Creating and Curating Your Digital Professional Learning Network

29/01/2014 § 7 Comments

Hello, hackers! Do you have a digital PLN?

If not, this post will explain the concept and share some tips for success. I discovered the concept of the digital PLN (a web-based personal or professional learning network) through an information literacy instruction class I took in Fall 2013. One of the major class projects was to select and curate digital resources to facilitate our lifelong learning as librarians, according to our career goals.

What is a PLN?

PLN infographic

A traditional PLN consists of actual people with whom you have collaborated or shared ideas. A digital PLN is more open-ended. Digital PLNs are collections of web-based human, technological, and other resources selected judiciously, classified, and accessed using curation tools of your choice. Whereas e-portfolios showcase your own aptitudes, e-PLNs curate resources from other people that have helped you—or will help you—to enrich your LIS skills. You can organize resources into categories, create RSS feeds to monitor changing content, and demonstrate your professional engagement by sharing your PLN publically or collaborating with other librarians to build one. Teacher-librarians are likely to have PLNs because schools encourage them to do so, but anyone can create one.

Why should I have a PLN?

Building a formal digital PLN can help you become a better librarian and foster your personal brand. PLNs can assist you to monitor professional trends, network with other librarians, and access or discover new tools and methods for doing your work. Creating a PLN showcases your basic digital curation and information organization skills. And for us students, who probably are already reading blogs and using web tools, locating relevant resources should pose little challenge. Each of us probably already has an informal online professional learning network.

What resources should my PLN incorporate?

Digital PLNs can incorporate the blogs you read, Twitter accounts you follow, web tools you use, LinkedIn or Facebook groups in which you participate, websites you monitor, conferences you attend, online communities with which you engage, and so on. Your PLN can be as broad or as narrow as you like—I’ve seen networks that incorporate only instructional technologies, for example, and others that incorporate every conceivable type of resource. What do you find helpful?

PLNsHow do I get started?

Think about what you want to get out of your e-PLN. What are your professional goals? Think about what topics you might want to include, how often you plan to update your PLN, and how you would monitor pages with active content (I suggest syndication via RSS feeds). Then check out some of the curation tools below!

How can I curate my digital PLN?

You can choose to use any of numerous free digital curation tools: LiveBinders, Pearltrees, WordPress, Scoop.it, Paper.li, Delicious, Diigo, and others. Below are my comments and examples of learning networks developed using each service. Each service has free and premium versions, and of course, there are many other options out there. And check out this InformEd blog post for additional tips!

Pearltrees

Launched in Paris, Pearltrees boasts amazing visual appeal. Images swirl in interconnected web-like networks, expanding or shrinking with each click. In addition, you can embed your Pearltree into your professional website and, as with LiveBinders, add resources to your e-PLN directly from your browser. Note that the free versions of both Pearltrees and LiveBinders automatically make all your resource selections public—a possible privacy concern. Examples include this Computing Pearltree and my very own Library Instruction PLN.

LiveBinders

A standard e-PLN curation tool for K-12 educators, this tool makes it easy to organize resources using tabs and subtabs. LiveBinders is not particularly visually appealing or easy to customize, but it is an excellent simplified alternative to Pearltrees. Check out Jennifer LaGarde’s PLN Starter Kit and Timothy Wilhelmus’s Web Tools for Teachers for examples of what you can do with LiveBinders.

Scoop.it and Paper.li

These are delightful tools for curating and commenting on information as you encounter items of interest, showcasing your talent for critical linking. Both tools adopt the format of an online newspaper, somewhat resembling Pinterest or Digg, and allow users to post directly from their Twitter feeds. Examples from librarians include the Daring Librarian’s Scoop.it and Matthew Ciszek’s Paper.li.

Delicious and Diigo

Social bookmarking tools are free and user-friendly, with Delicious and Diigo leading the pack (though Evernote and Pocket may be just as good). These social bookmarking tools allow users to import bookmarks from their browsers, tag and share resources, and access links from anywhere. Social bookmarking essentially takes browser-based bookmarking and makes it versatile and participatory!

WordPress and Blogger

I blog using WordPress. You can select one of hundreds of templates, then host and customize your own professional website. But you might struggle to customize a regular website for e-PLNs without ending up with an unattractive row of links, which is why I prefer curation tools. Google Sites and Blogger are alternatives to WordPress, though lacking its flair. Mr. Library Dude and Abbey the Librarian are models of what you can do with WordPress and Blogger.

Please share your thoughts, tips, and experiences with e-PLNs and digital curation tools in the comments below!

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