Educon 2.3: Focus Question 1

One question we presented to our Educon conversation attendees was:

What are the major barriers (beyond technical fluency) for social-network based PLN’s to become vehicles for transformative professional development?

Lots of great thoughts on this, and of the three focus questions, probably the easiest to answer.  After all, if there weren’t so many barriers, everyone would be learning via PLNs, right?  Let’s kick it off with the big one (literally and figuratively):

Photo by Ben Wildeboer

It’s not everyday you see a Post-It note re-tweeted, but surely fear of the Internet, fear of the unknown, fear of transparency, fear of accessibility, fear of sharing information, and all other manner of fears act as barriers to PLN involvement.  I certainly struggled with it to a degree when I first became involved in my online professional community, and I have had much prior experience online – I imagine it must be an even more significant barrier to overcome when “all this Internet stuff” is completely foreign to a person.

The “fear” theme was pervasive throughout the responses, but other interesting points were made as well:

  • The term “Personal” may be a barrier – can PD be too individualized, and therefore isolating?
  • PLN-style learning is not always valued by administrators or by the system that requires educators to quantify their learning (e.g., PD hours) – how do we put a number on the discussions we have or the resources we share?
  • Often, schools dictate what is acceptable professional development and what is not – if even structured, “official” PD can be discounted as “acceptable”, what chance does social, informal learning have?
  • PLNs are not PD unto themselves – they can be part of an overall PD plan, but this in & of itself is not enough

I would love to hear your thoughts on these.  If you’re interested (or you attended the session and are curious what everyone said), here’s the complete list of what the crew came up with:

* FEAR (RT @thejlv)
* maintaining status quo
* school policy
* don’t want to “put themselves out there”
* fear of sharing information
* policies dictating what counts as PD
* systems, i/e/ organizational issues
* convince admins of the value of social PD
* overgeneralization
* accessibility, liability, etc
* state/govt mandates
* lack/absence of methods, strategies proposed
* like students, teachers need to be taught (or re-taught) to think
* don’t know where to start
* getting knowledge out of boxes & into classrooms
* communicating ideas effectively for educators AND non-educators!
* Term “Personal” in PLN – is this a barrier?
* misperception
* if it’s not structured by an ‘expert’, it’s not ‘real’ PD
* PLNs are by definition small, focused, & scattered.  They are part of a comprehensive PD plan, but not plan themselves.
* unwillingness to be online
* people being comfortable taking risks and being vulnerable


  • One of the big barriers that comes up any time my colleagues and I discuss online PD is the fear that administration will demand that we give up our non-school time without compensation or recognition. When parents, administrators, and (most of all) politicians come right out and say that teachers have a light workload, none of us want to volunteer to add anything new to the grading and planning we already do at home.

  • Good point. One of the items that came up in our opening discussion of what makes a teacher a professional was the necessity of autonomy, and that includes for choosing our own professional development venues.

    I think part of the whole PLN experience is the voluntary pursuit of knowledge one feels one needs. Having that dictated from on high (especially if it’s like, “What’s a PLN? Sounds good; everyone needs to have one and report back by next week”) would run counter to the purpose.

    I find my PLN activity ebbs and flows; there are definitely times when I am more active than others. If this was mandated by a superior, I would feel pressure to maintain a certain level of activity at all times, which may or may not be reasonable given what else is going on in my life at any given time.

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