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Professional Learning Networks for Social Work


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On the last day of CSWE’s Annual Program Meeting at 10:00 AM in the Dallas Ballroom A-2, Nancy J. Smyth, Melanie Sage, Jonathan Singer, and I are presenting about how social work educators can use technology for career-long learning. Nancy, Melanie and I introduced the idea of professional learning networks (PLN) to a packed room at Social Work Distance Education Conference in April, and wanted to bring the practice to the #APM17 crowd. A PLN incorporates technology-based tools and processes in a way that allows individuals to stay up-to-date and share information about current news, practice knowledge and current research findings. We will be talking about the mechanics, advantages and disadvantages of establishing a PLN. One resources we will be sharing is our Professional Learning Network (PLN) Worksheet, which takes a social worker through the steps of creating their own PLN.

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Professional Learning Networks for Social Work

  1. 1. Nancy J. Smyth, PhD University at Buffalo Laurel Iverson Hitchcock, PhD University of Alabama at Birmingham Melanie Sage, PhD University at Buffalo Jonathan B. Singer, PhD, LCSW Loyola University Chicago
  2. 2. Objectives 3. Appreciate the role of theory in adopting technology tools for social work practice 1. Describe what a Professional Learning Network (PLN) is and why to use one 2. Demonstrate how to create your own PLN
  3. 3. Why? - Life-long or Career Learning - Ethical practice for Social Workers - Rapid pace of change requires active strategies to stay up-to-date “Why Have a Professional Learning Network?” Self-Reflection on Current Strategies - What topics do you need to stay abreast of? - How do you current keep up on new developments? - When you need to know something, to whom to you go?
  4. 4. What’s in your PLN?
  5. 5. “Whats” of a Professional Learning Network in Digital Spaces What? - Technology-based tools & processes to network, disseminate and stay informed - Building professional relationships in digital spaces Examples - Following a local NASW Chapter Facebook Page - Table of Content Alerts from a Journal - Participating in a educational technology Facebook Group
  6. 6. USING THEORY WHEN DEVELOPING A PLN Social Learning Social presence is key • Imitation and reinforcement • Socialization helps with identity development • Use of videos, social media, avatars, discussion boards can help reinforce social presence • Group work • Active/collaborative learning, performing for public audience Digital Literacy understand, share and create meaning with different kinds of technology and media: • Understand the range of ways that social media could be used within professional practice • Respecting and promoting ethical practice • Participate in a variety of platforms • Skills to create professional content • Share content appropriately Connectivism/Connected Learning learner is fast paced and connections are needed for lifelong learning • Non-human tools can promote learning • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts; peers and practitioners • Decision-making about what to learn is a key learning process • Academic learning can occur outside the classroom Communities of Practice learners have a tribe: • Collective competence and willingness to learn from others • Engaged in contributing to the collective knowledge and resources • Sustained and consistent interaction • Professional topics
  7. 7. Steps to Creating a PLN 1. What do you want to learn? 2. How do you want to participate? 3. What digital tools do you want to use? 4. How will you manage it? 5. How will you connect it with your face-to-face network?
  8. 8. How do I want to participate? QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY DIVERSITY SHARING
  9. 9. What digital tools should I use? Podcasts Facebook Twitter Blog LinkedIN
  11. 11. Connecting your Digital and Face-to-Face Network • Use digital tools to build your relationships • Engage your face-to-face colleagues on digital platforms • Connect with digital colleagues in person
  12. 12. Nancy’s Professional Learning Network RSS Feed Reader Content discovery: nonprofits, virtual worlds, management, higher ed, SW, social media health/behavioral health FB Facebook - NADD Deans/Directors Group -Connect w/Alums Twitter - Connect w/SW Community - Content discovery: Social Innovation, Business, Nonprofits, #EdTech, SW Google+ Communities - #SWTech Community - Rheingold course alumni (online collaboration/trends) LinkedIn - Connect with alums, students, colleagues NADD Listserv BPD Listserv - Trends and issues, best practices E-Newsletters - Content Discovery
  13. 13. Laurel’s Professional Learning Network #MacroSW Online Community Professional Blog Teaching and Learning in Social Work TWITTER Relationship Building & Sharing with Students & Colleagues Social Work & Technology Google+ Community Online Community #SWTech LinkedIn Relationship Building & Sharing with Students, Colleagues & Alums
  14. 14. Melanie’s Professional Learning Network You Tube husITa/tech groups Relationship building, developing expertise FB Facebook Personal/professional relationship building (people I’d invite over for dinner) T Twitter Professional relationship building, research dissemination, reputation management BPD Listserv IV-E Listserv Learning about trends and issues CSWE Councils Leadership development, professional knowledge
  15. 15. Jonathan’s Professional Learning Network Listservs
  16. 16. What to Learn - Defining your Learning Eco Map What are your professional goals? What do you do? What do you need to learn? What do you want to learn? Who are you as a learner? Create your own PLN with our worksheet
  17. 17. Professional Learning Network Worksheet Available at:
  18. 18. Resources Hitchcock, L. I. (2015, July 2). Personal Learning Networks for Social Workers. Retrieved from learning-networks-for-social-workers/ Michaeli, D. (2015, November 15). Personal Learning Network Twitter Cheat Sheet. Retrieved February 8, 2017, from cheat-sheet.html Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connections to transform education. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press. Smyth, N. J. (2016, October 14). Online Connections for Professional Learning. Retrieved from for-professional-learning/ Whitby, T. (2013, November 18). How Do I Get a PLN? Retrieved April 5, 2017, from
  19. 19. Questions? Laurel Iverson Hitchcock, PhD University of Alabama at Birmingham twitter: @laurelhitchcock Melanie Sage, PhD University of North Dakota twitter: @melaniesage Nancy J. Smyth, PhD University at Buffalo email: twitter: @njsmyth Jonathan B. Singer, Ph.D., LCSW Loyola University Chicago @socworkpodcast