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What is a PLN? Why Do I Need One?

Jordan Catapano

What is a PLN? Why Do I Need One?In the education world, PLN stands for Personal Learning Network. What it means is that an individual has developed their own personalized “network” of fellow educators and resources who are designed to make them a better teacher. This network exists both in their real-life relationships and online through their social media connections.

With more and more opportunities to develop one’s skills beyond what traditional routes have provided, establishing your own PLN is an essential step toward deepening your abilities as an educator. In the past, teachers were able to get connected to teaching resources through master’s courses, education journals, conferences, professional development, and other similar activities. Each of these were and still are excellent ways to broaden your knowledge and skills in education. However, because each of these requires your physical presence and procurement of physical materials, they also come with certain restrictions.

Additionally, these traditional areas of professional development are often set up and operated by someone else. A teacher cannot control the exact content of courses, the type of professional development their district mandates, or the articles within professional journals. This means that they might be pursuing the right information, but not actually getting what they need.

A PLN is different in that it offers two additional benefits traditional personal development cannot. First, a PLN allows an educator to completely personalize their training. If a teacher wants to learn more about implementing technology in the classroom, or discussion methods, or how to help struggling readers, they can adapt their network to provide exactly the information that’s needed. What’s even better is that, once an educator feels they have the information they require, they can immediately adapt their PLN to cater to different needs.  

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Also, the “network” portion of a PLN indicates the high degree of symbiotic relationships that such personal development depends on. An educator is not merely absorbing information from others: they are sharing. They are not gaining what they need from some distant, impersonal source: they are building relationships with others across the globe.

A PLN is developed primarily through social media sources, such as Twitter, Facebook, and teacher blogs. By developing professional relationships electronically, teachers can immediately post their latest articles, research, experiences, or discoveries. You, the connected teacher, are the recipient of all of these communications. You have connected yourself to those resources across the world that will provide you with what you need to thrive.  

There is an enormous difference between “connected” teachers who have established their own Personal Learning Networks and the instructors who subsist primarily on the antiquated, impersonalized modes of traditional development. Establishing your own PLN is your next step toward achieving the next level in your teaching career.

It's your turn: tell us how you've developed your own PLN. Leave your replies in the comments section, below.