Random Thoughts

Stages of PLN adoption

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David Warlick wrote a post the other day about being able to zip up or turn off your Personal Learning Network (PLN). I too have been thinking about how one goes about starting a PLN, how do you monitor it, and how do you learn to shut it off. We all continue to push teachers to start PLNs if they haven’t already. Learning from the collective knowledge of educators around the world.

I have noticed an emerging trend of what one goes through when adopting a PLN for the first time. I myself continue to look at the stages I am going through in adopting this new way of learning, interacting, and teaching in a collaborative, connected world.

As I’ve helped others start their PLNs I have found that many of them go through these same stages. I am still trying to wrap my head around this but for now here’s what I see as emerging stages of PLN adoption.

Stages of Personal Learning Networks Adoption

Stage 1 Immersion: Immerse yourself into networks. Create any and all networks you can find where there are people and ideas to connect to. Collaboration and connections take off.

Stage 2 Evaluation: Evaluate your networks and start to focus in on which networks you really want to focus your time on. You begin feeling a sense of urgency and try to figure out a way to “Know it all.”

Stage 3 Know it all: Find that you are spending many hours trying to learn everything you can. Realize there is much you do not know and feel like you can’t disconnect. This usually comes with spending every waking minutes trying to be connected to the point that you give up sleep and contact with others around you to be connected to your networks of knowledge.

Stage 4 Perspective: Start to put your life into perspective. Usually comes when you are forced to leave the network for awhile and spend time with family and friends who are not connected (a vacation to a hotel that does not offer a wireless connection, or visiting friends or family who do not have an Internet connection).

Stage 5 Balance: Try and find that balance between learning and living. Understanding that you can not know it all, and begin to understand that you can rely on your network to learn and store knowledge for you. A sense of calm begins as you understand that you can learn when you need to learn and you do not need to know it all right now.

Personally I continue to struggle with balance in my life between being connected and being here in person. I force myself to put down the computer and pick up the guitar. I force myself to take Screen Free Week off and reflect (I write blog posts on paper…a very strange experience) and I almost enjoy going on vacation with no Internet access and being “there”. PLNs are very powerful, but they are not all there is to life…and I’m just glad I have a wife who reminds me of that from time to time. 🙂

I’ve created this image as a way to show what I’m thinking. I believe there is also a correlation here with learning. As you immerse yourself into the network your learning increases, the more you learn, the more you want to learn, the more immersed you become within the network. Until you reach a point that you understand the fundamentals of Web 2.0, the direction of Education, or whatever it is that interests you and you have in your PLN to begin with.

I also do not believe you have to go through all these stages. Some people jump from stage 2 to stage 5 or do not become so immersed into their PLN that they ever reach stage 3, that sense of having to “know it all.”

If nothing else I hope this helps to frame some thoughts in your head around your own PLN. I’m just throwing this out there as a starting point…what are you thinking?


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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Thanks for the image Jeff as I am very much a visual learner. I have gone through similar stages and have seen colleagues go down ‘the road more or less traveled’. I would consider putting a fork in the road however. I find that a number of people will reach Stage 3 and then decide that it is all too much and drop their PLN altogether.

    I might consider drawing a ’roundabout’ as well since I find myself entering Stage 3, then 4, then 5 and then something happens and I’m back at Stage 3 then going on to 4, etc. I think it depends on what I’m involved with at the time as well. Some of the topics I’m interested in I might have reached Stage 5, while with others I’m in the Stage 3 area.

    BTW…GOOD LUCK w/ drawing that one! LOL

    PS…WHY have two words as verification with the 2nd word being TOTALLY illegible!

  2. You’ve captured the mania of PLNs. Somewhere between Stage 3 & 4, if we hope to make it to Stage 5, we must first admit we have a problem. That’s what it feels like–an addiction that can consume us. I’m glad to hear someone else’s spouse is fussing, reminding him that life does exist beyond the keyboard and glowing screen.

    Of course, finding balance–in every aspect of life–is the grail, which can sometimes seem elusive.

    • Yes, I agree that it takes a problem, even a crisis, for some of us to realize we must find a balance! After a stress-related hospital experience, I have resolved to keep all things, including my PLN and the ease with which it can take over my life, in check! There is SO much information out there now that we must simply set limits on how much of our time (at the expense of other things) we devote to our independent professional development!

  3. Wow–this is a good explanation of the PLN process. I agree with Nancy that there should be some type of a cycle because I do go through and repeat stages depending on what I’m interested in or learning about. Great job–I will be passing this on.

  4. Hola, Jeff.
    Interesting description of the PLN experience… The graphic made me think of that website that maps the interconnectivity from any one website to all others linked to it. What was the name of that site? You used it in one of your presentations to the HS kids at SAS last year…

  5. Jeff, achieving that balance can be a challenge.

    I liken it to a hobby of mine. I collect records by David Bowie. For many years I was attempting to collect “everything”. With the advent of the Internet and eBay I discovered that was impossible. New oddities kept turning up.

    I then decided to simply focus on the official UK catalogue from 1964 to the present. That is possibly achievable in my lifetime. This was a way to achieve balance and peace of mind.

    I have adopted a similar approach with the PLN. I am fine-tuning my network. I am not joining new groups.

    I focus on a few tools. Get to know them well. I am into blogs. I like to experiment with the blog. An occasional dabble with Del.icio.us, Twitter and Skype.

    With too many networks and tools one may spread themselves too thin. Pare it down and strive for quality as opposed to quantity (and rankings). [Twitter devotees, although, can benefit from a large number of followers if seeking advice or a resource.]

    Staying stuck in Stage 3 could be an indication of a mania or an obsessive compulsive disorder. What to do if you feel you are stuck in Stage 3? What are the symptoms?

    I have felt concerned about some of the teachers in my network. For example, 0 to 1400 Twitter updates per month in less than 3 months and prolific blog posts on top of that. Burn out can be debilitating, personally and professionally.


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  7. Great visual, although I think I’d switch phases 2 and 3–I found that “know it all” came before evaluation. It was only after I figured out that I couldn’t know it all that I started to evaluate where and how I should spend my time. And I agree that this should be a cycle of sorts that seems to depend on what new tools are available, what people are discussing and my own personal sense of burnout.

    Great stuff–thanks for sharing!

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  10. Hi Jeff, really enjoyed this post. I agree with Michele and Nancy that there is movement between the different stages depending on what is going on in my own life, both personal and professional. Thank you, Sarah

  11. Hi Jeff

    I’ve kept reading your blog for a while and benefit a lot from your ideas. This post really helps me clear up some of my confusion in learning. I’ve undergoing the stages you mentioned and now struggling to find a balance. I also encourage my students to build up their PLE network and I am often asked the question of how to make the best of the vast sea of knowledge online. Sometimes I find it hard to answer since myself is not clear where the way of learning would lead to. Thanks for your clear graphic and i think it helps a lot when convincing students how PLE works.

    BTW, I’m an English teacher from China.

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  13. Hi, Im a teacher from Spain. I am clear what is a Personal Learning Environment, but I would like to know the difference between PLN and PLE. Is Anyone can talk about? Thanks David.

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  19. Jeff, this is great thinking. After considering where I am on your spectrum, I think I’m at a four. However, this has only recently happened. A month ago, I probably would have said stage 3, but I’m really trying to work on balancing my online world with my offline world. Stage four really sums up where I am and how I feel.

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  26. Jeff,

    Very insightful; I think I’m kind of jammin’ through stages 1 (immersion) and 2 (evaluation) . . . then back to 1 . . . then back to 2. Then I kind of jump to stage 5 (balance). I mean, here it is, a little after 10:30 p.m. after a long (but good) day, and I don’t want to go to bed, yet. I want to keep jammin’. I just “found” eLearning Weekly, Twitter, Vimeo,Common Craft, Work Literacy–and that’s just today!

    It’s time for stage 5; I’ll just check my blog and iGoogle 🙂

    Thanks, Jim

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  28. Your post brought a sense of calm to me, realizing that this is a normal response. 🙂 I wonder what, besides leaving the network for a while, helps you to bridge the path to stage 5? I realize that I can’t learn it all and feel I’ve found a sense of balance of how much time I spend learning. However, the desire to want to contribute and the sense of urgency to accomplish things I want to do can send me right back to the beginning stages in a heartbeat. Looking for a way to be more purposeful, find tools that will organize the process for me, and learn what it means to rely on that network.

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  35. this is also visually descriptive of how i felt about diving into Second Life…it was an uphill struggle one that stubborness caused me to persevere those first few weeks (i don’t like to be a NOOB!) …once i “got it” i grew jaded…took a break and came back to it fresh a few weeks later..now i have balance. thank you SO much for bringing this up! Cheers!
    ~Gwyneth aka Capt_Red on Twitter/SL/Plurk/Flickr/Blogger

  36. I think that you also go through different stages with different tools. For example, I have several blogs, but now use one for gathering and archiving information while I have another for “conversation”. That conversation blog is my attempt to enter Stage 5. It really is, as Howard Rheingold says, all about attention and our ability to move back and forth through different levels at will.

  37. Jeff…

    This post continues to be a resource for me. I added a link today within our schoolwide Ning network that points here. A discussion on the boards led me to bringing up the post and discussion here.

    Excellent thoughts.


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  39. Pete Caggia Reply

    I like this. I think there is something missing at the beginning. I’ve done some training on PLNs and I think it takes a while for it to catch on with an individual before the are ready to immerse themselves in it. I know that I, personally, needed to see PLNs in action about four times before I decided that it was something that would work for me. I approach all my staff development this way and tell my participants that they’ll probably need some time to really jump in.

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  42. I love this blog – your step by step to creating and living and breathing your PLN is so true – I have found recently that as my PLN is over so many time zones that my own life has began to work over these time zones too – sometimes my working day is broken and I get up earlier to talk to the Southern hemisphere – it is really bizzare but very fruitful!

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  93. Sandra Tomchak Reply

    I liked your visual map, I am a visual learner and do better if I can read something and then visualize it. I really liked step #5, learning and living is very important, having that balance makes it so you are not stressed to the point that you want to quit. The more you learn the more interesting you are.

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  96. PLN and RSS use is brand new for me, as in just this past week! As a science teacher, I am already finding that I want more, more, more to share with my students. I’m in the baby stages of what this article explained: intrigued but overwhelmed!

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