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Understanding Personal Learning Environments June 14, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve been soaking up as much information as possible about Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) lately. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a PLE is a set of tools and resources that an individual uses to learn and store information for future reference. PLEs differ from person to person and may consist of tools such as search engines, blogs, RSS readers, wikis, email, instant messenger, virtual classroom tools, social bookmarking, note-taking tools, and so on. I envision that my PLE is an imaginary bubble that wraps around me; it’s my own learning ecosystem. Some parts of my PLE come and go, depending on how useful I find them, while other parts are permanently attached (ex. email, RSS reader). My PLE helps me learn on a daily basis. I take my PLE with me wherever I go.

Corporations and PLEs

Some discussions have heated up surrounding corporations and their role in PLEs. Should corporations provide specific tools for their employees to manage their information? Something like a PLE manager? If corporations provide these tools, is the learner able/allowed to take their information with them when they leave the company? You can see that a line becomes drawn between personal and work learning environments. Some of the information you learn applies generally to your career, while other information may relate specifically to your job at XYZ corporation. How do you keep this information separate? Do you store it differently, and in multiple locations? This is where it can get messy.

I would suggest that companies address this issue using policies, rather than by dictating that employees use specific in-house tools for managing their information. Policies should state that confidential or sensitive company information should not be stored on external systems (ex. publicly-available blogs). Any other information can be stored using whichever tool the learner prefers.

PLE Resources

So far, my favorite article related to PLEs was written by Michele Martin. You can find the article here. Michele clearly outlines several tools and how they fit into her PLE. It’s a good read. Check it out.

Tony Karrer has done a great job of discussing PLEs here and here, and he also provided some great links to other PLE resources.

Tom Haskins has posted several great articles on PLEs, too.

Closing Thoughts

I believe Tom Crawford nailed it in this post. Tom says…

I think PLEs are a great topic for people to discuss and understand. It’s helpful for me to understand what Jay or Ray use in their own PLE. However, the discussion is not so that I can standardize it for all employees, but so that I might be exposed to something I hadn’t thought of and try it in my own PLE and possibly recommend it to others to try. Certainly, corporations should make a wide array of tools available and encourage their use, but can we please stop trying to standardize something that is inherently personal?

I couldn’t agree more. The minute we try to formalize PLEs or develop a tool for managing a PLE, we’re missing the point. The best thing we can do as learning professionals is educate people on the idea of a PLE and help them become more aware of the resources available to them. We can also help introduce new ideas, concepts, tools, technologies, etc. After that, it’s up to the learner to take advantage of their PLE.