What is a PLN?

In this post I will explore what is a Personal Learning Network or PLN for short, and how you can you develop yours. For those not familiar with the term PLN it is a group of individuals who work in a similar sector or subject that you connect with and follow, usually via social media.

As educators we are encouraged to be lifelong learners always looking to develop our own practice. Most colleges require their staff to do a minimum of thirty hours of development some of which may be focused specifically on pedagogy whilst other aspects may be focused on the vocational subject which they teach.

And that can take a variety of different forms:

  • Internally organised workshop
  • Attendance at an external seminar or conference
  • Industry placement

But in addition to these formal development opportunities, there is also what I would class as informal development, this could be articles you have read, programs you have watched and those learning conversation you have with colleagues. I see all of this as equally important as the formal development that you do, but due to its nature requires greater effort in that you need to source the articles and videos that are most appropriate to the area of your practice you wish to develop.

And that’s where a Personal Learning Network comes in, your network can do some of the legwork for you, as the old adage say ‘many hands make light work’. Making it easier for me to see the most relevant information and keep me up to date with development within the sector.

So how do you go about growing your own network?

You don’t need to look too far, with college groups growing in size there is an ever increasing pool of individuals from within your own organisation that you can connect and share with. At my college we have started having end of term teach meets. For those who are not familiar with teach meets they are an informal sharing of good practice, where colleagues can have up to 6 minutes to share some aspect of their practice that is going well. This can be a great way to develop your network beyond those colleagues that you share an office with.

It is also possible to continue these conversations across social media, we typically have a hashtag for each of the events we run, to allow colleagues from the different campuses to share. The use of online discussion forums, such as those found within the college VLEs or sites such as Microsoft teams and Google + can allow those learning conversations to continue beyond the event.

Social media can be a great way to develop your own network, the key thing initially is to identify which platform is being used by the types of people you wish to connect with, certain vocational subjects seem to be more prevalent on particular social media platforms so it’s worth doing the research to pick out which is the one most suited to the area you wish to focus your development on.

I found Twitter to be a great source of development, as it is used by large number of FE educators. For those not familiar with how to use Twitter, topics are typically identified by the use of the # and individuals and organisations identified with the @ symbol. Once you have found the relevant hashtags it easy to identify who to follow. I find Twitter chats the most valuable way to develop your network, I regularly contribute to #ukfechat which takes place on a Thursday evening between 9pm and 10pm. The topics always vary, but all are relevant and related to further education. I also hosted a number of #ukfechat and found it a great way hear about specific aspects of practice and how other colleagues in the sector are approaching them.

As with anything, the more you put in the more you get out, I have found by contributing to my network via my blog and YouTube channel it’s helped me to engage with a broader audience thus growing my network. A further added benefit of having a visible professional profile is that it has provided me with opportunities to present at conferences and events, and this has further helped to grow my PLN.