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. 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.

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.

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

  • working with students to define their own learning environment based has shown to be effective (www.uspace.org.uk) in terms of student satisfaction, collaborative learning and has had a big impact with Work Based Learners allowing them to choose their own ways of working when institutional systems are unsuitable or unavailable - neil.witt neil.witt May 16, 2011
  • Many of my students are waking up to the idea that they can personalise their learning environments and tools ala Facebook, Bebo and other social networking tools. A sense of ownership is important, and custom made working/learning spaces with personalised features goes a long way toward facilitating this. - steve.wheeler steve.wheeler

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

  • The innovation v control issues are important as there is a shift from supporting systems to supporting users in making choices. this can cause friction both in support services afraid of loosing control and academic staff as there is an expectation from students that the academics will be able to support them in the use of technology for learning - this becomes a staff/institutional digital literacy issue - neil.witt neil.witt May 16, 2011
  • I have a minor query with the description above which refers to 'self directed learning'. My understanding of PLE is that the term refers to self-selection of the tools used to undertake learning (a group of undergraduates choosing to use google docs rather than the VLE to collaborate on a document for example) irrespective of whether the context of that is self-directed or teacher-directed. - andy.powell andy.powell May 19, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, research or information management within the next five years?

  • PLEs will unleash a lot of creativity and self expression that are constrained by most institutional 'managed learning environments'. - steve.wheeler steve.wheeler Agreed - this could be a real change in the way we learn. Difficult however to see why it's not just a strand in collaborative working though? - david.harrison david.harrison May 18, 2011
  • As an approach rather than a specific technology, PLE's are important because 1. they reflect and articulate how some learners and academics are already effectively working, the role of networks, how professional/academic digital identities are managed, the role that platform plays in relation to activity etc. 2. highlights the need for defining and supporting development of digital literacy, to baseline staff and learner skills relating to the use of digital environments for non-personal use/development. - josie.fraser josie.fraser May 18, 2011 Agreed - david.harrison david.harrison May 18, 2011
  • As a technological issue, involves the expansion of institutional provision, theoretically enhancing how learning can be evidenced, recognised, and offering the learner a greater choice of digital environments in which to work. - josie.fraser josie.fraser May 18, 2011 But also means that the role of the service provider must change, and that the tutor must be prepared to be a coach and mentor more. - david.harrison david.harrison May 18, 2011

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

At eXact learning solutions We worked on personalization in the EU RD project Tencomepetence
Read more at http://www.learningfrontiers.eu/TEL-MAP/?q=article/manage-your-own-competence-%E2%80%93%C2%A0-tencompetence-provided-solutions - fabrizio.cardinali fabrizio.cardinali May 17, 2011
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