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What is a Personal Learning Environment?

There seems to be growing conversation about personal learning environments (PLEs). What is a PLE, and why is this concept relevant to present day education? Personal learning environments are systems that allow learners to obtain control and manage their own learning. A supportive learning system would include these three components:

My PLE Diagram
cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Scott Leslie

  • Establish measurable learning goals
  • Manage learning content, processes, and products
  • Network with other learners during the process
According to Stephen Downes, a PLE exists as a node of web content (perhaps a blog) connected to other nodes supported by content creation services and used by other learners. The original node, or personal learning center, becomes a mechanism for reusing and remixing content based upon the needs and interests of the learner. This collection of inter-operating applications grows more environmental than systematic. Thus, the term personal learning environment.

Steven Wheeler - CLE Concept

Three Reasons Why Educators Need a PLE
  1. Education is in a state of disruption. Educators with a learners mindset need to disrupt their traditional practice with digital tools and social networks.
  2. The learner is moving towards the center of the instructional paradigm. Instructors can gain relevance while gaining experience in using social networks, and digital tools for learning. The changing role of the instructor necessitates taking a closer look at changing teaching pedagogy.
  3. The Internet is profoundly changing the nature of schools and learning. PLEs, help teachers gain a better understanding of how digital tools are changing culture and society. This new perspective helps shape classroom practices to make them more authentic, meaningful, and relevant.
Steven Wheeler - PLE Concept

A learning management system, such as Schoology, offers a platform that is vertically integrated and central to the school or district, or what Wheeler terms as an iMLE (institutional Managed Learning Environment). A personal learning environment can include the LMS application, but also extends as a multi-directional, dynamic, web of content nodes. This diagram illustrates how ePortfolios (blogs) make a logical, versatile, choice as the digital foundation to a PLE.

How to create a PLE 
  1. Begin with a model or concept map. A diagram will help define, explain, and shape the goals and functions of the PLE.
  2. Decide upon areas of focus. PLEs are holistic in nature, so professional and personal interests are included in the learning framework. 
  3. Determine the best web tools to use in support of the learning framework. The learner will incorporate the following practices into their learning framework; collect and curate relevant content, construct and create new knowledge and understanding, share insights and resources, collaborate with other learners. Multiple, global perspectives and crowdsourcing help accelerate the processes of creating new understanding and knowledge.
  4. Set aside time each week to feed and develop the PLE. It takes time to build a PLE that supports new perspectives and new learning. The dynamic nature of the PLE coupled with the infinite digital resources available requires periodic attention to the learning framework.
  5. Create a diagram of the working PLE. This model should show support for the learning goals, identify the primary web tools, and illustrate a positive digital footprint representing socially networked learning.
Marc Brannan - Learn
Personal learning environments, which include personal learning networks (PLN) have become hot topics of conversation as more teachers, and their students take responsibility for their learning. This does not happen in isolation. Students are coming to school with networking practices and digital experience. It is up to educators to guide students in the ways of personal learning. It is here where the concepts of lifelong learning, and life-wide learning, genuinely get supported. PLEs are like fingerprints, map out and share your personal learning network. It will help to better understand the digital tools and the processes that could potentially make the most significant impact on your personal learning.

Which digital tool(s) and places best support your personal learning environment?

References and Related Reading

Anatomy of a PLE - Learning with 'e's


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