In a previous post, I suggested personal learning networks as an ideal model for differentiated professional development. In the midst of diffusing this idea through communication with virtual colleagues as well as in a face-to-face format locally, several questions have come up. I'll try to sum them up:

  1. Will PLNs replace existing professional development? If not, how might it supplement existing initiatives and state/federal mandates?
  2. I thought PLNs were the "end-all" solution to differentiating professional development, why can't I find any resources/thoughts/commentary on ___________?
These both seem like logical questions given the recent "hype" surrounding personal learning networks, particularly as I have expressed my enthusiasm with building-level colleagues about its possibilities. I would like to take a few moments and address these two questions using a metaphor that came to mind today.

Personal learning networks should be viewed as "vitamins" rather than "aspirin."

Just as technology alone will not improve teaching and learning, PLNs are not the "aspirin" solution to our system's professional development headaches. The information gathered from blogs, wikis, Twitter and our favorite podcasts have the capacity to shape our philosophy of education as well as provide a medium for learning about new teaching resources. Personal learning networks are inherently de-centralized. School districts will always need to push out information to the masses through some form of centralized medium. Currently, this is often in the form of face-to-face in-service meetings to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

I see PLNs as more of a "vitamin" approach to learning and professional development. The edubloggers I follow and journals I subscribe to strengthen my practice as an educator. Whenever I load up my RSS or Twitter feed, I am looking for new ideas and insights into the areas of math education, technology and assessment. Some tidbits are timely wheras most of it is archived for later retreival. I may read about an interesting use of cell phones in the classroom setting, but not actually find a use for it until weeks or months down the road. The ability to archive and search so much of what I read via my PLN makes it an invaluable resource to counter the "why can't I find information on ________?" question. If I don't find someone who is currently (or even willing) to talk/chat/Tweet/write about a given topic today, I may find something that will come in handy down the road. Just as vitamins strengthen the body for extended healthy use, I believe my personal learning network has greatly enhanced my educational practices.

While the idea of "personal learning networks" continues to evolve, I am interested to see how it will be individually marketed. It starts with those who are currently enjoying the benefits of networking for professional growth's sake.

What purpose does your PLN serve? Do you see it as "medicine" or a "vitamin" for your professional growth?