5 points about PLEs PLNs for PLENK10

The concept of the Personal Learning Environment in all of its wondrous forms has been one that I’ve struggled with over the last four or five years that I’ve been familiar with it. I’m very excited to be taking part in the PLENK10 course in order to take the time to focus on these ideas and get a clearer sense of what I mean by the word. I would add, that I think this is one of the central values of an open course… it provides the opportunity to bring clarity to a subject in a field… even if we end up with different clarities :)

The PLE related to the LMS (LCMS, VLE etc…)
I came to the idea of the PLE as an alternative to the LMS (learning management system, blackboard, moodle, desire2learn etc). There is a sense in which it is the opponent of the institutional sponsored and controlled LMS and as that I am quite fond of it as a student controlled alternative. Recently, however, institutions have been getting themselves (or have considered doing so) into the PLE business and have set up locations for students to have their own personal learning environment (ELGG at athabasca comes to mind). This can take away from some of the advantages of students being responsible for their content and feeling a sense of ownership for their content. It can, however, remove the somewhat tricky task (not to mention digital dividing task) of having a student setup their own PLE location and managing it themselves.

POINT 1. The PLE differs from the general usage of the LMS in that it is not course focused, but rather focuses on the learning the student is doing over the length of their learning journey. By extension it tends to allow for the student to control the way their own work is organized.

Personal Learning Environment vs. Network
There is a difference, I think, between these two things but the difference is often bound up in what people call ‘semantics’. I use the scare quotes on semantics because it is a particular kind of a semantic debate… its mostly about how people use the words environment and network. The distinction, as i understand it, is that the folks who talk about PLN are focusing on the people that make up the learning that they are doing and believe that the PLE people are mostly concerned about the technology that makes up the learning space. (blogs, wikis, webpages, forums, broadcasts etc…)

POINT 2 – PLEs are (to me at least) the ecologies within which PLNs operate

This is not true for all people and in all circumstances. There are people for whom the idea of PLE is far more broad than this and people who might claim that their PLN (say connected via twitter) requires not PLE (definitive place). I’ll be interested to see these ideas challenged over the PLENK2010 course.

VERY Personal PLE – I own and control all my own stuff
I think that this work done by Jim Groom is the most rarefied version of the PLE in Higher Education. Students are instructed to choose their own domain, find a hosting service and create their own blog space. The instructions detailed on Jim’s blog are clear enough for anyone with a basic understanding of the internet and a willingness to make an effort to be able to follow. The PLE, as it is layed out by Jim, is really a space controlled by the student. It becomes a space that can exist outside of the institution that a given course is being taught it.

POINT 3 PLEs need not be supported by educational institutions

The upside for this is, obviously, that the work done by the student will continue on as long as they are willing to pay their server bills… and the downside, is, well, the server bills.

Who put the P in learning environments/networks?
I understand, I think, the PLE/N in the sense of me as a life long learner. I still worry about it when we talk about knowledge being something that is personal to me when we are, at the same time, calling it connective, emergent and/or rhizomatic. How can knowledge be ‘mine’ if it exists in the connections between different ideas? So I don’t like the usage of the term personal in that sense, but if it means that I have a stake in the ground (say this blog, my twitter feed, edtechtalk) from a technical/URL perspective then so be it. I think it takes away from the fact that my work is part of the larger community that i work in… but its not a point that i want to fight too much about.

What I am more interested in is the idea of calling something ‘personal’ in a more formal course. My work online and my work trying to structure good courses for students (f2f or not) has left me with a certain suspicion about the idea of PLE/Ns in formal courses. My problem lies in the double trouble that exists around ‘telling’ someone that this is going to be their personal space, and the other is around the idea that TIME is very short in most courses, too short, really, to create a ‘network’. In a recent course I taught, I explored the idea of a Learning Network Plan, which was a plan created by students which included their long term life long learning strategies/tools/nodes that they hoped to develop after the course was finished.

POINT 4 Ownership(personal) and Time(network) are critical impediments to implementing PLEs and PLNs in formal education. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, just that they need to be addressed.

Assessing PLEs
Oh my. How do we know that any learning happened? How can we possibly organize all the work that students are doing so that they can find each other’s work and so that I, as an instructor, can review all their work? These (and many more) are some of the difficult practical issues around the PLE PLN in the classroom. In the course I linked to in the last section, I put the onus on the students to copy/paste a link to each of their blog posts, to important comments they had made structuring other people’s work (one of our students or not) and important connections that they had made between the information/knowledge we were covering and their experience during the course.

I set a fairly open review policy but learned halfway through the course of another method that apparently everyone but me knows about. A colleague of mine habitually allows students to choose the grades they are going to get based on the amount of work they are willing to cover and the depth to which they are willing to cover it. This, combined the the idea of a PLE/N did a great deal to reduce the stress levels of my students. I created a lowest common denominator and a highest reasonable work quota. The reason for this and one of the dangers of the PLE/N that I hadn’t foreseen, is that with freedom, some students were working way, way too much. Given their own space to work and freedom to choose, they were going too far. unexpected.

POINT 5 Putting the responsibility for reporting networked open work on students is ok as long as you give them a low and high end of the amount of work that is reasonable.

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44 thoughts on “5 points about PLEs PLNs for PLENK10

  1. Of the five main points, I’m focusing on the fourth one (ownership/time), because my work is with people in companies and other organizations. There’s a parallel with formal education in what I’ll call “organizational learning.”

    I absolutely agree that learning is what the individual does–but if the company exists to achieve some goal (respond to disasters, sell cars, develop software), then it’s reasonable for the company to want people on the job to focus learning toward skills that will expand their individual ability, and thus the organization’s ability, to achieve those goals.

    So in the workplace, the challenge is how to replace formal training (with its relentless emphasis on the traditional course model) with systems, support, encouragement for other planned initiatives that foster the learning that’s desired.

    (If you as an individual worker have no connection with the goals of the organization that’s paying you, that’s an entirely different problem.)

    I have no good ideas about the answers, but these are worthwhile questions.

  2. That’s a critical link I think you’re making there Dave… the only problem is that it further reinforces how out of touch the course model is with the real world. It is, however, perfect for something else i’m working on now trying to explain to business why the MOOC model can be useful. You’re right… it is about replacing formal training with lifelong training in order to expand the individuals ability over time.

    yes. what you said.

  3. So, if I blog/twitter and use my RSS reader, I have my own PLE, right? I like this, compared to LMS, because I find the LMS very ugly/boring designed. I mean the ones I have used so far. Now instead, I can personalize/design my own igoogle desktop with my RSS reader,my calender and so on and handle practically everything from there. Great :-)

  4. Dave, in thinking about how a MOOC approach with clients I’ve worked with, maybe the “M” part needs downplaying.

    By way of analogy, for most workplaces, Wikipedia is probably the worst possible example of collaborative collection of information. Anyone who sees the wildly varying quality — to say nothing of the endless talk-page disputation — is likely to think “that’s not what we want here.”

    (I treasure, on my own Wikipedia page, a comment to the effect that the original name was “Unemployed PhD Death Match.”)

    And it’s not, because at the typical workplace you’ve got a closed, or at least selected, community from which the potential contributions will come.

  5. Hey Dave,

    I understand that you’re right about the massive business and the greater success in being private… but it’s not what i’m trying to do in this presentation. I’m selling openness and seeing what kind of response i get.

    There are certainly public sector and non-profit applications, but the big challenge, and one i doubt i will succeed at, is to convince the private sector that creativity is connected to openness. The exercise, at the end of the day, is mostly about me learning to talk without the jargon and to a non-partisan crowd. I’ll be posting the final draft in a couple of hours…

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  7. Thanks so much for Point 4 and addressing the assessment question, Dave. I’m attempting to dig deeper and study myself during PLENK2010 but also reflecting on how I can introduce the PLENK concept to my grad students — who are already spooked by the openness of Moodle lite and the Web 2.0 cocktail.

    The Open Ed courses I’ve looked at so far, your “Ed Tech and the Adult Learner” and Alec Couros’s Ed Tech for Teachers are both focused on technology and learning. Do you know of any courses for which the technology is more of a transparent overlay and not a focus that have made the move to open? My course is “Learning Through Literature with Young Adults” and we use tech a lot but our focus is on the literature survey and methods layers.

    Thanks in advance.

  8. Hi Dave-

    I’ve been attempting to read this blog post of yours for days only to be distracted by one thing after another. Now your blog has moved again to the front burner and begs for a response.

    I would like to share my blog with you (it’s a new site that I set up for this MOOC.


    I think that you will appreciate some of the ideas I present and how I look at a PLE/N.

    After reading some of the responses to your blog, I have even more to reflect upon. And that led me to think that there are Learning Environments that overlap. Indulge me in my explanation and rationale. There is my PLE (I control the content and the connections which are my PLN that lead to my PLK), then I have a Course Learning Environment (the environment I create for my students), and then there is the University Learning Environment (different from the course but likely overlaps in a bigger picture framework), and in an organization there would be an Organizational Learning Environment (that could overlap with a PLE or a CLE). The networking of the tools in the environment are dependent upon the user of the environment. The knowledge that is then created by the networking can become PLK, CLK, or OLK.

    I’m quite new to all of this and I’m having a marvelous time. I’m looking forward to more of your reflections.

    Katrina Way, MBA

  9. I work as an educator in the vocational/adult sector. A lot of the training is hands on or workplace learning. Unfortunately I find the institutions’ LMS’s to be on a pedestal together with formal teacher centered learning. No wonder learners often feel like passive bystanders in their own learning process.

    We are currently working on a network approach, building a new kind of learning community involving students, companies, entrepreneurs and teachers. I am hoping that this will empower the learner and make the PLE /N transparent.

  10. Thank you for mentioning the difference in meaning between PLE x PLN. In my understanding the environment includes the network, and PLN is then a branch of PLE.

  11. Hi Dave,

    I read #4 and #5 of your post very keenly. A few years back I was teaching Java at a college. I decided to experiment with getting the students to create a PLE as part of their learning plan. All the students had to blog their takeaway from each class. They also created screencasts instead of a traditional presentation.

    Even though I as well as some students totally enjoyed the course and some students even grasped the importance of blogging to connect with a community of practitioners, I went through hell grading the course.

    The first problem was to read the massive amounts of blogged content that was created (by 30 students over 10 weeks). But the second problem was even messier. Some students copied other blogged content from other students and a few students copied content from other places on the net. This was a real problem. I had to grade fairly, which meant that someone who copied should not get a grade as high as someone who did not. This resulted in an enormous time hit, which I feel could have been used to actually teach or help the sincere students understand the topic better.

    What I am trying to drive at is: Is it necassary to grade? Can we not just say that a students’ portfolio (collection of blogs, assignments, presentations… all available in the public domain) is their grade. There is no number associated with it. For the student it’s their takeaway from the course and from other stakeholders (the university, or companies who may want to hire them) it is the cumulative portfolio which is a trail of their learning. They can then assess it in whichever way they seem fit for their purpose.

    I realize that this is not a very objective way to providing a number, but then I am not very sure if a multiple choice test, or reading assignments and evaluating presentations is entirely objective either.

    Would like to know your take on this issue.

    Once again thanks for the excellent blog post.

  12. To me the concept of PLE is very extended, including any type of stimulus which may come up anytime even unexpectedly. Hence PLN can be a branch of PLE, more practical and connected to people and means. Actually I realize the two concepts are interdependent and overlapping. I will read more. In a post about Rhizomatic Learning I read (don’t mind my quoting) ‘Knowing is a long process of becoming where you actually change the way you perceive the world based on new understandings’ and I found these simple words illuminating. I look forward to hearing different opinions.

  13. Your five points are very good in clarifying the features of a PLE and its relations with
    the learning world outside. THe term ecology gives us the idea of exploring nets
    and improving while caring them.

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