Behind the Scenes: Building a PLN

Personal Learning Network. It’s a term you hear more and more often these days. Colleagues speak about it. Articles online speak about it. It’s toted as a great and wonderful tool that can connect educators and network them with others around the world. Others speak of their connections and how easy it is to connect with someone when they need to bounce ideas. It sounds so amazing that you go home, sit down, and begin setting up your network. Over the next few days, you find that it’s not as exciting or revolutionary as the presenter made it out to be. What gives? Did they lie?

The short answer: No.

When you’re attending a session on benefits of building a PLN, you’re not seeing the work that went into building it. What you’re seeing is the “final” product. I say “final” because one is never really done building their network, but it does get to a point where things are very active, and usually on the upswing. At the time of the presentation, the presenter has many examples to provide or people that they connect with. So what really goes on “behind the scenes”? What affects how your network prospers?

1.      Time and Effort: Nothing is going to ever be successful in just a few days. Your PLN is the same way. A good question to ask the presenter is how long it took them to get to a point where they felt their PLN was successful. It has taken me a year to really get to the point where I feel that my network is active and beneficial to me. During that time, I didn’t always work on building it. In fact, I would say that once I actively started, it took me 9 months to get to that point. I didn’t do everything I do now all at once either. I started slowly and added on as I could handle more items.

When building a PLN, you must realize that it will take time. Keep that in mind as you work, and make sure to put in the effort needed to build it. It won’t grow if you don’t do anything to help or keep it going. If your PLN is stagnant after a few months, step back and see what you could do to improve. Talk to others or research online.

2.      Key influencers: Key influencers are often some of the first people you follow or look up online. These are usually going to be popular names in your field, or someone you’ve heard colleagues talking about. Are they blogging? Are they using Twitter? How do they communicate with others online? To be very honest, my own network started out small, and I wanted to use Twitter as my focus. I only used key influencers that I knew from talking about our state’s edchat. Once I followed them, I looked for others that participated in the edchat, as well as who my influencers followed.

Once I had this set up, I was now able to read conversations being held between my influencers and other people. For a time, this was all I did so I could get a feel of the wide world of Twitter. After I became comfortable though, I then started looking at the hashtags that my influencers were using. I would check them out if they intrigued me, and I learned to search for my own as well.

From here, I began getting involved in edchats. Edchats on Twitter are conversations held between groups of people, using the same hashtag so everything is easily found. Usually there is some kind of moderator, and a list of questions that will be asked during the
session. Participants respond and discussion ensues. I started with the edchat for my state, as that was the one most of my key influencers participated in. From there I added a second one. I have yet to add any more, but it is something I plan to do in the future.

3.      Exploring avenues, one at a time: There isn’t just one right way to build a professional learning network. Some educators use tools that other educators don’t. It all depends on the needs and comfort levels of the educator. The important thing is that you build slowly. Trying to incorporate a variety of tools all at once will be overwhelming and spell disaster. Just as with anything else, try one thing at a time.

First, determine the different options that interest you, and what would be easiest for you to start with. Also note the options that you are interested in, but may need some assistance in learning how to use. Many educators start with Twitter because it’s a very easy way to get in touch with other educators. However, it can be hard to learn if you’ve
never used it before. Other educators will start with blogging. They will either seek out blogs in their content areas that interest them, or they will begin writing their own experiences and ideas into a blog. Some educators seek out teacher friendly groups on Facebook, and others look for websites that include forums or message boards.

Once you’ve figured out the tools you’d like to start with, it’s time to jump right in. Pick one tool to start with. Of course, it’s easier if you can get assistance from someone you know, but oftentimes, you’ll have to research the tool and how to use it on your own. Once you’ve figured out how to use the tool, it’s a good idea to also research how other educators use the tool as well. There may be a chance that others have thought of something that you haven’t.

In the next blog post, we’ll take a look at 3 more steps that go on behind the scenes when building a personal learning network. AS you can see from where we just started, there’s more than meets the eye!

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