Do you work in a specialized field? Do you work in a small department? Do you ever wish you had colleagues that you could share ideas with or someone to bounce teaching ideas off of? The answers to these questions are expectedly “yes” for most faculty members. One way to address these questions is by creating a Personal Learning Network (PLN). A PLN is an informal group of people that you can learn from and along with.
The difficulty with creating a PLN is the fact that you may not be able to find people with common interests, skills and subject-matter knowledge. This is where the Internet comes in.
Virtual PLNs have become increasingly popular in education in the past few years. Teachers and faculty members who have been working in isolated areas have been taking to online environments, such as Twitter, and have been able to develop networks with a large number of people who have common teaching areas, research interests, and experiences. These networks can be invaluable for professional development and easing the feeling of isolation because, although you may be the only person in a certain role at this university, you are likely to not be alone in Canada, North America, or the world.
To begin building your PLN, you could take to Google and begin searching for others in your field that have similar titles or jobs. You could then try to connect by using “old-fashioned email.” If you are up for it, a more modern way of building a PLN is to sign up for a social network site, like Twitter, and search for other users that have similar interests. If you haven’t ever spent any time on Twitter, you might be very surprised to see how many professionals are using it—they are connecting with one another and building communities. You may also be surprised to find out that users on social network sites are often very willing to welcome new people into their communities—this is the reason that they signed up too.
Once your PLN starts to develop, you will be able to start sharing research interests, teaching strategies, lesson plans, personal stories, and more. It may even start to branch outside your discipline and you will begin to learn and share with professionals outside your field. Your PLN will provide excellent professional development and it will almost certainly lead to things that you never could have predicted.