Using Technology for Life-Long Learning in Social Work: Professional Learning Networks

This post was written and edited by Nancy J. Smyth, Melanie Sage, and myself as part of our collaboration on our forthcoming book, Teaching Social Work with Digital Technology, to be published by CSWE Press in 2018.   

Professional Learning Networks (PLN) exist when social workers use social media to collect information related to professional interests, share this information with others, and collaborate with others on projects (Richardson & Mancebelli, 2011). For more details about PLN, please see this blog post titled Personal Learning Networks for Social Workers (Hitchcock, 2015).  A PLN is unique to each person, and learning how others structure their PLN can be helpful in setting up your own network.  In this blog post, we asked two social work educators to share their best tips for using technology as a tool for learning.

Kelly Joplin, an Assistant Professor and Director of Field Education from the Carver School of Social Work at Campbellsville University, uses a productivity app called Evernote to support her personal learning network (PLN).  She writes:

I love Evernote! It keeps me organized. It has folders where I collect articles, videos, audio clips, pdfs, maps, and links to resources for each of my classes. I use many different types of media in my classes and this makes pulling those different pieces onto the classroom screen seamless. I do not have to toggle back and forth between apps or the internet therefore eliminating the uncomfortable classroom lag time while bringing up media. (I find I lose students in the lag.)

It also has a web clipper tool. This allows me to grab interesting articles while I am surfing for future class discussion or activities. I can email those links to students or post them to social media. It is laid out with tiles so each article or link is easy to find and pull up at a glance. See Screenshot 1.

Screenshot 1: Using Evernote via Mac Computer from Kelly Joplin

It has a work chat feature where you can send colleagues articles. See Screenshot 2. The app can be put on smartphones and syncs. It also has a feature where you can work on a document as a group.  Evernote Basic for 60 MB is free. You can upgrade for additional features (K. Joplin, personal communication, September 11, 2017).

Screenshot 2: Using Evernote to Send an Article to Colleague via Mac Computer from Kelly Joplin

In contrast, Ann M. Callahan, an Associate Professor of Social Work at Eastern Kentucky University’s Social Work Program, shares how she incorporates several apps into her PLN:

I organize web resources for course development and student collaboration through Flipboard, YouTube, and Pinterest.

Flipboard can be used to organize articles and is accessible for students with disabilities. There you can create your own magazine(s) where articles that you “flip” appear. You can flip articles from other Flipboard magazines into your own magazines. To flip articles into Flipboard magazines from the web, you can download a “+ Flip It” extension if using Google Chrome. You can invite others with a Flipboard account to flip articles into your magazine(s). You can post comments about flipped articles. You can also follow Flipboard magazines created by others. My social work magazines are at See Screenshot 3.

Screenshot 3: Ann M. Callahan’s Flipboard via Google Chrome

Youtube can be used to create, upload, and close caption your videos (for accessibility). There you can also create playlists to organize videos uploaded by others on Youtube and videos from websites that host on Youtube. Some videos on your playlists may be deleted over time, so it requires vigilance to discard old links. My social work playlists are at See Screenshot 4.

Screenshot 4: Ann M. Callahan’s YouTube Channel via Google Chrome

Pinterest can be used to organize infographics and pictures. There you can create your own board(s) to “pin” images. You can pin images found on boards created by others on Pinterest. You can also pin images found on the web with a “Pin It” extension for Google Chrome. These images need to be described in the title and/or as a comment to support accessibility ( Chiles, 2016). My social work boards are at See Screenshot 5.

Screenshot 5: Ann M. Callahan’s Pinterest Page via Google Chrome

If you have a website, you can insert script provided by Flipboard, YouTube, and Pinterest to create a “widget.” I have widgets that direct people to all the social work materials I have collected on my website at In one of my classes, I asked students to share items that enhanced their understanding of course content through Flipboard and Pinterest. We discussed what they found in class. It was fascinating to engage with students this way. I still see some of my previous students using these applications. (A. Callahan, personal communication, September 5, 2017).

Do you have a PLN?  You can see examples of our PLNs in the PPT slides from our presentation at the 3rd Annual Social Work Distance Education Conference in April 2017.   Please share your best tips or comments about how you use technology to enhance your own life-long learning.

Chiles, D. (2016, March 18). Accessibility on Social Media [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Hitchcock, L. I. (2015, July 2). Personal Learning Networks for Social Workers [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Hitchcock, L. I., Sage, M., & Smyth, N. J. (2017, April 15). Day Two of #SWDE2017 – Professional Learning Networks for Social Work [Blog post]. Retrieved  from

How to Cite this post:
Hitchcock, L., Smyth, N.J. & Sage, M. (2017, September 12). Using Technology for Life-Long Learning in Social Work: Professional Learning Networks [Blog post]. Retrieved from:

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

Dr. Hitchcock served as the editor for this blog post. The author is the Guest Educator.

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