Monday, January 26, 2009

8 Stages of PLN (Personal Learning Network) Development

I've been thinking about my recent learning journey and how my relationship to my personal learning network has changed and developed. One year ago I attended the Educon 2.0 conference. Having just returned from Educon 2.1, I am struck by the the difference in the experience. It was just as meaningful, powerful and thought provoking as it was the first time. But my relationship to the people there had a different and deeper quality. Linda Nitsche's session, Reflections on Personal Paths of Change particularly helped me to look back on my journey and to think about the ways it has grown and changed.

It occurred to me that I might be able to connect the stages of my development to other psychological theories. Here is my attempt to do that. I apologize to Erik Erikson (and to all who have studied his work), for my very broad interpretation of his Stages of Social - Emotional Develoment in Children and Adolescents.

The path I describe below is very linear. I know I have and will circle back and forth through some of these stages. I wonder, is what I have described a common experience? Can you relate to my progression? What similarities do you see to your own experiences? What differences? I hope you will share them with me.

1. Learning Basic Trust Versus Basic Mistrust (Can I trust the world?)
When I first started venturing into social networking, through Classroom 2.0 and blogging, I wasn't sure how much I should reveal about myself. As I started to meet people online, I was afraid to trust in those relationships. I wasn't sure if they were real or not. But I chose to hope that they were real and took some risks and put my trust into a group of people that I did not really know.

2. Learning Autonomy Versus Shame (Is it OK to be me?)
Once I took my first few steps into building a network, I had to test my autonomy and put aside my fear of being embarrassed or ashamed of what I had to contribute. This is a frightening stage. It required venturing away from the people I already knew in my personal life and reaching out to widen my learning circle. At times it felt lonely out there. I might write something and receive no response. I took the chance of revealing my weaknesses and asking for help. I was able to build my own voice in the blogosphere and found myself supported in my opinions.

3. Learning Initiative Versus Guilt (Is it OK for me to do, move act?)
Once I had established a group of people online who I felt I could trust, I started to push those boundaries. At times I would take on issues that might be less popular. I became comfortable enough in my network to play or joke around, to add a silly comment here or there and to reveal more of my true self among people I don't "really" know.

4. Industry Versus Inferiority (Can I make it in the world?)
As I became comfortable with my network, and more and more impressed with the people and their contributions, I began to feel more responsibility for my own contribution to our collective intelligence. I took more time writing my posts. I become more aware of the impact of my tweets, comments and the discussions I started in various networks. I also began to feel a desire to succeed and excel. To build a readership and a "following" that would respect what I had to say.

5. Learning Identity Versus Identity Diffusion (Who am I? What can I be?)
In this stage I really began to question my role in my PLN. I wanted people to know me, to recognize me. I wanted to be part of the "cool" crowd. I became very aware of the structure of power within my network and explored my own place in that hierarchy. Some of my relationships became deeper and more intimate, while others revealed themselves to be more superficial. At times I felt rejected or ignored and at other times I felt empowered and affirmed.

6. Learning Intimacy Versus Isolation (Can I Love?)
I feel I am now in moving towards the end of this stage. My relationships with the people I have met online have deepened. In Philly this weekend, I felt I already had a strong core of people who cared for both my ideas and for me as a person. I feel the same way about them, I know many of the people I learn from both as educators and as people with families and personal successes and disappointments.

7. Learning Generativity Versus Self-Absorption (Can I make my life count?)
I feel myself moving into this stage. As my network has become established, I am trying to keep open to new relationships. It is easy to feel content with the wonderful people I have already met and stay safely within their circle. That complacency is challenging to overcome. As I become more "known," I don't want to seem unapproachable or above anyone else. As I move into a different place on this developmental spectrum, I feel more of a responsibility to help others in my network who are at earlier stages, work their way through to their own deepening connections.

8. Integrity Versus Despair (Can I contribute?)
Finally, I am still striving to get to this "peak of adjustment." I hope to reach a stage where I can feel comfortable with my own success and my place among my peers. To let go of some of my own striving and to focus more on helping others. I admire and look to the others in my network who have found this equilibrium.

Please share your thoughts.

Photo: My notes from Linda's session.
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