Being A Lifelong Learner through Professional Learning Network
As a lifelong learner, an educator is expected to keep learning about cutting-edge issues and trends. A lifelong learner plays a vital role in the educational process as it helps educators incorporate new tools and strategies into the learning process to boost their students’ learning development. This expectation is to comply with the evolvement of curriculum, advancement of technology, and market demands. Educators learn from and with others through professional development and explore various promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning. Educators can do their professional development in this digital era through Professional Learning Networks (PLN). This fact aligns with the ISTE Standards for Educators, particularly an educator as a learner (ISTE, 2022). Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to enhance student learning. Thus, this article addresses how educators set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness (Point 2.1.a). Besides, this article points out other points of ISTE Standards for Educators, that is to pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks (Point 2.1.b) and stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences (Point 2.1.c.).
Educators as a Lifelong Learner
Technology and education have been evolving rapidly in the past few decades. Thus, being a lifelong learner plays a vital role in the educational process. It helps educators incorporate new tools and strategies into the learning process to boost their students’ learning development. Educators who are lifelong learners are more successful than those who are not. The traditional learning model differs from Lifelong Learning methods in important ways, as illustrated in Figure 1 (World Bank, 2002, cited in Divjak et al., 2004).
Figure 1. Traditional versus Lifelong learning
(World Bank, 2002, cited in Divjak et al., 2004)
As lifelong learners, educators have the following characteristics as suggested by Started et al. (2018).
1. Conquer Challenges
People with a lifelong learning mindset treat mistakes and challenges as part of learning, not as failures. They learn from mistakes to continue and solve a problem or challenge. As long-life learners, educators make learning their daily basis to hone their current skills and develop new ones while enriching their minds.
2. Innovate to Improve Learning Outcomes
When educators take courses outside of professional development and collaborate, they discover creative teaching methods. Teachers who put their heads together to develop innovative ideas to use in teaching achieve better student outcomes than outdated teaching methods.
3. Act as a Role Model for Students
Educators who engage in lifelong learning set an example for their students because they practice what they teach. This way, in turn, encourages their students to develop into lifelong learners. Effective educators accomplish this by sharing experiences of working through the learning process.
Thus, to illustrate clearly, here is the word cloud of educators as lifelong learners.
Figure 2. Lifelong Learning Word Cloud
What is a Professional Learning Network (PLN)?
Tobin (1998, cited in Trust et al., 2016) coined the term “Personal Learning Network” to describe a network of people and resources that support ongoing learning. While the terms Professional Learning Network and Personal Learning Network are often used interchangeably, I use “Professional Learning Network,” or PLN, because this article focuses on teachers’ learning related to their professional work. PLNs are related to but can be differentiated from two other concepts pertaining to educator learning, the professional learning community (PLC) and the personal learning environment (PLE), as elaborated briefly in Professional Learning Community Using Social Media: Yea or Nay? – Ignasia Yuyun. Following Krutka et al. (2016), PLCs are collaborative teams, typically based in a single school or district, which yielded positive results (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008). Then, in contrast to the collaboration emphasized in PLCs, PLEs tend to emphasize using technologies to help individual learners direct their learning (Dabbagh & Kitsantas, 2012). Lastly, PLNs integrate both the collaboration central to PLCs and the emphasis on learner autonomy and technologies from PLEs.
Moreover, Trust et al. (2016) explored that PLNs can also be differentiated from online communities, practice networks, and social media sites. According to them, online communities are groups of people who connect for a shared purpose, while a network refers to a “set of nodes and links with affordances for learning” (Wenger, Trayner, & de Laat, 2011, p. 9). Social media sites are digital tools that people can connect and communicate with others. Each of these terms refers to a single medium for connecting with others. PLNs are broader, multifaceted systems that often incorporate multiple communities, networks of practice, and sites that support both on- and offline learning.
Previous studies have revealed some advantages of PLNs. Through PLNs, teachers participate in these online spaces to find, share, and create professional knowledge (Carpenter & Krutka, 2015; Trust, 2015; Duncan-Howell, 2010; Forte, Humphreys, & Park, 2012). Besides, teachers can collaborate with and feel supported by a community of education professionals (Carpenter & Krutka, 2014, 2015; Hur & Brush, 2009; Visser et al., 2014). Interestingly, some researchers have also explored how participation in online spaces shapes teachers’ identities (Barab, Kling, & Gray, 2004; Luehmann & Tinelli, 2008) and support diverse affective, social, cognitive, and identity aspects of growth for whole teachers (Trust et al., 2016). Importantly, in line with the advancement of technology, PLNs are uniquely personalized, complex systems of interactions consisting of people, resources, and digital tools that support ongoing learning and professional growth. PLNs can provide myriad ways (e.g., online, blended, local, global) for teachers to grow based on individual and group needs (Trust et al., 2016; Tour, 2017).
Krutka et al. (2016) identified five critical elements as standard to PLN experiences: engaging, discovering, experimenting, reflecting, and sharing. Figure 3 explains and highlights the interactions among these elements. These fluid and interconnected elements characterize teachers’ experiences at different times and in diverse ways.
Figure 3. Elements of teachers’ professional learning network activities
(Krutka et al., 2016)
A variety of personal, interpersonal, and conditional factors must be considered before successfully implementing professional development activities, including PLNs. Therefore, Prenger et al. (2021) identified the following characteristics from the literature:
- Structured and guided activities that are related to the practice
- A shared goal and focus on a concrete outcome
- Collective focus on student learning
- Individual prior knowledge and motivation
- Collaboration and active participation
- Reflective dialogue
- Stakeholder support: school (principal) and colleagues
Classroom 2.0, Edmodo, and The Educator’s PLN are three popular PLNs for teachers containing information aggregation and social media tools (Trust, 2012). These Web sites make it easy for individual members to shape their learning. These Websites allow individual members to create a profile page, join interest groups, participate in discussions, share resources, and build relationships with other members. However, each Web site is unique and adapted to the community members. The Educator’s PLN and Classroom 2.0 share many similar features. However, The Educator’s PLN Web site is more member-focused because its main page features uploads and posts from members. Classroom 2.0’s main page features Classroom 2.0 LIVE and other administrator-driven content. In comparison, Edmodo has one of the unique and beneficial features in allowing teachers to create groups for their classes. After teachers create a group page, they receive a unique code that they share with their students. The students use this code to join the group. Teachers can post notes, alerts, assignments, quizzes, polls, and grades on the group page.
Practical Strategies to Increase the Longevity of PLN
As lifelong learners, educators are expected to consider strategies to increase longevity when participating and establishing PLN. Clifford (2013) provides some practical strategies for developing a productive PLN.
When using the PLN, educators must:
- Keep the spirit of collaboration as your driving force, as PLNs are all about working together. Be reciprocal and resourceful.
- Join an online community to share ideas and contact people for direct feedback.
- Join a Meetup group. Meetups are common thread interest groups that meet in the real world and can also extend to social networks.
- Become a beacon of light as PLNs rely on the open sharing of information. It is best to start with a specific interest and then grow into other topics as time goes on. Become an expert in a particular niche by researching current trends and then draw an enormous following on the network via blog.
- Initiate to ask questions, as PLNs are all about learning. Try simple searches on TED talks, Wikis, blogs, or news articles before posting a question.
- Be an active participant since brainpower is the main asset of a PLN. Keeping up to date through regular posts will grow the PLN.
- Remember to be polite and acknowledge contributions to the rightful owner by showing common respect for the people in your network.
- Designate a professional and personal account to keep social life on Facebook and professional life on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.
- Create a landing page to consolidate all of the accounts on a landing page. A webpage or personal blog will make it easier for people to find the PLN and showcase the different projects.
- Engage newbies by including a mix of newbies, peers, and experts to keep with the essence of collaboration.
Furthermore, Clifford (2013) provides some strategies for establishing a productive PLN:
- Use Diigo, Evernote, or Pocket to bookmark links. You can access them anywhere and on any device. For example, Diigo is like creating your library. Diigo is the preferred tool for educators. It allows you to highlight paragraphs, clip pictures while reading, bookmark a page in a “virtual” library or online archive, add tags to search for information later, and share resources in a group.
- Use a reader to subscribe to blogs. Google reader allows you to manage multiple subscriptions to blogs and easier access to new research. You can also use Scribd or Yahoo News Social to share what you read with others publicly.
- Establish a platform by establishing a blog site on WordPress or blogger.com. A blog provides a worldwide stage to share your views on education, spread your passion, and find kindred spirits. The consistent posts can develop lasting connections and plan new projects. Fellow bloggers will appreciate the time you put into creating meaningful materials. Your ideas can then be re-shared as a link.
- Share on Twitter first. Twitter reigns king, for now. Anything can change with technology, but Twitter is the most commonly used tool among academics for expanding PLNs. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ also provide access to different networks. Later, you can use other means to develop further and manage your networks, such as Skype and Google tools. Many new platforms are emerging, so stay current by reading tech or social media news on a site such as Mashable.
- Consider your role as a searcher, assembler, designer of data, innovator of subject matter, and researcher. Consider your learning style when designing a specific approach to your PLN:
- Activist-Learning by doing, such as writing a blog.
- Reflector-Learn by reviewing situations, such as posting opinions to articles.
- Theorist-Prefer to learn by researching information and data, such as creating a model.
- Pragmatist-Apply is learning to real problems by creating a project that uses PLNs in the classroom.
- Aggregate resources together. There is an excellent chart of resources for mapping out your PLN plan on this blog.
- Take a free course to learn about PLNs. MOOCs are Massive Online Open Courses that are free to the public. For instance, this course, complete with handouts, shows you how to establish a PLN. You learn actively by taking small steps to create your PLN, such as creating a blog, Twitter account, and content.
- Stay current with new tools. Many specific tools on different applications allow you to customize and organize your PLN to fit your needs. Chrome and Windows 8 have several free applications that are worth trying.
- Simplify logins. You can speed up the login process by installing a Password management application.
- Establish a classroom learning network. Share your expertise with other educators on a website or blog. Create a class website or teach students how to create their PLN. For instance, they might use Google scholar to research a paper or share ideas on Google Hangouts.
In conclusion, as lifelong learners, educators must never stop learning to adjust students’ needs and characteristics influenced by the disruptive era. Notably, in digital spaces, all users in education (teachers and learners) contribute to knowledge as seamless learning is inevitable. However, it is imperative to take into account some factors and strategies when educators initiate, participate, and organize the PLNs to improve their longevity.
Clifford, M. (2013). 10 Tips for Using PLN. https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/20-tips-for-creating-a-professional-learning-network/
Divjak, S., Dowling, C., Fisser, P., Grabowska, A., Hezemans, M., Kendall, M., Mihnev, P., Ritzen, M., Syslo, M. M., Vicari, R., & van Weert, T. (2004). Lifelong Learning in the Digital Age: Sustainable for all in a changing world (T. J. van Weert & M. Kendal (eds.); Lifelong L). Kluwer Academic Publishers.
ISTE. (2022). ISTE Standards: Educators. https://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards-for-teachers
Krutka, D. G., Carpenter, J. P., & Trust, T. (2016). Elements of Engagement: A Model of Teacher Interactions via Professional Learning Networks. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 32(4), 150–158. https://doi.org/10.1080/21532974.2016.1206492
Prenger, R., Poortman, C. L., & Handelzalts, A. (2021). Professional learning networks: From teacher learning to school improvement? Journal of Educational Change, 22(1), 13–52. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-020-09383-2
Started, G., Now, A., & Fischer, G. (2018). Why Good Educators Are Lifelong Learners. EWU Online. https://online.ewu.edu/articles/education/good-educators-lifelong-learners.aspx
Tour, E. (2017). Teachers’ personal learning networks (PLNs): exploring the nature of self-initiated professional learning online. Literacy, 51(1), 11–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/lit.12101
Trust, T. (2012). Professional Learning Networks Designed for Teacher Learning. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 28(4), 133–138. https://doi.org/10.1080/21532974.2012.10784693
Trust, T., Krutka, D. G., & Carpenter, J. P. (2016). “Together we are better”: Professional learning networks for teachers. Computers and Education, 102, 15–34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2016.06.007