As educators we have all attended training on some topic de jour. Sometimes the professional development is powerful, insightful and inspiring. We leave energized, only to lose that enthusiasm as career and daily life reclaim us. All traces of the event soon pass, except for the professional development binder on the bookshelf silently accusing us of neglect.
What is wrong with this scenario? EVERYTHING!
A one-time shot of professional development
Not tailored to individual needs
No follow up or support
No time to practice, implement or assess
Let’s consider another strategy: customized professional development, that is easily accessed from any computer, whenever one has a few minutes for informal learning. The two most important concepts here are customized and informal.
A network is made up of the people and resources you choose to help you learn at any time. Your people and resources might be found on a listserv, forum, blog, web page or social network such as Ning, LearnCentral, or Facebook. Another term for informal learning by social collaboration is crowdsourcing - someone in your network will know what you need to know.
Build Your Personal Learning Network
Don't know where to start? Make a list of what interests you.
interactive whiteboard resources
global collaboration projects
easy ways to edit video
Take blogs as an example: how does one implement a successful blogging project with high school students? What are the benefits and pitfalls and how do you grade this project? Follow the blog of a teacher who has done blogging with high school students and learn from his or her experiences, pitfalls and insights! Do a search for "educational bloggers" and check out a few of the top names. You can even contact that individual with specific questions and will probably get a personalized answer.
Finding that blogger-teacher is easy enough. Do a search for "educational bloggers" and check out a few of the names. The bloggers you find might be classroom teachers, curriculum people, technology consultants or conference presenters. There are web sites with great lists of bloggers, such as Supportblogging.com and Kathy Schrock's Ed Tech Blog Picks. Lurk-and-Learn Just like the new kid on the block, sometimes it’s easier to wade into a new subject or group after observing the interactions, norms and topics of interest. No one wants to appear dumb; so lurking and learning is a perfectly acceptable way to get the toes wet before asking a question or volunteering an opinion. Build Your Personal Learning Environment The personal learning environment is where you access all those resources in one place. In the past, this place was probably a book shelf, home office or a public library. Building a digital personal learning environment in the cloud is key to being able to access your resources from any computer or mobile device.
Learning environments are also customizable to your unique needs - what works for one person might not work for another. In my own case, I spend most of the day at a computer with the internet browser set to my iGoogle home page. This kind of in-my-face visual setup lets me quickly scan the RSS feeds from my resources. Other options might be Google Reader, Netvibes, Pageflakes, Diigo, or Delicious.
This is what my personal learning network looks like:
Do I read all of them? No, I take a quick look at the lastest posted titles and read a few in depth when I have some free time. I also delete and select new resources based on the recommendation of others.
Take control of your professional development by joining the informal learning movement! Set up your environment, collect your network, and learn anything at anytime!