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Welcome to the fourth step in our free professional learning series on building your PLN.

Now you know what a PLN is, and how people use Twitter to build one, we’re going to discuss ways of making time to build your PLN.

In this step you will explore:

  1. How PLN development can be overwhelming
  2. Get some tips for building your PLN and avoiding being overwhelmed

Sarah Poling

This information was written by Sarah Poling who is passionate about finding and using technology as a motivator and time saver. 

Overview

When I started to learn best practices in educational technology to share with pre-service elementary teachers I just wanted to quit!

It was completely overwhelming to know where and how to start.

A family member and fellow educator said the most important thing to teach new teachers is to create a PLN.

So as any good educator does, I set out to figure out the best ways to create a PLN. Even that was overwhelming, so many choices, and all seemed so new, I started with twitter, perhaps the livefeed was part of my problem- my first tweet, tweets came so fast I couldn’t follow ANY threads of conversation.

Every time I started, I quickly found myself overwhelmed and closing my laptop. In some ways it felt like reading in a foreign language.

But as a lifelong learner, I knew I couldn’t just throw in the towel. I decided I needed a better plan to cope with being a digital immigrant who will be teaching digital natives.

fifteen minutes

I remembered reading, if you do anything for 15 minutes a day, you will be a leading expert in a few years. So I decided that would be my approach.

(Perhaps my inner teenager remembered the movie “What about Bob?” and the ‘babysteps’ theory)

I started with what I knew!

I emailed the one educational blog author that I had been reading in my daily inbox for one month, and asked her for help. She told me NOT to be overwhelmed that the information was coming at me like a firehose of information, and that no one can keep up with it, so just jump in and enjoy what I can gain, use and share. She also told me that twitter had hashtag chats, invited me to join #edchat or #ntchat, and to try and attend an online conference that weekend.

I attended a session on twitter and the presenter said he’s only been an active tweeter for 6 months, thus confirming my suspicion. I could do this in small bites and I could even know enough in a few months to TEACH it. I think that was my real fear, that not only did I want to develop my own PLN, but I wanted to be able to train others in all things social media. But as I took small steps, I was hooked. I would just do a few minutes a few times a week when I could find the time. I also wasn’t going to let anything new intimidate me.

One tool at a timeFrom there I just took one tool at a time. I started by reading more blogs and looking for people to follow on twitter. These went hand in hand, many great bloggers, tweet!.

Through my twitter friends and chats, I learned about edublog and the 30 day challenges. I also found the list of the top blogs from 2010, and saw when I tried to set up my own blog, I could see how new other people were to blogging.

I also had a theory that if I could just find people that have time to specialize in different areas and follow them, I would save myself tons of time, by finding people, like I do in real life who are kindred spirits but also ‘experts’ in things I can’t claim to be an expert in. I was amazed at how many experts there are out there, how fast I learned lingo, and how helpful everyone was.

This perhaps was my best ‘aha’ moment. I want to be the best at all that I do, but in this area, I could just look for the best, and use their ideas until I’m ready to share something great, I’m okay learning from others and appreciating their work.

My Tips for Building your PLN

Here are some tips for building your PLN while avoiding being overwhelmed:

Learning styles and personal preferences

Think about your learning styles, your natural preferences or comforts in the options of social media, and start with what you know. You already have parts of a PLN both in face to face life and on the Internet. Look for similar people, styles on the cloud.

Set a goal

I wrote myself a note and sent it to myself at the close of my academic semester using futureme.org. I included my goals and my game-plan to accomplish them.

Set a routine

Choose a time to do this daily or a few times a week. For me it was after the kids were in bed while DH and I were watching DVR and I could multitask where if I became absorbed in the media on the cloud, I could focus and if it was too much, I could just stop for the day and go back to watching my show.

Find Resources that Help

Find resources to help you organize and that will help you stretch. I joined the edublog 30 day challenge, on my newly created blog, I listed my reasons for blogging and my ed tech goals. I found livebinder and put the button in my toolbar to save resources I loved and wanted to be able to use. I also started a googlereader file and learned I could ‘google’ just in my reader so I never had to be afraid of not finding a great blog again. I didn these as they were comfortable to me, I did not overcommit, I jumped in little by little.

Decide what works best for you!

Realize not everything is going to work for you at once.I joined the blog challenge, but my blog is not one that I use yet, instead I focused on finding other established blogs, and trying to determine a niche or angle for my blog that will be helpful to me and others in my PLN. I admitted I’m not going to be the foremost resource on free tech for teachers, or which apps are the best for the ipad. I also realized that I don’t need to be. I have expertise to offer in different ways. Use trial and error to find the tools that fit you and help you grow.

Don’t force it

Be grateful for the help you are finding, don’t try and give back at first, just thank those who are sharing with you with a comment on their blog, a reply tweet, or an email complimenting their work. Soon enough you will be able to add to the conversation with strength, but don’t force it.

Your Task

Personal Learning Networks are all about sharing, collaborating, and learning from each-other. So here’s your chance to ask a question, comment, and get involved!

We’d like you to add your voice and ideas to our ongoing conversation about PLNs by undertaking one or more of these challenges:

  1. Stop and think what type of PLN do you already have, for me it was money saving blogs and christian life blogs that I ‘went to’ automatically every day. I already had a facebook feed that showcased some of the people I wanted to learn from. Figure out which areas are you drawn to: following the person on twitter, reading a facebook status, looking at a blog each day, or reading email every day.  Leave a comment on this post to tell us about your current PLN and what areas of developing a PLN you want to focus on.
  2. Figure out what is the best time to commit to your PLN development. I learned that I couldn’t do my late night research on twitter and things that were brand new to me. I had to try the new stuff when I wasn’t dead tired. New things I tackled for 15-30 minutes first thing in the morning or as a mid day break.  Let a comment on this post to share your ideas on how you will make time to build your PLN.
  3. Leave a comment to share your top tips that have helped you not get overwhelmed and helped get you started building a PLN.

Also feel free to leave a comment to ask any questions or share your tips

118 Comments

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  1. I will commit to my PLN development by working on my Personal Learning Network three times a week for 30 minutes each. I will work on developing my PLN on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, during my lunch break at work. I will start building my PLN through Twitter and then moving onto blogs.

  2. I really enjoyed your honest in this post! I think a lot of people when they are told about PLN think to themselves, “oh know! I need to follow people on twitter NOW!” I think you brought up a good point when you said not to force it, and to focus on yourself, your learning style, and what you want to know. I agree. Focusing on those things, will help you to develop a PLN that is more conducive to your learning as an educator, rather than the learning of an educator in general. Making goals is really important and will really help to shrink the large task of building a PLN into smaller bite sized pieces. Thanks for your post!

  3. Sarah, I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with developing your PLN on Twitter. Two years ago I attempted to start creating a PLN but quickly became bogged down by my inexperience as a pre-service teacher and my inability to keep up with everything. I thought if I tried “harder”, I could make it work. However, your article helped me to realize I needed to try “smarter”.

    Like you suggested, I need to make realistic goals and take small steps to achieve them. I don’t have to be on Twitter for hours every day, and I don’t have to be ready to share my own content yet. All I have to do, is set up a goal, a routine and find something to hold me accountable. I especially liked the idea of tweeting while watching TV. This way, it is already built into my schedule (ensuring that I do not forget) and allows me to spend the amount of time/energy that I feel is appropriate with “losing” any time during the day.

    After reading your article, I believe I am ready to give Twitter another shot!

  4. Thank you for sharing, Sarah! I greatly appreciate your willingness to express your story of working through the anxieties of Twitter and developing a PLN, and to share some tips that helped you through it all. I’m a pre-service teacher and working on PLN, and pretty much anything that involves other people, causes me some anxieties, and getting organized while making time to work through an issue is a great struggle of mine. Your tips of making small achievable goals for yourself and ensuring some form of accountability are very helpful! Also, thank you for your reminder to not “force it”; I know developing a PLN takes time, and it is always helpful for me to hear this often!

    • Yes it takes time and if I were to revise this I would also say a lot of trial and error to find what works for you. Best wishes as you pursue it. Deep breathes and a growth mindset encourage the best babysteps.

  5. happy summer out there-
    need your help. i’ve been on twitter, participating in edchats by viewing and reading rather than engaging. i have lists based on my interest (edtech, principals, leadership, math, etc) i also subscribe to several list serves like Smartbriefs about Leadership or tech.

    I feel like i am adequately engaged (with a desire to learn more and improve). so i have two questions:

    1. are these things i subscribe to or follow on twitter my PLN? (i believe so but looking for some feedback)

    2. any suggestions on how to organize all these different resources? i conect via email and twitter, sometimes youtube or via blog – any ideas on how to gather all these different sources of Prof Discourse into some manageable and coherent tool? i feel like 10 different faucets are on full blast streaming into my mind with no easy way to organize it.

    this is my summer task and i’d appreciate any help you can provide. have a restful summer-

    vince

    • Try padlet.com to organize your PLN. It lets you comment. Has a button to add to your browser and you can have a padlet by topic and upload documents as well.

  6. I’m in the same place now that you used to be and I really think that you captured that mindset well. I agree with you and with Bob: “baby steps”. You can’t just become this motivated expert on things overnight. They take time and this type of learning is well worth the time and effort. Being able to use Twitter and building your PLN makes all the difference in your classroom and being a better educator and model for your students.

  7. Hello to everyone
    – In our shoolI have undertaken to edit our activities and then publish them to our school blog and to fb
    -In fb i am enrolled in communities like etwinning, or related to healthy nutrition, physical education – I am a teacher of sport- or about my hοbby -i am a soap maker-
    I have a Twetter account but I really do not use it,
    because I do not know the its utility and how to make it work .
    Νow i begun to understand how Twetter works through this very useful LE and your excellent tips.
    -I worked mainly on my computer at home late at night when all is quiet.

    • Despoina Founta
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  8. I currently follow positive posts, christian posts, and posts about Harry Potter on Facebook. For my PLN I would like to follow posts that have to do with creative and positive ways to teach and manage behavior.

  9. I created a twitter account four years ago, and I stopped using it after a few weeks. I got lost in the massive flow of information and when the frustration got too intense, I quit using it. I just created a new twitter for my PLN and this time plan on sticking with it. Thank you for your twitter tips.

    • Jon Lacquement
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  10. I just started a professional twitter account. I think I want to work my way to creating my teacher blog for my students and parents to follow. I want to plan it out this summer and then start developing ideas I will want to post about

  11. I use FB, and just got a Twitter account. I am still not sure how this PLN will work for me or how to build it. As a sub teacher I have asked many teachers if they have a PLN and most don’t. But with all I have read It seems it could be very helpful tool but time consuming if you let it.

  12. I never thought of my PLN in such concrete terms. For me, it was about communicating directly and using simple things like Facebook. This lesson gave me lots of information about how to expand my original ideas

  13. I really loved how this article really advocated starting where you are! I didn’t feel intimidated by the prospect of building my PLN, because the you are “one of us” – someone who started out not knowing anything about a PLN. You made the task of building a PLN seem manageable, which was really encouraging.

  14. I really appreciated the tips you provided. I agree that Twitter and other forms of social media can be overwhelming, but I liked how you talked about breaking it down into manageable steps. I think what will help me most is setting a goal and establishing a routine. I love to do work in front of a movie or TV show, just like you talked about, but I never thought about using that time to go on Twitter and see what is happening in the world of education. Thanks for the great ideas and advice!

    • Hi Emily

      Thank you for your kind words

      Eugene Brown, Edublogs Support

  15. I like how you break down developing a PLN into something personal that is different for everyone. I need to stop comparing my progress to others and develop my PLN the way that works best for me. I need to take baby steps, like you described, to get more comfortable as I grow in my teaching abilities. I am not yet comfortable with twitter, but I believe that by taking it slow like you did I can learn to warm up to it. Thanks for sharing!

  16. I agree that twitter can be initially intimidating. I think I struggle with it sometimes. I am also the type of person who doesn’t like to post anything online. I am very conscious of what I am putting on the internet and don’t really like to post if I don’t have to. Using twitter as a professional development opportunity can be beneficial, and I am able to see that. I think I also need to take baby steps to adjust to using twitter in this way.

  17. After reading this page, I realized I do not have to become perfect at PLN overnight. I can work at my own pace and figure it out along the way, by talking to people and learning about what they have done to develop their PLN. I really like the idea of setting goals and routines for each day. I am really excited to begin this process!

  18. I agree that seeing all of the information continuously adding to a Twitter feed can be very overwhelming, but there are some very valuable tools and ideas within the flood of posts. Some things that I have been introduced to on Twitter are project based learning, Wonderopolis, and lesson ideas that other teachers have created or implemented. I have also definitely noticed that people tweeting within the professional education domain of Twittter, tend to be very respectful and helpful in networking! I have not seen any disrespectful conversations as you might in other uses for Twitter

  19. I currently rely on facebook as my means of professional development and networking. I hope to expand my horizons by using twitter and the twitter chats in areas that I feel necessary for my development. What are some twitter groups that would be a great starter pack for a preservice teacher?

  20. I have commented: I think this method of making time sounds great. For me, the best time is during lunch. I don’t know how doing your development during your television time works. I would be very distracted watching television, but if it works for, that is fantastic. I haven’t used Twitter much in the past for really anything, but I believe I would enjoy it.

  21. Thank you for the tips Mrs. Waters. As a pre-service teacher the thought of Twitter was overwhelming at first. The continual flow of tweets made me feel like I was losing potential knowledge as I would watch tweet after tweet flash past. Your tip to set a goal, set a routine, and don’t force it stuck out to me. I feel like the coming New Year is a perfect time to set a new Twitter tech goal. Setting a routine is a must for me, I’ll start small. Maybe one tweet, one favorite, one retweet a week and each month add an additional element. Most importantly though I appreciate your advice that says, don’t force it. How true! Growing as an educator should be a desire of mine. As I set a routine and see the benefits of using Twitter affecting my teaching I am sure I will start to love using it to grow as an educator! Thank you again for your advice :)

  22. Who ever put these 9 steps together was very wise- for non twitter users- this section was needed after the information in the last two sections.

    • I found the fire hose of info in the digital world so overwhelming. So I had to mentally shift my mindset to engage meaningfully. Glad it helps! Sue organized the order of the pln steps.

  23. I love the concept of being able to take ‘baby steps’ into developing a PLN or even into the world of Twitter. Having personally never used Twitter before it can be quite overwhelming coming up against a tidal wave of information but by remaining determined and focused on your individual goals and interests, as stated in this article, it can be done and I am looking forward to taking that first step!

  24. I think the best time for my PLN is probably going to be right before bedtime. I’m constantly on the move during the day and I find that I can focus most clearly on one task right before I go to bed.

  25. Currently my PLN is face book and emails. I hope I can find music education sites to use from Twitter

  26. I hope to connect with a Language Arts group and add the check in to my time when I check my Facebook and other sites. Once I get comfortable with that, I would like to look for a good group to discuss technology in the classroom. Baby steps!

    • Hi Rebecca, let us know if you managed to connect with a Language Arts group, so others can benefit from that group too.
      Eugene Brown, Edublogs Support

  27. Hi Everyone

    Thanks for sharing your insights into how you make time for building your PLN and what works for you! I find having a routine helps but I’m also okay if some times I favor one social network over another. That is the best part of Personal learning networks. It is all about what you want to learn, when you want to learn and what network you want to use.

    Sue Waters
    Support Manager
    Edublogs | CampusPress

  28. I often find myself clicking on links to educational articles that I see posted by my friends on Facebook. Now that I have a Twitter account, I realize that I have been missing out for quite some time. Although this does seem a bit overwhelming, I believe that with some practice I will have plenty of brain stimulating articles at my fingertips in no time.

  29. I am learning to incorporate different technologies into my classroom all the time. For me the best time to start and grow my PLN would be in the late evenings and early morning hours. I have spoken with colleagues who believe that it is important to start small and grow as I get more comfortable with it. I do think that growing a PLN is essential to my growth as well. I want very much to incorporate twitter into my classes so that my students and I can interact with information and assignments. I would also like to continue to grow with this and find and use different blogs and maybe one day start one myself.

    • James Quintana
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  30. A1: I joined Twitter a few years ago and just didn’t get it and found it overwhelming. With some instruction I have found it to be surprisingly enlightening and useful to my professional development. For me it worked to start following a few educators in my district as well as people I enjoy on FB (Rachel Simmons). Surprisingly within a week a tweet with a link to an article directly related to a committee I was on (women in engineering) came up and I shared it with them. I also recently favorited (sp?) a tweet to a New York Times article “Cyberbullying is You”

    A2: For me reading tweets in the morning (not going to lie, while drying my massive amount of hair) is a good routine, as well as checking in after school.

    I am astonished to say that I think I am addicted to Twitter…lately I’m reading it more often than FB.

  31. The best time for my PLN commitment is directly after school. I am very new to this and struggle with technology already so I think being patient with the process is so important. It takes me twice as long right now to figure out what I am doing but I am hoping that with practice – I am thinking 15 minutes a day also sounds good to me- I will improve .

  32. The best time for my PLN commitment is directly after school. I am very new to this and struggle with technology already so I think being patient with the process is so important. It takes me twice as long right now to figure out what I am doing but I am hoping that with practice – I am thinking 15 minutes a day also sounds good to me .

  33. My biggest tip is not to force it. Using my PLN is a routine but on days that I am truly fed up with teaching, I might just need a minute to unwind and not look at anything professional. Searching for fixes to my professional problems can be soothing but sometimes it is stressful. I like to make sure I am relaxed and ready to learn when I dig into my PLN.

    • Whitney Hileman
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  34. I usually arrive home after teaching school between 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm. Right away, I always check my email. This would be a great time to also grow my PLN and utilize my new Twitter account since I am online at this time already.

    • Mary Beth Kulin
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  35. I think where I can make time is at the end of the day. I often reflect on my lessons and make notes as to what worked/didn’t work/can be improved. This 25 minutes at the end of the day can be used to share with a larger community and to gain insight on what other educators are doing within their classroom.

  36. I currently use my Twitter account a lot for communicating with players on the basketball teams as well as getting general knowledge updates. I would like to start using more of the #edchat (s) and professional development opportunities.

  37. I find YouTube to be a tremendous resource in my PLN. At the end of the day, practically every single night, I need time to wind down before going to sleep. I go on YouTube and find videos that relate to my interests. Being an art educator, the majority of my videos watched are on techniques, construction and ideas for projects. I have learned many new techniques and gained many ideas from this resource. There are a number of channels I subscribe to based on pottery, sculpture, woodworking and do it yourself projects. I have even found several videos that I use in my classroom to build background knowledge on materials being used in class. As a member of YouTube, I have posted very few videos but have goals, now that I have advanced my own abilities, of sharing my knowledge, tips and techniques with others as I would in my own classroom.

    • Daniel Surovchak
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  38. This was required reading for an Educational Technology course. As a assignment for the course, we will develop a PLN. Currently, my best time is at night. Becoming a secondary educator is a career change for me. I have taught college courses and am a former communicator. I have worked in broadcasting and public relations. The information you share was encouragement for this digital immigrant.

  39. Sarah,

    Thank you so much for posting this about your struggles. I am overwhelmed in using technology to expand my network. I appreciate hearing about other people’s struggles and learning from them. I loved your tips on how to build a PLN. I am in college so setting time aside is a a bit of a struggle, but I know it’s important for my future as an educator. I also like that building my network on my own terms. I like that it is not something that has to be done one set way.

    Thank you!

  40. I’d have to agree with the reply that’s already here… that 15 minutes may not seem like much, but I already this year had to very reluctantly give up a “Line a day” journal I began last March… and I was determined to get through a year so I could start seeing the overlaps of certain days.

    The good news is that unlike a journal, it needn’t wait until the very end of a day. I should, when I notice I have 15 minutes (more likely it would be 10), make a deliberate an undistracted visit to my PLN, consolidating everything I find; be it through retweets, pinning, or bookmarking.
    I could also try another strategy where I itemize the process rather than set aside a stretch. Maybe I have four 5 minute periods where I could look into one thing in each, even if I wouldn’t have a full chunk of the combined times. That’s the perk of a Personal Learning Network I suppose – it’s bite-sized, and as flexible as my access to it is!

    • This is the spirit, it has to be a lifestyle and fit, five minutes is fine, it will grow your pln tons in even one month!

  41. Thank you so much for such a valuable tool to learn more about building my PLN. I love how manageable you have made it to develop. I am a college student and it is hard to find time to add anything to my hectic schedule but a few minutes here and there is very easy! I would love to know of any additional resources that you have. Is there other ways to develop my PLN other than twitter and blogs? I would be very interested in any additional information you have!

    • This is the spirit, it has to be a lifestyle and fit, five minutes is fine, it will grow your pln tons in even one month!

      Ashley use Pinterest to save, find, and grow your pln, and Facebook. I only tweet when it’s a really special search, it overwhelms me!

  42. Your comments make a lot of sense to me. Sadly, my college life is already overwhelming at times in terms of schedule so I am desperately trying to avoid adding anything to my life. I know that 15 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but somehow it seems like a huge commitment at this stage in my life. The other problem is that college is, by nature, a place overflowing with sources of information. While I am in this environment, finding more ways to learn seems a bit unnecessary. However, one day I will graduate from college and developing my PLN will be a worthy and feasible goal.