5 tips for creating a Personal Learning Network (PLN) online

So you got hired and you're now teaching English at a university overseas. Congratulations! But you can’t just rest on your laurels. It’s important to stay at the top of your game and continue developing yourself as a teacher so you can provide the best possible education for your students.

A couple of years ago, I decided to do just that: I wanted to continue my professional development, and the best—or at least the most convenient—place to start seemed to be online. Through trial and error, I was able to craft an online Personal Learning Network (PLN). For other educators embarking on this journey, here are a few lessons I learned from my experiences.

1. Set aside some time.

The initial stages of setting up a PLN can be very time-consuming! When I started the process, it seemed simple enough: open a Twitter account. Find educator-type people to follow. Start reading.


And then… it kind of exploded. My first handful of Twitterers led to other people, who led to other people, who led to the discovery of hashtags such as #eltchat, #edchat, and #edtech, which led to websites, which led to more websites, which led to more people. It was a self-perpetuating cycle, and I found myself spending hours each day investigating intriguing links and trying to figure out how to parse, assess, and store the information. I had twenty different tabs open at any given time, lacking the focus to fully explore any one of them. It was, as they say, like sipping from a fire hose! Which leads me to Tip #2:

2. Organize, organize, organize.

Awash in a flood of websites, I was happy to discover Pinterest and Scoop.it. These and similar sites allow users to find, tag, and sort online resources. With these sites, I can keep track of what I find useful, what I might want to refer back to in the future, or what might be useful to the teachers I train. These sites are also easy to search; anytime I need ideas or inspiration, these are great places to turn!

3. You can take it with you.

Keeping up with my PLN also became much easier after I discovered Feedly. Feedly is a content aggregator site that gathers my favorite blogs into one location, so I can quickly note updates and skim through a few lines of each to see if they interest me. There are many similar news/blog aggregator sites; if you don’t like Feedly, perhaps The Old Reader or NewsBlur would suit your tastes.

I also adore Readlists, which strips away the ads and compiles online articles into a single e-book that can be downloaded onto an e-reader or shared as a link. Users can either enter URLs all at once for immediate compilation, or they can mark articles as they encounter them, and Readlists will send the articles later as a digest. Readlists and Feedly make it simple to incorporate a little professional development into your daily commute or workout routine.

4. Find your essentials.

After a while, you’ll have identified your favorite resources and be able to limit your online explorations to just minutes a day.

There really is a profusion of information out there. Some of it is extremely useful; some of it, less so. Some educators online seem to post everything they find, on the assumption that it’ll be useful to someone; others seem more discerning. Even with my most reliable sources, I sometimes visit a tweeted site only to discover the tool’s interface is counter-intuitive; the site is convoluted, riddled with advertisements, or otherwise unattractive; the site requires some kind of software download; or the material, explanation, or registration process is far too complicated for most of my students. Then again, if the site proves useful to somebody, it’s probably worth the tweet, I suppose.

5. Share and share alike!

After you find your essential resources, don’t forget to share them—along with your own ideas and insights. Help others by becoming a part of their PLN!

Is it worth it?

Absolutely! Since embarking on this connection project a few years ago, I’ve read many inspiring articles and discovered many outstanding tools and resources. Some of these tools have actually transformed my teaching practices and made my classroom a more dynamic, engaging place. Though I use my own PLN sparingly, and mostly as a silent consumer of the information, I know many educators who regularly interact with their PLN online, seeking or offering lesson ideas and advice. It’s definitely possible to craft a PLN that suits your own needs, interests, and desired level of involvement. Just be warned that in the early stages of the process, you’ll probably need plenty of spare time—but you’ll find a balance eventually!

How about you? Do you have any tips for creating your own PLN?

Lindsay Herron

Lindsay Herron has been a visiting professor at Gwangju National University of Education in Gwangju, ROK, since 2008. Prior to that, she taught at a boys' high school in Jeju-do, ROK. She loves stories of all kinds: movies, books, anime, operas...and the ones her students give her.
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About Lindsay Herron

Lindsay Herron has been a visiting professor at Gwangju National University of Education in Gwangju, ROK, since 2008. Prior to that, she taught at a boys’ high school in Jeju-do, ROK. She loves stories of all kinds: movies, books, anime, operas…and the ones her students give her.