A personal learning environment (PLE) is a solution for keeping up with the rapid pace of knowledge change. Some say it is a concept, while others say it is a technology.
I think a good definition is this: a self-directed and evolving environment of tools, services and resources organized by a person seeking a way to accomplish lifetime learning, to create, and to connect with others of similar interests.
Because it is personalized, everyone’s PLE will be unique. Because it is collaborative, information may be continually created and shared. In the workplace, designing a personal learning environment has the potential to partially replace conventional courses.
Organic Design Versus Planned Design
Perhaps your personal learning environment, like mine, emerged organically. You heard about Twitter and decided to try it out. You found helpful websites and tutorials so you decided you needed an online bookmarking tool. Then you realized you could help others by sharing with a social bookmarking tool. All of this probably occurred without much planning. At least it did for me.
But what if you wanted to consciously design and build the most effective personal learning environment that would meet all of your needs? Or what if you wanted to teach others in your workplace how to create a personal learning environment so they can better manage self-directed learning and collaborating? Then, it seems like having a model for building a PLE would be valuable.
Advantages of Using a Model
There are some advantages to relying on a model for building a personal learning environment.
- First, having a model narrows down your options, which can be good when starting out. It’s a big wide Web out there and sometimes it can feel like you’re grasping at straws.
- Second, using a model gives you some direction. For example, if the model you choose calls for collecting, you know to look for a curation tool.
- Finally, using a model makes the process more methodical. With a model, it’s clear what you have and what gaps you need to close.
How To Use a Model
When you find a model that your resonate with below, use it as is or modify to suit your needs. Or create your own. Then think about the tools, services, and resources you can access to fulfill each part of the model. Do some research, try out tools and resources, get connected with people and start to adopt the approach, making it part of your learning flow. Start simply and add components as needed. This approach can work for helping others design their PLE too.
As an example, I used to bookmark websites with articles of interest in my browser. Those were the old days. It was cumbersome to access the bookmarks as I had so many. Then when RSS technology became standard, I switched to an RSS aggregator, so I could create my own magazine of RSS feeds organized by topic. This type of service would fall under the “Collecting” or “Gathering” part of the models below.
Now let’s get started and look at four of the many models that exist. Although some of these models were developed several years ago, I think they stand the test of time.
A Generic Model
The characteristics of a PLE were described by Milligan and others in a way that I think can be used as a model (I modified it slightly). The authors wrote that the PLE uses tools that would allow the learner to:
- Learn with other people: manage and create relationships, forming connections between contacts that are not part of a formal learning network.
- Control their learning resources: allow them to structure, share, and annotate resources they find or have been given.
- Manage the activities they participate in: provide opportunities for them to create as well as join activities that bring together people and resources.
- Integrate their learning: allow them to integrate learning from different institutions and sources, re-using evidence of competency and making links between formal and informal learning. (Milligan et al., 2006).
This PLE model created by Jeremy Hiebert takes into account learning in the past, present and future. It consists of:
- Collecting: aggregating, storing, organizing and filtering contacts, artifacts and information
- Reflecting: reviewing, connecting concepts, synthesizing, blogging, working in private/public groups
- Connecting: people and information, group-forming, shared goals and interests (and information)
- Publishing: select, modify, combine and publish; e-portfolios, blogs, etc.
You can see a diagram of this PLE approach here. Notice the connection to learning through time across the top. (Use CTRL+ on PCs or CMD+ on Macs to enlarge the diagram.)
The Four C’s Model
In this model, created by Chris Sessums, the blog is the personal learning space that serves as an activity hub and is informed by the individual (node) and collective activities (network). The model consists of these activities:
- Collect: gather articles, tools, data, images and resources
- Communicate: share ideas, convey information, ask questions, reflect, respond, comment and clarify
- Create: generate ideas, research, write, bring content into being
- Collaborate: synthesize, working with peers, engaging one another
See the diagram of this model.
I’ve always liked Michele Martin’s model since the first time I saw it, because it includes the cognitive steps of processing and taking action. It goes like this:
- Gathering: collecting information from blogs, search engines, bookmarks, journals, contacts
- Processing: blogging, note taking, sketching, bookmarking, repurposing
- Acting on Learning: doing experiments, trying things out on clients (with permission)
See the diagram of this model.
Must Have More
If you want to get really nerdy about the whole thing, check out the EdTech Wikispaces, which has a list of PLE diagrams.
- Chatti, M., Jarke, M., & Specht, M. “The 3P Learning Model.” Educational Technology & Society, 13 (4), 74–85, 2010.
- Milligan, C, Phillip B., Johnson, M., Sharples, P., Wilson, S. & Liber, O. “Developing a Reference Model to Describe the Personal Learning Environment” in Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Volume 4227, 506-511, 2006.
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