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?

  • If PLEs gain visible acceptance and traction in academia, they could have the potential to transform LMS for the better. Currently, most LMS (even Moodle) are fairly hostile to integration with the network of tools and resources involved in PLEs, and vendors/designers have largely resisted piecemeal calls for such integration (e.g., for blogs only). However, if demand existed for integration with the entire universe of tools involved in PLEs, serious (and much overdue) rethinking of the role and functionality of LMS would be required. - rubenrp rubenrp Oct 3, 2010
  • PLEs are much more a concept and a practice at this point than a technology. That being said, I think Ruben is spot on - rather than being the "anti-LMS" they are far more likely to push LMSs towards greater flexibility and personalization. I think despite their weaknesses as currently implemented, LMSs will stick around and evolve into something new rather than being "overthrown". - amichaelberman amichaelberman Oct 3, 2010
  • Maybe we ought to take what Ruben is saying and run with it. I was recently on a selection committee for our new LMS and many of the questions that came up reflected a need for a PLE (we ultimately went with Moodle because it had the most promise in this area). As our faculty become more familiar with the tools available to them in Web 2.0-land and their students start demanding greater integration in this area, maybe it is time to revive the PLE idea as a way of adapting the LMS into something less restrictive. I clearly remember Bryan Alexander talking about LMS's being the worst thing to ever happen to online education at the NMC conference in San Antonio in 2006 but IT departments as well as more traditional administrators like their "out-of-box" functionality (and lockdown-ability). The fact that getting out of this box seems to be a recurring theme in most discussions of LMS's might be a opening to finally realize the potential of PLE's. - tom.haymes tom.haymes Oct 4, 2010
  • Requires Digital Literacy to create PLEs, will they be separate from the digital lives/environments most of our students have, how will we assess, provide transcripts? what if a PLE app folds? ID and Authentication challenges - but welcome what people are saying - institutional LMS are too monolithic and over engineered - I talk about PIEs at my place Personal Information Environments which a re slightly different but are part of the landscape. Perhaps the institutional LMS will still exist but blend into the background as an administrative centre, controlling the academic/business end of University life rather than the learning and teaching? - DaveP DaveP Oct 18, 2010
  • True digital citizenship will have arrived when our students can make sophisticated, interoperable PLEs for themselves. See K. Yancey's work on e-portfolios 2.0, AAEEBL, etc. - gardnercampbell gardnercampbell Oct 18, 2010
  • Some orgs are accommodating PLE functionality via portals that allow several tools to integrate into an already existing environment. - drvdiaz drvdiaz Oct 18, 2010

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

  • I think a weakness of PLE as currently conceived is the "P" - successful PLE's have a strong social component and are as much about the group construction of knowledge as they are about individual learning. - amichaelberman amichaelberman Oct 3, 2010
  • I think some reference to their applicability to LMS's and the growth of more open standards like Moodle needs to be addressed in the description. - tom.haymes tom.haymes Oct 4, 2010
  • When we talk about PLE's they are traditionally conceptualized as an LMS replacement - implying a web based tool / portal. I believe we should be thinking multi-platform ubiquity. As an example Adobe AIR gives the potential to create frameworks that can be leveraged across the laptop, mobile (putting aside the Apple debate) and home entertainment system. There are also other technologies that have the potential to allow for this type of integration. Given this capability, I believe we should start thinking more about a PLE as an aggregator that can be touched across environments. Granted, this pushes out the timeframe until we see hardened examples, but to be truly personal a PLE needs to live wherever the user lives at any given point in the day. - phil.ice phil.ice Oct 17, 2010
  • Agree with Phil part of the multi-platform interoperable landscape - its an ecology - DaveP DaveP Oct 18, 2010

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

  • This could be a wedge for more open LMS systems. - tom.haymes tom.haymes Oct 4, 2010
  • Will encourage all aspects of digital life to feed into the ed process, is Facebook part of the PLE? Twitter? Augmented reality solutions? Am I a student of any one particular institution? I dont need to be - my management 101 from Harvard my Sculpture class from Goldsmiths my credit from them all by using PLE/PIEs as the LMS - DaveP DaveP Oct 18, 2010
  • In many respects, the PLE is an idea about using the Web to maximum effect in learning--which means the uses are largely learner-controlled. Cf. Ted Nelson's "Computer Lib/ Dream Machines." - gardnercampbell gardnercampbell Oct 18, 2010
  • PLEs are difficult for orgs to support, many times placing the burden of support on faculty and students; they also sometimes have the effect of creating a very fragmented student learning experience that is disconnected from their other course environments. Privacy issues also need to be considered here--a growing institutional concern (see http://www.educause.edu/Resources/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAboutPriva/213085). - drvdiaz drvdiaz Oct 18, 2010

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

  • An invaluable resource on PLEs: Scott Leslie's collection of PLE diagrams, some of which connect in turn to PLE projects http://edtechpost.wikispaces.com/PLE+Diagrams - rubenrp rubenrp Oct 3, 2010
  • My work on PIEs (not published yet!) - DaveP DaveP Oct 18, 2010
  • My work on personal cyberinfrastructures (see EDUCAUSE Review, August/September 2009). Also Jim Groom's "digital storytelling" class and his work on "a domain of one's own." - gardnercampbell gardnercampbell Oct 18, 2010
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