Professional Learning Networks Take on a Grassroots Approach

In the new era where teachers have little time for face-to-face interaction with colleagues and district budget cuts limit professional development opportunities, educators are increasingly turning to online communities (or professional learning networks, PLNs) that allow them to share lesson plans, teaching strategies, and student work, as well as collaborate across grade levels and departments.  Many teachers and administrators feel that PLNs “reduce isolation, promote autonomy, and provide inspiration” through access to teachers across the world.

The past four years have seen the launch of thousands of personalized education sites that allow real-time interaction and extended professional development through videos, blogs, podcasts, webinars, etc.  Edmodo is the fastest growing of these networks, projected to have 4 million users worldwide by the end of October.  This past August, more than 2,000 educators attended EdmodoCon, its first one-day global virtual conference; the average stay for each educator was 4 hours and 10 minutes.  This is an astounding accomplishment, as the organizers of the event had only expected about 200 attendees, and underlines the desire many teachers have for improving their practice through continual learning and engagement with the profession.

Some schools are starting their own PLNs to help pool resources, particularly as states prepare to implement the Common Core.  At the school level, administrators can use “back-end” information to see where teachers are clicking to help determine where the needs are and to provide appropriate resources.  In Denver, the public school system is creating a separate PLN group for new teachers and instructional superintendents with the idea that these networks will help newcomers plug in and contribute at the district level.

Despite their growth, however, PLNs still do not have recognition in many districts as legitimate professional development tools.  Districts would do well, however, to explore these resources that teachers are using and build on them to create networks of support and information that align with district priorities.

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