manage. Once you learn a bit about it, and how to use it efficiently, it's wonderful for collaboration!

    1. I'm glad you are a part of the Compelled Tribe, Michelle! Without twitter, we never would have connected. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Jennifer,
    I love the quote about making the effort to be a lifelong learner! My online PLN has been such an inspirational support for me. From the Compelled Tribe (on Twitter and Voxer) to the Principal group of MEMSPA in my own state of Michigan, I have grown so much from those that I have connected with. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Hi, Jon. Thanks for the comment. You and the rest of the tribe have taught me so much. I'm so blessed to be a part of such a wonderful group. My online PLN has helped me to be a better educator.