For the uninitiated, a PLN is commonly referred to as either a Professional or Personal Learning Network. A term coined some time ago, both definitions can work, and both have similar connotations. According to Google, a Professional Learning Network for a teacher is:

…an online community of educators that comes together informally to share ideas about education, including lesson plans, pedagogical strategies, and lots of encouragement. PLNs happen on Twitter and other social media sites, or you may find other communities specifically developed around your interests.

Whereas a Personal Learning Network is:

… a group of colleagues, mentors, and professionals that you connect with to enhance your learning and take charge of your own professional development.

As you can see, the context is similar and, I think, a good PLN is a mixture of both. In my experience, most of my PLN that I’ve developed over the last decade or so has been developed with me starting the connection online. My PLN is built up, mostly, of four types of individuals:

It does often lead to the conversation where people call you by your Twitter handle rather than your real name, “Hey, ICT Evangelist!” but that just adds to the fun of it. I had this experience at Bett just last week with James Fraser. “Who?” I hear you ask. @EatSleepICTRpt, of course, and we had this exact conversation. This kind of camaraderie all helps to reinforce the connection.

What others say

Friend of NetSupport, visitor to our stand at Bett and R.I.S.E. magazine contributor, Caroline Keep shared:

“Bett is the event of the year! A chance to meet educators from all over the UK and internationally, to share resources, contacts, expertise and gain valuable CPD from leading professionals in the education field through conference talks and events throughout the days.”

  • those with similar interests to me, such as edtech or evidence informed approaches to teaching and learning
  • people who challenge my views
  • thought leaders who inspire me
  • others who teach the same subject as me

… but my strongest PLN members have always been ones that I’ve connected with IRL (in real life) at events.

Pleased to meet you!

With Bett being the largest educational technology event of its type in the world, it has always been a great place to bump into those online colleagues that I’d been sharing with and reinforce the digital connection with a real in-person connection.

Now that is a direct quote (thank you, Caroline) but doesn’t that read quite like the definition shared above? It surely does and so attending Bett truly is a great way to boost your PLN.

This view is further reinforced by another great member of my PLN, Georgina Dean, Director of Digital Strategy at Felsted School. Georgina shared:

“As an international education leader, I’ve always flown in from another country to attend Bett UK and have also participated in Bett Abu Dhabi. This is the first year where I was local to the Bett UK event, and took the train, rather than the plane. Bett is not only a great place to learn about new and exciting initiatives in technology for education and beyond, but it’s a great space to connect with others. I’ve met, and continue to collaborate, with educators and leaders from all over the world, just from the energisers, panels, and events that organisations have put on for attendees. I would hands-down give it a 5-star rating for local and global connections, a key priority in 21st century teaching and learning, and essential for the future world of work.”

Reinforce your PLN…

Having a great PLN means that unlike a Google search, you have access to a contextual response, one built upon positive relationships, mutual respect, specific and targeted subject knowledge, rather than one which is fed by algorithms, just based upon the few words you type. And, as you’ll hopefully be beginning to see, human interactions and meeting people in real life is a large part of what helps to make that great online PLN. Sure, you can develop a strong PLN with geographically disparate members, but if you really want to supercharge your connections, meeting people face to face is key, I think, to building those strong bonds of professional discourse.

Again though, don’t just take my word for it… friend of NetSupport, Network Manager of the Year 2020, self-confessed selfie king and all-around powerhouse of community engagement, Abid Patel said about his PLN and the importance of Bett:

“I always say, I am where I am today because of the connections I have made at Bett over 17 years. This year, I barely sat in any presentations and still didn’t manage to see all of the show, but that’s because I spent so much time reconnecting with friends and colleagues and making powerful new connections. The power of people is far superior to any EdTech tool.”

So, if you’re looking to really boost your PLN, get your diary out and make a note for next year’s event which will be taking place 29-31 March 2023. See you there?