Does the PLE make sense in the connectivist context?

So I posted a little tweet tonight that got a few raised eyebrows from my esteemed colleagues. I sent it out because i’d been thinking it for a while… I’m preparing for a “where we are two years later” paper on my rhizomy stuff (not for any journal in particular, just think its time to write one, and i feel the need to pull strands together) and am trying to think a little deeper about how i feel about knowledge and learning.

This is definitely first draft thinking. I’m more than willing to have someone explain to me what i’m missing… (I’ll accept whole hearted agreement as well) Lets start with a couple of quotes from George’s 2005 paper. These are both ‘first sentence’ quotes from summary sections of the paper.

Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.

Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity.

My problem with the combination of the PLE and connectivism is that they seem to come from two different epistemic background. I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing (to someone like me) but most people I’ve met like to live by one theory of knowledge at a time. Leaving aside the unrelenting desire to acronymize everything that has led us to the term PLE and its historicity as an opposite, learner empowered version of the VLE (virtual learning environment), it is also the current candidate as the child of the enlightenment. It is the location where the one, the individual (personal) stands their ground for learning, where they store ‘their knowledge’ where they represent their learning. We often hear of people talking about PLE’s as portfolios, this is the sense in which i mean it.

The PLN and the PLE, at any one time, are instantaneous reifications of the set of (as yet, unknown) rules which govern the complex interactions between resources, individuals and their own knowledge. Pat Parslow

The key bit here (of an excellent post) is the part about knowledge ownership. The PLE (and the PLN) are a reification (interesting choice of words here as it, to me, means that it becomes a thing, something potentially real, a far stronger term say, then snapshot) and govern the interactions between a person’s different stuffs. It is MY place to keep MY things. To represent, further, how I am connected to the world and where i sit on the knowledge spectrum.

There is a distinct difference, I’m thinking, between this view of knowledge as something that can be possessed and something like connectivism where “Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements” and “learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity”.There is a desire, it seems, to return to what “I” have and what “I” know pulling things out of their connective space. It makes sense to make the attempt, certainly. The vast majority of what we call education is premised on the idea of knowledge being something that can be owned, that you can give and receive. What, I wonder, does knowledge co-created look like when it is taken back and possessed by an individual? This seems like a critical context shift that removes knowledge (and learning) from its connective state and returns it to something countable.(as opposed to knowledge and the learning thereof being non-counting nouns)

I’ve since received a few more definitions of PLE from the twittersphere (doubt, now, that this is first draft thinking?)

Share what you discover as “best”-I’ve never come up with a general def short enough to be of use; I define by processes @fncll

The essence of our characterisation of the PLE highlights its change in the locus of control of technology from institution to learner. ( via @scottbw)

In the former case, Chris seems (i’ve got a tweet which he claims doesn’t probably cover it, so i’m winging it) that it is the place from which he shares the best of what he thinks and comes across. And he does this very well. By this argument my blog would be my PLE, and if we’re using this as a definition, then i don’t really have much of a problem. But this is only talking about a publication medium. A means by which we are communicating. It is not the communication itself.

The second quote from the JISC/Cetis study is a more profound claim, I think. It’s about control and power. In it we see the student controlled classroom where they get to decide how they handle knowledge and learning… Student centred learning… there are certainly reasons to like that… but it’s not connectivism. Connectivism is networked learning, a student is not ‘controlling’ anything really, unless its the networks that they try to blend in with.

Things I understand i’ve glossed over
I understand that a cleaner treatment of the separation of knowledge and learning is necessary here. I’m not sure how I want to do it yet (that’ll be in the paper) pick the way that sounds best.
It’s PLE as “thing we should pay for and get designed and write scads about” that referring to… not the kind that is a major broadcast platform for an individual.

So what am I saying?
I’m saying that in a connectivist model, as i understand it, the learning (and i would argue knowledge) lives in the network, it lives in the connections that are part of each thought and idea. In the print world, we have an amazing maze of interconnections in references and works cited pages that go back (in some way or other) thousands of years, one cannot speak of ‘knowledge’ as being separate from that historicity nor of ‘learning’ any part of it without it being part of the whole. One of the prime affordances we have at our fingertips with the web is the ability to create these connections very quickly, and very complexly, we can also see far larger chunks of the network at any one time.

The Personal Learning Environment may simply be a misnomer. If it is, as (i think)Chris suggests, a fancy way of talking about a medium of publication, then it is more like a “Snapshot of my personal thinking platform” (SOMPTP) if it is, however, as Pat suggests, a place where my personal knowledge lives or, say, a place where my personal learning happens, then I’m thinking that it might disagree with the ‘non-individualistic’ nature of connectivism.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

28 thoughts on “Does the PLE make sense in the connectivist context?”

  1. One quick note would be that there’s room between being “a fancy word for publication” and “being a place where knowledge lives” (and let me also point out here that “a place where lea

  2. rning happens” is not synonymous with the latter).

    I don’t think the PLE is merely a place for publication– that’s one thing– my common processes that I think compose the functions of the PLE are: Connect, Explore, Collect, Share, Reflect … there’s a lot more there than “just publication.”

    On the other hand, I do think that the PLE isn’t the communication itself, in whatever the form or mode, it’s the environment that allows for various kinds of communication (and activities that happen where one is communicating with oneself, tinkering, taking things apart, storing, dismissing, remixing, building, etc).

    The real difference is probably that there are aspects of Connectivism I don’t buy. It’s a workable theory and it provides some great insights, but I’m not in lock-step with it in every detail. In *MY* idea of connectivism, the PLE is essential for “connected” activities to happen. Or to put it another way, engaging in such activity automatically creates a PLE. For one thing the implicit “only” in the idea that “in Connectivism, learning (only) lives in the network” is a self-defeating (and unrealistic) proposition. Not all knowledge is exhumed only in real-time, not all learning happens just-in-time…

    More later, but it might be a while because I’m literally about to head out the door to have 9 days of vacation.

  3. The reification of the PLE is for me the problem. We all have personal learning environments in the sense of from time to time framing our world around “learning”. What’s in the frame? That’s our PLE. While I have quibbled with the theorization of connectivism (shoot me I’m an academic) I consider myself an open connectivist and I choose tools and use tools in ways that I hope support open connectivism. To me there will never be *A* PLE in the sense of a shrink-wrapped set of kit, though there may be kits that model or scaffold the development of a PLE. This is mainly because my PLE is not the kit but the people in my learning frame and the tools I use to connect with them and to share learning. Perhaps a PLE is more than people and tools, it the shared practice of people using tools together to learn.

  4. I am still trying to define what I think a PLE and PLN are – when I see examples of how people are organising their learning, I get confused still.

    Examples of tools that I’ve been using to – find, track, share – these are all tools I use where I am connecting to – network/s:

    Delicious – if I bookmark a resource, or someone has shared a resource and marked it, so its in my delicious inbox. If I don’t put the cck09 tag, keep it private or don’t share it with anyone – is that being unconnective – I had to connect in order to bookmark the resource? Its not very helpful to anyone else if they don’t know it exists, but does that mean I haven’t learnt how to connect?

    Google reader – if something appears in a feed I’ve subscribed too – I’ve already connected in order to receive the feed in the reader. I may choose to like, share, comment on that post but again if I didn’t – unless I keep it unread – it disappears from my consciousness and I will only remember its existence if something or someone in the future triggers a memory of it. If all my feeds are part of a network, how responsive do I need to be in order to be connective?

    I wonder if its possible to be connective and only connect entirely to resources or information, without sharing / talking to another person so personal learning network or environment is quiet but exists?

    This is a bit rambling, but still trying to understand the connecting bit with other people too – if I react to something or someone and at that moment in time, some part of my thinking changes but I don’t signal that reaction in any way that is obvious is that learning?

    Is an environment or network something that reacts – it identifies the presence of other humans not just information and responds – then that is connective?

  5. I like to think of Connectivism as ‘how’ I’m learning, collaborating and sharing to achieve my PLE … which is my ‘what’ I’m personally learning, collaborating and sharing.

    In the corporate world, where I’ve been now for the past 9 years (yes, the dark side), terms like connectivism and PLE never fly, because they become much too academic. (although I am one – and get it 100%)

    So, to simplify, we frame things in the ‘how’ and ‘what’ categories, and it seems to work.

    No one in the corporation knows they are actually employing connectivism and the PLE … but they are! (and they’re connected)

  6. @Chris you make a compelling argument (as per usual) “engaging in connective activities automatically creates a PLE” I’m still stuck wondering if the title itself is what’s bothering me. I think i see what your saying, but the idea of “personal” calls to mind a binder that lives on a shelf. It is MINE. I wonder if we just think that way because we’re accustomed to it.
    It’s that implicit only (and I believe i’ve heard both George and Stephen use it explicitly) that makes the PLE difficult. I think that’s one of the issues i was trying to tease out. Sounds like the Neo-platonic Nous. Must go back and read my plotinus.

    @george i think i understand what you mean… but then why call it personal? That’s the thing that i keep coming back to… in what sense is it personal? It tends to sound more like a desperate attempt to keep our enlightenment sense of the individual and not open ourselves to the fact that the things that we know are indelibly connected to everything else and are not, in fact, personal at all. In the sense that there are ‘no new ideas’ what we think of as personal are in fact just brand choices.

    @Nicola those resources are just manifestation of things done by people. One of the problems i’ve had with certain parts of the OER movement for instance is the desire to blandify things so that they are reusable, attempting to take the human context out of it. I don’t think the attempt entirely succeeds, but it to is often premised in the idea that knowledge is countable and the human can be taken out of a situation leaving rarified knowledge behind.

    @Dan I work (in my day job) on the corporate side of academia, so i have some sense of what you’re talking about. You are, i believe, omitting a key part of connectivism in your definition. I think the how of connectivism is inherently tied to the what… that’s the whole point of the theory. You are, of course, more than welcome to make the distinction, but I’m not sure you are then talking about connectivism.

    @everyone I can’t think of a theory (outside, maybe, of postmodernism, which isn’t really a theory) of knowledge or otherwise, that offers itself up to so many interpretations from people who claim to be members of the brand. Maybe the lesson here is that connectivism allows itself to be different things to different people, as is the nature of connected networks and the ways that people touch the knowledge residing in the network.

  7. My twopennorth!
    First, I think that a personal learning environment is what an individual accumulates, constructs and experiences themselves: comprising their face to face experiences in elective small groups and formal activities such as lectures and tutorials; their desktop access that might be bookmarks, an online desktop such as Netvibes, Pageflakes, iGoogle; and whatever formal learners ar offered by way of Virtual Learning Environments and resources.
    A personal learning network is a network of people and things that generates and sustains learning for an individual. Connectivism is, I think, looking at learning within networks of people and things, as something that emerges from this. My own take on this is that the agency of people , what they do !!, is very important alongside what they find, supplement, amend by way of content/things/etc.

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  9. To my mind, a PLE is as the acronym suggests, an environment for learning that is personal. Therefore, it can be made up of a network or networks, applications, tools, documents, contacts, the work of contacts, etc etc. The term has arisen surely as a response to VLE where as you have mentioned, there is a sense of ownership of a body to which a user is subscribed. This means that all those elements of the environment must be stored within that one environment rather than one of a possible set of environments which could and often do make up a PLE. Catch my drift?!?!!?

  10. @Frances @Nick yes. I understand that the usage of the term personal in the term Personal Learning Environment means that it is personal. My question remains, does that make sense from a connectivist point of view.

    I don’t doubt that lots and lots of people see PLEs that way. Does is make sense for a ‘network’ to be ‘personal’. What does it mean for a network to be personal? do you somehow have special control over it? Sounds like a group to me and not a network.

  11. Re: Does is make sense for a ‘network’ to be ‘personal’. What does it mean for a network to be personal? do you somehow have special control over it? Sounds like a group to me and not a network

    The first question as to whether it makes sense is at the core of the debate on PLE’s vs VLEs that those who are criticising the Government’s money being plowed into VLEs in education, are using with a fair degree of validity. I suppose the question comes down to two things imo:
    1 – Can the technology on which a network sits i.e. the VLE keep up with the demands of its users both now and the future demands?
    2 – Do users want to be ring-fenced in such a way?

    If either or both of the these questions can not be answered yes then PLEs are the way forward are they not or an alternative could be to let everyone have PLEs while education remains in a VLE. Another altenative could be to have a VLE that is flexible enough to accomodate other apps i.e. somewhere between the 2. And no, SCORM is not that flexible really is it?!?!?

    Re a network being personal to my mind means you have control over the tools you use, the way you use those tools and combine various resources to your own end. So, in that respect a PLE can be a controlled personal network. To say it is just a group suggests that a user only control of who/what is involved yet a PLE is surely much more than that. It is also how these elements are involved and how they are brought together, used to one’s own personal gain.


  12. Most of the so-called PLEs I’ve seen are nothing more than Personal Information Aggregators that feed information of interest to individual users. Learning implies capacity or skill is increased. Information alone may reduce risk but only education increases capacity. If you are saying that connectivist groups can be better informed, I would agree. But being informed is not the same as learning per se. We know the knowledge resides in the network. So where does the learning reside? That’s the real question and the determining factor of whether or not you have a PLE or whatever name you wish to call it.

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