Professional development doesn't take place in isolation. It requires a network of other professionals who share ideas and opportunities. In the past, most professionals depended on conferences and seminars for professional networking. Today, advances in the web technologies have enabled the development of online professional development platforms that support networking. By networking online, professionals can connect and share personal and organizational knowledge across geographic barriers and time zones.
Online professional development networks support continuous learning without requiring a professional to travel or spend time away from work. Enormous cost savings can be realized with online virtual development events compared to traditional physical events. Online networks provide peer support, encouragement and can help professionals stay current with industry news and best practices.
There are a variety of professional development platforms online, many devoted to a single profession or industry. You can also use general purpose social and learning networks for professional development. Here are a few suggestions for using social and learning networks for professional development:
Facebook Groups is a feature of the Facebook social network that allows communities of people to communicate, interact, collaborate and share. Educators and other professionals can set up or join groups that allow them to chat in real time, initiate group polls, send reminders about upcoming events, collectively write and edit documents, and share content found anywhere on the web. Various levels of privacy settings allow groups to keep membership and all posted content hidden or to allow anyone on Facebook to see the group and its content.
LinkedIn is a professional social network that has millions of registered members. By initiating conversations with other members, professionals can locate career opportunities and share knowledge and resources. Like Facebook, LinkedIn has a Groups feature but in this case the groups are more like professional organizations with hundreds or thousands of members. You can search for groups using keywords or browse a directory of groups. Once you have joined a group by requesting membership, you can follow and participate in ongoing professional conversations.
Quorais a question-and-answer website with a growing online presence. Like Wikipedia, it is a publicly-maintained collection of shared knowledge. Anyone can post a question, provide an answer or improve the information on this shared learning network. In addition to Q&A, the Quora environment fosters community learning and networking through comment and messaging features. Quora's founders hope to see it become the go-to resource for people seeking both broad and in-depth amounts of information about an industry or field of study.
Forums and Communities can be found online for almost any profession or specialized industry. Professionals can expand their network by scouring their vertical for pockets of communities. If you are a Church Planter join the Commissioned Community. If you're an educator, turn to the Educator's PLN or Classroom 2.0. If you're a software developer, consider joining one of the expert developer forums at Stack Overflow. If you're a lawyer or law student, visit the forums at Lawyrs.net or LawLink. Whatever your industry, a Google search will most likely turn up many forums and communities dedicated to professional networking.
Email is not typically thought of as a social network, but it is still one of the best tools for sharing knowledge and connecting with other professionals. Use email to subscribe to industry newsletters and blogs, contact professionals you admire, follow up on referrals and investigate new career paths. Never underestimate the effect of a well-crafted email message when it comes to establishing professional connections.
Online networking is one of the best tools for overcoming isolation, finding support and exploring new ideas with a vast community of professionals around the world. As you chart your professional development, don't forget to take full advantage of social and learning networks. They offer unprecedented opportunities for professionals to increase their visibility, establish professional relationships, expand their knowledge base and manage their careers.
Sarah Fudin currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California's Master of Arts in Teaching program, which provides aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn a Masters degree in teaching and focus in TESOL online. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.