In the world of social work, learning networks are nothing new. Social workers have always exchanged information in a social setting, such as sharing referrals and resources with other social work colleagues. Social workers often photocopy and share articles from trusted journals with colleagues they are collaborating with on a project.
Competent and ethical social work practice requires that practitioners, educators, and students stay up-to-date and share information about current news, practice knowledge, and the latest research findings, (Council on Social Work Education, 2015; National Association of Social Workers, 2018).
Professional Learning Networks
Lifelong professional learning for social workers has excelled in recent years as mobile technology and digital social networks have combined to enable what is now called Professional Learning Networks. PLNs use social media to connect to people with shared interests and exchange useful information. What makes this a PROFESSIONAL learning network is the feedback loop—the social worker offers her or his insight to others who can then offer their own feedback or share supplementary knowledge. PLNs are not passive; they only work when the learner has opportunities to receive specific and direct feedback and uses a network of peers or professionals to build upon the feedback if needed.
The effective use of this new uber-life-long-learning tool requires a certain level of digital literacy. One must know how to communicate across digital networks (the norms associated with the various tools and how to find people and add them to their network), assess who belongs in their network, and be self-motivated in information-seeking in a group of co-learners.
There are many benefits to developing a digital PLN with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn:
- You can develop a network of trusted resources (individuals, organizations, and publishers) that you can access at almost any time.
- You can easily stay up-to-date on any professional interest and quickly add or expand an interest on your network.
- A digital PLN allows you to easily create and share content with others in real time, offering tools that enable you to meaningfully contribute to professional conversations and public discourse.
Making A Start
- Start by setting up a free social media account for professional use. You will want to create an open and public account. If you keep your accounts private, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to network, communicate, or share information with others.
- Start following social workers on Twitter.
- Set up your LinkedIn profile.
- Join an online community.
- Start reading social work blogs and websites.
- It is important to learn about notification settings for each social media platform, which may include texts or e-mail alerts when new content is available. Use these settings to push content to you in a way that is most convenient for you.
- The final step is to maintain and nurture your network. People will follow and connect with you when you follow them, comment on their posts, and contribute valuable information. Relationships are key on social media.
Materials must be shared in a way that reflects professionalism and ethics associated with social work. Remember good social media ethics include never asking a question that could identify any clients, and don't ever "vent" about your work in a way that disparages our discipline.
Professional Learning Networks for Social Workers in the Digital Age, Laurel Iverson Hitchcock, PhD, LICSW, Social Work Today, Vol.18 No. 2