Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Jennifer Smolka


The post-9/11 security environment is one that confronts the United States, and specifically the U.S. Army, with complex problems that require development of leaders with improved knowledge, skills, and attributes to meet the challenges of defending the nation. The problem confronting the U.S. Army is that Army leaders lack a learning environment or methodology that enables effective self-development throughout their career. Research suggests that PLNs (PLNs) and a connectivist approach may address that problem, but these have been limited to civilian educational environments. This qualitative case study explored the use of PLNs with a connectivist approach for leader self-development in Army organizations. The case in this study was that of a cohort of 22 officers in a U.S. Army unit. Each officer developed a PLN and then employed a connectivist approach to connect, curate, create, and share knowledge. Data were collected using semistructured interviews and analyzed with a focus on themes that could inform future decisions by Army senior leadership on the self-development of leaders, and that could enable decisions that will reduce loss of life and destruction in wartime. The major themes developed in this study account for the approach and challenges to Army self-development, the motivation for and execution of connected learning, and the structuring and desired characteristics of self-development that employs PLNs and connectivism. Recommendations included integrating a semistructured approach to self-development into emerging educational approaches to Army leader development. More prepared Army leaders can respond to crises more effectively, reducing adverse effects, damage, and loss of life