Stages of Personal Learning

This past summer when I started the 12 Things program through the School Library Journal website, I came across a blog entry from The Thinking Stick by Jeff Utecht that intrigued me.  The post is entitled Stages of Personal Learning Networks Adoption, and it outlines the path most educators take when they begin changing the way they teach, learn, and interact:

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 minute 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.

Well, I realized last weekend that in exploring the SCASL 23 Things this fall, I had definitely followed this path up right up to Stage 3, and it wasn’t good.  I was feeling totally overwhelmed by how many tools were out there just waiting to be discovered, and I was despairing of ever mastering them all.  Suddenly it seemed appropriate to revisit that blog entry in search of some perspective and balance.  As I scrolled down and began to read the comments on Jeff’s post, certain sentences began to jump out at me.  The first commenter said, “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.”  Hmmm, others must experience that feeling of “so many tools; so little time,” too. 

The second comment was even more to the point:  “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. ”  Wow, I’m not the only one experiencing this determination to learn everything about 2.0 or fall asleep over my computer at midnight trying! 

Obviously it was time for some Stage 4 Perspective!  According to Jeff, this usually occurs when a user is forced to leave the network for some reason.  Well, with no vacation, computer theft, or extended power outages in sight, I just had to give myself a time out.  I took last week off and, except for whatever e-mailing, etc. had to be done at work, I stayed completely away from the computer.  I read no blogs, listened to no technology podcasts, played with no new flickr toys, and created no new web accounts. 

It really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  In fact, as much as I have been enjoying these learning exercises, it was actually a bit of a relief to devote my evenings to something other than the computer for awhile, which is probably a sign of impending burnout. 

Remember earlier in this post, when I said I was despairing of mastering all of these tools?  Well, I’ve realized I don’t have to master everything, and certainly not immediately.  My attitude should be that I’m surveying the web, sampling from the 2.0 buffet, not loading up my plate and stoically eating my way byte by byte through it all. 

My goal now is to be a more thoughtful user of Web 2.0, putting more time into the activities that are meaningful to me, rather than spreading myself too thin over a larger number of applications.  After all, by beginning with the end in mind (remember the 7 1/2 Habits?) I can always go back and learn what I need to learn, when I need to learn it, for any project I might care to undertake.  And that’s surely the path that will lead to Balance.

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