What are Personal Learning Environments?


Personal learning environments are described as systems for enabling self-directed and group-based learning, designed around each user’s goals, with great capacity for flexibility and customization. PLEs are conceived as drawing on a variety of discrete tools, perhaps chosen by the learner, which can be connected or used in concert in a transparent way. Some elements that might be found in a PLE are already in place; for example, conceptual diagrams suggest that social networking tools such as tagging, blogs, iTunes, wikis, del.icio.us, and others should be part of a PLE. The underlying technologies are straightforward. Using a growing set of free and simple tools and applications, it is already quite easy to create customized, personal web-based environments, and craft them to explicitly support one’s social, professional, learning and other activities. Online material, once found, can be saved, tagged, categorized, and repurposed without difficulty and without any special knowledge of how web pages are put together. While the concept of PLEs is still very new and fluid, it does seem to be clear that a PLE is not simply a technology but an approach or process that is individualized by design, and thus different from person to person. It involves sociological and philosophical considerations and cannot be packaged, passed out and handed around as a cell phone or tablet computer could. Widespread adoption of PLEs, once they actually exist, may require a shift in attitudes toward technology, teaching, and learning.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • "hmmm don't quite know how to stress the importance of this one. This relates to my desired future where we move to the antithesis of the education system - the autonomous learner. PLEs are critical to making this happen." - paul.mckey paul.mckey Aug 27, 2010
  • I agree, PLEs seem to have tremendous potential for formal learning and developing lifelong learning skills - but we would need to totally redesign learning to guide learners to invest their time here instead of looking at existing resources we have found for them. We might also need to define new learning objectives about learning to learn. Also, I see two challenges for this approach - 1. I believe a learner needs a level of confidence in an area to be able to assess the relevance and quality of others' contributions and thus benefit from a PLE approach. So this limits the areas in which a PLE could add value. 2. Some learning areas have a large presence online eg use of technology for learning, but for many learning areas the community as a whole is not blogging, bookmarking etc so this method would be less effective to understand the collective view. Initially, I believe the potential is for teachers' own learning but that requires different investment of their time and I have sympathies with struggling to fit it all in. - terry.neal terry.neal Aug 28, 2010
  • I am in full agreement with Paul here, I also see this as one of the most critical areas for future development - the key to its success lies in the title <em>personal</em> learning environments - ie they are personal to the student. The tension here is how we create opportunities for students to use the 'environments' of their choice into which they can integrate the links to learning that they are participating in/with, rather than the other way round. - derek.wenmoth derek.wenmoth Aug 31, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?


(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • Once again I can't stress the importance of this. Organisations are picking this up much faster than general education since there is more return for them in applied learning than general learning. One individual/team analysing, utilising and applying specific knowledge is far more effective than providing a general knowledge across the organisation. The former is faster and competitive while the latter is merely transitional (and hence much slower). - paul.mckey paul.mckey Aug 28, 2010
  • We need to be looking at how organisations are doing this, and studying more closely exactly what and how students are using to organise their personal 'learning' at the moment (eg Facebook etc.) Understanding the cycles of group membership and participation, the patterns of contribution and facilitation etc that occur in these environments will help us better understand and thus accommodate the idea of PLEs in our institutions. - derek.wenmoth derek.wenmoth Aug 31, 2010
  • No one is a real digital native in the mythical Prensky sense. It's not an age thing, it's a 'who has time?' thing. And learners of all ages have many things competing for their time making their familiarity with digital tools highly variable, regardless of birthdate. PLEs bring the fast-moving, attractive and highly social dimensions of online interactions into the realm of uses that facilitate learning. I'm not suggesting co-opting FB for courses. I think real sensitivity for the ownership of PLE tools is critical and students may not want academics, however, well intentioned, in their PLE space. But the mashup of PLEs as a part of a broader hybrid LMS-PLE ecosystem has the potential pull LMS/VLEs from their staid, passive, and often just dull role in content distribution into a more dynamic and mixed world of interactive PLE tools. Many have written about this, including Steve Wheeler, Jon Mott and David Wiley (also on Slideshare) and many others. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 2, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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