Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Professional Learning Networks - What's the Value?

I was introduced to the term Professional Learning Network (PLN) in my final year of studies back in 2014 by a friend. I was intrigued by this and began my Twitter journey in the hopes of talking with people in the field of education and ultimately become a better teacher as a result. Five years later I am still connecting with educators from around the world and finding ways to improve my teaching. This has been the goal, the reason I continue to engage my PLN - to be better.

When you have a specific interest, in can be difficult to learn more about it from people in your immediate circle of influence. Teaching is broad and we all have that one area we love just a little more than the others. For me, this is technology. Not just gadgets and computers (although I do love them), it's more the pedagogy that drives the use of tech in the classroom that interests me. I am interested in why teachers see value in one platform over others and I'm interested in how teachers make that decision to use one form of
technology. I also find it interesting to see if teachers use technology for the sake of using it - are they teaching the technology, or is that the by-product of the learning outcome? To flip that same thought, I wonder why teacher's don't like (or don't choose) to use technology and is this damaging to a child's future opportunities?

My PLN started with #vicpln on Twitter. It was quite nice as I was introduced by a friend to this PLN in a tweet and in turn received welcomes from others in that community. The doors were open and I had entered a new world. This wasn't Facebook, I hadn't come to share a status about what I am cooking for dinner or where I am going on holidays next week; I had come to have my eyes opened by the movers and shakers in my field. My Twitter journey has been slow and at times inconsistent but it's always there if I need it. If I question something, I can reach out for an answer.

I've felt driven to understand more about PLNs and their value to teachers, as I am often trying to persuade my peers to get online so they can reap the benefits I am. I've realised though that my excitement is not necessarily enough reason to get them online; I need to explore the 'Why?' myself so that I can better spruik the benefits.

My PLN is forever expanding. This is an interaction with
an educational researcher. Simply reaching out through
Twitter was enough for Torrey to lead me in the direction
of more of her research. This is such a great opportunity
 to discover new information. 
I recently read a scholarly article titled, "Together We Are Better": Professional Learning Networks for Teachers by Torrey Trust, Daniel G Krutka and Jeffrey Paul Carpenter. One of the key things I took from the research is that traditional Professional Development aims to improve teacher skills without truly considering HOW teacher's learn. This is interesting in that, as teachers, we must consider the multi-faceted ways our students learn in order to be highly effective teachers. How is it that these considerations aren't brought about for us in our own professional learning?  Recent coaching models that are being adopted in many schools seek to address this issue and place learning back in the hands of the coachee. Is this enough though, and are adoption rates to this type of coaching enough to make an impact? Remember, what matters most is a positive impact on student outcomes, so we have to look at what works best for teacher education and take a holistic approach.

Trust, Krutka and Carpenter's research also noted that there are benefits to having a PLN both from an emotional and cognitive point of view. For me, I can see those benefits; I feel happier and intellectually stimulated a lot of the time. I also feel a sense of importance that I too am adding value to others. Furthermore, a camaraderie develops amongst participants in a PLN.  Roland Gesthuizen touches on this theme in his research (ACEC 2012: Why Build Your Own PLN?, 2012)  and notes that the socialisation aspect of PLNs can't be ignored. The interactions I have had through my PLN have made it easier for me to connect in person; be it at a conference where I am meeting some of my PLN for the first time or whether it is connecting outside for one on one advice or assistance.

The idea of 'who teaches the teachers?' is something that I believe needs to be discussed more. Teachers deserve the best so that the best can be given to their students.

Before I finish though, I'm curious if you are part of a PLN? What got you involved? Was it based on a need or an interest? I am very much a 'feelings' person, so I want to know how being part of a PLN makes you feel?

If you find this topic interesting, here are a few readings that I have found relevant and thought provoking:


  1. This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article about education where i can feel free to ask QandA about education !!

    1. Hi there,
      Thanks for the kind words. I am glad you enjoy my blog :)

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  4. Enjoyed your blog post Pondering Dan - especially the powtoon. Interesting that you considered the emotional impact - I hadn't thought of that before. Thanks for sharing #TorrensTED403