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.


Paul Bogush said...

I am stuck on #2...which leads me to have problems with #8

Jim said...


A very interesting reflective post. Most of us have self doubts. I know every time I present I worry about how I will do and how my comments will be received. The biggest worry is that we don't grow, change and hopefully improve over time.

Keep up the good work you are doing and best wishes on your journey.


Jane Krauss said...

Though I only stayed for part of your session Sunday (plane to catch), this seems to parallel some of the thinking that was underway. It's interesting for me to read the different ways your PLN serves you and you serve it. Have you ever embarked on a shared journey with your network, like solving a specific, shared problem together, or planning some kind of shared action? After Sunday's panel discussion I felt SO activated, I thought, if the people in this room came together and planned an approach for achieving real, progressive reform, what a force we'd be! I sent the same notion off to Chris and hope Wednesday's meeting might move us toward some kind of collective action. Will you be there?

Cheryl Oakes said...

Hey Liz, What a unique way of looking at your Personal Learning Network. I like how you think and it makes me think about how to respond. First, although stages appear to be a good way to describe this journey, this journey doesn't have a static road map. It is just as though we are traveling with a fluid GPS guidance system perched on our shoulders. Just as the GPS system in my car, adjusts to the "wrong" turns I take that she has not suggested, so too does the fluid GPS system perched on my shoulder adjust to my different stops along the way during my travels through the web, ads, Web 2.0 tools, blogs and comments. How else can I explain the diversions I get to take just with a little stop by my Twitter network. Which , BTW is how I found this post tonight. Oh, well, back to work. Fun chatting. Cheryl

Magistra M said...

Liz, I think I am somewhere between #2 + 3, depending on whether I think about Twitter or blogging or both. My experiences at EduCon 2.1 this weekend have really helped me gain confidence in myself and trust in my PLN. Now if I could only find the time to write so thoughtfully and articulately as you have today.

TJ Shay said...

Wow, this is great!!! I am glad to know that others on the PLN mission are having the same thoughts and feelings. I agree with what Cheryl said that it isn't so much a hierarchy as it is a complicated journey. Sometimes we seem to travel forward and sometimes backwards a little.

Thanks for putting some of my feelings into words.

Dr. Z said...


Thanks for this reflective posting about developing your PLN. As I read your work, I recognized many steps that I have experienced. I must admit, that I don't think that I would have been able to name them as well as you did. I will need to go back to review your list.


Leigh Zeitz (Dr. Z)

Liz B Davis said...

Paul - I definitely think of you as an autonomous thinker. Are you teasing me, or do you really feel stuck there?

Jim - Thanks, I think I will always worry - it is in my nature, but I am trying to push past it. Time is definitely key.

Jane - Yes I think our session on equity was a way to push us outside of our comfort zone. The question is, will we follow up. I haven't been part of any online group political action with my network. I have been part of planning network events, such as the edubloggercon we put on before BLC last year. Unfortunately, I missed the panel because Lisa and I were preparing for our session. I definitely have to go back and watch the stream. It was great to meet you. Wish you could have stayed. I don't know if I know about Wednesday's meeting.

Cheryl and TJ - Yes the progression isn't always linear, I do regress, but I also have felt that it has been necessary to get through certain steps in order to move on to others.

Magistra - I am interested to see how your own journey progresses as you continue to grow your network. I am happy to have you as part of mine.

Dr Z - As you see similarities in your own experiences, do you think there are some universal milestones that we all have to progress through?

Andrea Hernandez said...

great post, very timely and relevant for me. I can relate to all of the stages. I wrote a similar post recently reflecting on my growth in a year (from one FETC to the next) PLN, blogging, etc. Mine was more about how to pull back and focus myself after discovering there were so many great people out there from whom and with to learn. But I really like the way you have related to other stages of development theories.

Souly Catholic said...

@ Liz
Great post. I've been encouraging my teachers to start building their own PLN's and some of their initial hesitations are lined up and systematically executed in your post. I'll be sharing this. Sorry I missed your session at educon.

J Clark Evans said...

Thanks for this list. I am working on a presentation to teachers at my school to introduce them to the idea of building a PLN, and your ideas here will help me articulate advantages and address concerns.

bethstill said...

Another great post! I feel like I am between 5 and 6. I just started developing my PLN back in the late spring in preparation for NECC. I dove in head first and never looked back. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my five years in teaching. I feel like I have colleagues that I have made a true connection with all over the world.

I am glad you mentioned you want to keep the lines opened to form new connections. It does seem at times the well-known leaders are in their own close circle. However, it seems like most of the popular bloggers are very receptive to talking to anyone and everyone.

I have truly enjoyed reading your thoughts and look forward to more thought-provoking posts in the future.

John Spencer said...

This is probably the best tech post I have ever read. It captures the hard issues that I deal with. For me, it's an issue of how closely my online identity (which can feel like a mask) matches my real-life identity. I especially connect with the question of vulnerability. I'm just now adding video to my blog and it's really hard. It's hard to admit mistakes, to feel that I am adding something to the dialogue, to venture out.

gail said...

This is a very powerful post and will be marked a favorite. Thanks for your reflections.

lnitsche said...

What a fascinating way to look at your past and continuing journey. It really is all about belonging and how we feel about our place in our PLN. There are moments when we feel great success and also many moments of struggle and challenge. But for me those are always hinged on whether I feel I am making a difference no matter how large or small.
For me, the hardest part has been realizing that in order to make a larger difference, you really need to find your voice and be willing to put yourself out there for others to hear. The way I see it is if I look at my efforts as a learning opportunity for myself and others then any responses and judgments are really just opportunities for me to learn and grow. And isn't learning what it is really all about?
Thanks for sharing! You really are making a difference!

susanvg said...

I think the journey is spiral. Every time I think I am reaching a new stage with my pln (and myself) my thinking changes how I view my pln and my place in it. I really appreciate your thoughts. I am trying to help nurture a group of teachers to begin developing a pln - posts like this help them understand.

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant. Really worth sharing and passing along.
Thanks - Josie

Liz B Davis said...

Andrea - can you share a link to your post. I completely agree, I go through phases of pulling back and becoming completely absorbed.

Beth - I found the "rock stars" at
Educon to be particularly open to new connections this year. Maybe we are all hitting a new stage. It was nice to feel so much less intimidated.

Linda - it sounds like you are farther along the continuum than I am. My ego still gets in the way. I am not so selfless. I admire that in you and am so happy to have you as part of my network.

Souly Catholic, J Clark Evans, Thanks for your comments. Where do you see yourself on the the spectrum? Or has your journey been different.

John - Vulnerability is a huge obstacle, especially for newbies. I happen to be a pretty open person, so I have to remind myself that most people are more private than I am.

Andrea Hernandez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Derrall said...

Thanks for your post, I enjoyed reading about your views on the different stages and how you've worked through them. I think it is fascinating that we can feel so vulnerable and so affected by these virtual relationships. I struggle all the time with where I fit into my PLN or network of relationships. I think there are many of us who are the shining stars within our school districts or school sites, but when I meet and interact with some truly innovative thinkers who take what we say seriously and thoughtfully it makes me wonder where I fit in to this network of relationships and roles.

Andrea Hernandez said...

I tried to leave the link but it didn't work. I am not too good w/HTML. Here it is in copy/paste, maybe this will work.

Antonio B Duarte Jr said...

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Elisabeth Abarbanel said...

Thanks for posting this - it is so interesting to see your process.. I hover around #2-5, feeling naked with my new blog, trying to dive right in, hoping to be an active contributor. I am in the library world, which obviously intersects with your ed tech world. I am happy you wrote the stages of what I am going through, and although the stages are blending for me, I am happy to have you articulate them for me. Thanks again!

Liz B Davis said...

Andrea - I read your post and I could totally relate. There definitely comes a time when this becomes addicting. I go in and out of the obsession.

SusanVG - I do agree that we spiral back and forth through stages. But there are some that are hierarchical, you can't get to some of the later stages without first going through the earlier stages. Although, you can certainly regress.

Derrall - Yes the size and scope and accomplishments of the people in my network definitely humble me.

Antonio - Thanks for sharing your blog address - if only I could speak Spanish.

Elisabeth - Welcome to the Blogosphere. I have added you to my reader. I look forward to seeing what you have to say. I think diving in is the best way to do it. Go for it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this reflective post. I think your stages are ones with which all of us can relate. As I am working with colleagues at developing an online PLN, your post is one that I will be sharing regularly.

Ashley said...

Your blog has made me feel more comfortable about blogging for the first time. I am currently working on my master's degree in integrating technology in the classroom and the class that I am currently enrolled in is all about blogging. We have to not only blog on blog site but to start our own blog site. Your blog gave me the courage to stick my neck out there and share my thoughts and feeling on my very on blog site. I am working on being on to decided if I am using technology to do something differently or using it to do something different. Thanks for easing my worries and making me feel "normal".