Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and Keeping Our Brains Moving

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I finished my Speech-Language Pathology master’s in 1999.  I don’t know about you, but I sometimes worry that all the content I learned at that time is being eradicated by less important clutter in my brain, such as reality TV show plots, others’ Facebook status updates, etc.  One very positive movement in educational circles aims to promote more useful brain-stuffing- I am speaking about the development of Personal Learning Networks or PLNs.  If you are reading this post on ASHAsphere, you have gotten started with a PLN, a set of interactive resources to follow and participate in, whether they be blogs, Twitter feeds, and even your Facebook news feed, depending on what you put in it!

We call these resources interactive because, unlike a journal (which of course has its own value), you can easily respond and receive responses when engaging in a blog, Twitter or Facebook feed, thus making you feel more networked.  PLNs can expose you to important news in your field, inspiring ideas, or simply be a resource to ask and answer questions about our day-to-day jobs.  For clinicians that operate mostly on a solo basis, such as in an itinerant situation or a public school, PLNs can be vital in keeping you going and preventing burnout! So, here are 5 tips for getting started with building a PLN:

Facebook isn’t just for finding out what your friends had for dinner- Facebook’s Pages feature puts you in touch with helpful professional content.  When you navigate to a page (you can look them up using the Search field in your top menu bar) and “Like” it, updates from that page will end up in your News Feed.  Try “Liking” ASHA’s page, and another one I recommend is Social Thinking.

Twitter is an even better forum- Many people think that Twitter is just for the mundane thoughts of celebrity, um, twits! However, it has evolved into another great way to share information and share with colleagues. Click here for a good starter guide and start building your network.  You can follow me at @SpeechTechie, and try searching for the “hashtag” #slpeeps to see what some of the SLPs on Twitter are saying.

Blogs (like this one) provide you with great information and resources- A blog is designed to be a sounding board for the author, but also as an interactive forum for you.  The problem is, sometimes you find good blogs and forget about them, or get tired of going to them for updates.  To find some blogs to follow (you’ll find some via steps 1 and 2 above, because people often tweet or post on Facebook about new blog entries) try using Google blog search- do a regular Google search, then click on Blogs in the left sidebar.  Try clicking on Homepages in the sidebar to get an even better sense of blogs that meet your interest.  Another key strategy to following blogs is using a tool like Google Reader to aggregate all your blogs, so that you know automatically when there is a new entry. Pop my blog SpeechTechie into your Reader, and a few of my other faves include Speech-Language Pathology Sharing, GeekSLP and Free Technology for Teachers.

Bookmark socially- If you are only using your web browser to bookmark web pages, you are missing out on opportunities to carry your bookmarks from place to place and also to see what other professionals are bookmarking.  Try using a social bookmarking service such as delicious or diigo to keep track of your bookmarks, find new resources based on what others like, and join groups or networks.

Don’t get overwhelmed. You don’t have to start your own blog.  You don’t even have to comment on anything to get started with a PLN. Like everything, it’s best taken one step at a time, and you’ll be surprised what you learn!

Sean J. Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and instructional technology specialist working in the public school and in private practice at The Ely Center in Newton, Massachusetts. He has presented on the topic of technology integration in speech and language at the ASHA convention and is the author of the blog SpeechTechie: Looking at Technology Through a Language Lens.