Professional development is central to the effective use of technology, but it often conjures up images of inconvenient and time-consuming meetings and workshops. Now, a new crop of online, “anytime, anywhere” resources is changing the way schools approach staff development–and changing how educators view the concept, too.

These new online professional “learning communities” allow teachers to network, ask questions, and share ideas with colleagues on their own time–something teachers have precious little opportunity to do while at school. They also give educators on-demand access to videos, tutorials, and other how-to advice as needed, resulting in the kind of ongoing, “just-in-time” training that research shows to be most effective.

One such resource is Discovery Education’s Discovery Educator Network (DEN), an initiative that seeks to establish a global community where innovative teachers can trade best practices and work together to improve the quality of learning in their classrooms, wherever those might be.

The DEN consists of educators who share a passion for teaching with digital media, sharing resources, collaborating, and growing together. Membership allows teachers to collaborate and share resources with thousands of other DEN members who work together to inspire each other.

Tom Turner, a technology specialist at Lake Marion Creek Elementary School in Kissimmee, Fla., a DEN member for a year and a half, became involved with the initiative after his school’s media specialist brought Discovery’s online resources to his attention.

“I look at the DEN as not so much that it’s Discovery leading it, but they’re putting the tools there and it’s really the teachers who guide it,” he said. “That’s truly what it is–a network of teachers collaborating, sharing ideas, sharing things that work, sharing professional development opportunities, and just sharing themselves.”

Turner said a great benefit of the DEN is that he is able to make not only professional contacts, but friendships.