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Personal Learning Environments have happened

January 10th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

There has been some discussion lately questioning why Personal Learning Environments have been so slow to take off. I think this misses the point. PLEs are here. they are being used every day by thousands of users all over the world. True, there is no branding saying PLE. And the PLEs differ greatly, technologically and in how they are being used.

PLEs were never about developing a new generation of educational software. PLEs were about a change in the way learners used technology to support their learning. PLEs were about reflection on different sources and contexts of learning. PLes were about learners taking control of their own learning. PLEs were about collaborative and social learning

Web 2.0 and social software has facilitated that happening. Be it Facebook or Ning, blogs or Wikis, Webquests or social bookmarking, it has taken place. Not every learner is progressing at the same pace and has the same confidence in developing, configuring and using their PLE. Why should they? Learners move at different speeds in different contexts and at different stages of their lives and learning journeys. Learners have different personal preferences for the tools they use for learning and the mode of learning they prefer. Learning takes place in different contexts – institutional and workplace. But the changes we talked about when we first discussed the idea of the PLE is happening all around us.

Of course it is true to say that institutions have not supported that change – if they have recognised it at all. Institutions remain wedded to control and management models and the LMS or VLE suits that purpose. However, the slow move to web services, the slow adoption of standards and increasing interoperability are making it easier for learners to utilise institutional course provision within their PLE.

But the big change will not be through the univeristy and schooling systems. The big change will be as work based leaners and learners not enrolled on any institutional course use technology to support their learning. Of course that will not be educational technology as such. It will be tools like Diigo or PBwiki, Twitter and WordPress. This does pose a question as to the future role of educational technology. Essentially the adoption of the PLE has passed educational technology by. The cutting edge of the so called educational technology community is no longer with the developers or systems administrators. It is the pedagogists, the teachers, the facilitators and the learners who are leading development. And that is as it should be.

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6 Responses to “Personal Learning Environments have happened”

  1. Bill Gaskins says:

    PLE’s are here to stay. It will take time for institutions to take hold the change or it may not happen. I am believer that substantial change happens from the bottom and up. thanks for pushing my thinking.


  2. When people start to organize their PLE we can talk about a real Informal Learning. Now we have a problem; Can a user organize their PLE ??? So many tools and so many information.
    Who will teach people to organize ??? The teachers ??? Will the formal learning teach how to organize the informal ???


  3. Ray Tolley says:

    It all depends on one’s interpretation of the term Personal Learning Environment. If, according to Graham, PLEs are here, all around us and being used, then I want to know how far this definition of a PLE extends. Does it extend to all the ICT tools we use for whatever purpose? Does it extend to our social interactions using any technologies we choose? Does it extend to direct human interaction at the club, church or pub? Does it extend to the very environment we move through, cluttered with all sorts of passive and interactive technologies.

    The term PLE is not new and prefaces Web 2.0 by possibly a decade. For those of us who still belive, particularly in schools, that there is a place for the VLE in education, ie a Managed Learning Platform, close-coupled to the MIS and providing appropriate remote access; the PLE has a different meaning. VLE suppliers understand the PLE to be that interface uniquely available to an individual learner: it recognises the prefered accessibility interface in terms of fonts, colours, images etc; through diagnostic or profiling tools it can suggest appropriate learning styles and resources etc. Such an environment could quite easily include both Open Source and Social Software. Given responses from the learner the PLE can then suggest areas for further study or alternative routes for learning etc. Such an interface will also suggest appropriate times for formative or sumative feedback and all the still unimagined tools of a truly semantic Web 3.0 environment. This is my understanding of a PLE.

    If the two different definitions are so disparate is it not time that we agreed to differ and for Graham Attwell to rename his recently invented pet acronym?

    Kindest Regards, Ray T


  4. Carole says:

    I see some comments from a few contemporaries I have met before online and I am always interested to hear their opinions.

    Here in Australia – at least in some small pockets of educational activity – the individuality of personal learning environments is really important as it allows the freedom of choice and the self-managing, multi tasking and always ‘on’ explorers (our younger student cohort).

    In a recent project team we were focussing such students on the importance of creating self-promoting artefacts and displaying them professionally online, rather than considering how they should modify and personalise any digital portfolio sofware available in their learning institutes.

    Some students have found it rewarding to create their own web spaces (blogs,wikis, networks) in which they get to choose how to structure their own personal learning environment. This enables them to have a truly portable PLE and one that may be easily sustained once their schooling is completed.

    I agree with the article, it is indeed all about how the learner makes use of the Web 2.0 tools and great strides are being made in Australian education in their use – children as young as Grade 3 & 4 are increasing their ability to reflect, collect, connect and comment. Yes, to some extent teachers are leading them, but in others it is happening regardless.

    I believe we are seeing an emergence of self-regulated social networking in use as the main vehicle for establishing a digital identity – a lasting footprint in the global classroom.

  5. Dan Buckley says:

    The recent OFSTED report confirms that VLEs are mainly being used to store documents and where they are being used it is “more of a cottage industry that a national technological revolution”. In reality all of us (children are the same species) are doing most of our learning in a massive PLE called the internet. The question is are there any structures we can put in place that rather than restrict our use, actually enhance it. I believe there are and am excited by the definition of a PLE as the concept takes shape.

    Whilst the PLE concept is taking shape outside of school in the form of Google’s various apps and Windows Live etc there are some key barriers to its implementation in schools which are all around control and budgets.

    1. Schools need to protect children from the dangers of the internet, true, but most have interpreted this as trying to control what children gain access to rather than providing training starting from an early age. The aim of schools should be to safely enable the use of as wide a variety of tools as possible. Trying to control children’s use of the internet is almost impossible and more than likely not desirable anyway. Providing a walled garden just creates false security or completely closed systems that encourage children to explore elsewhere. The solution is structured training from an early age on how to use the full internet with extra functions arising from need.

    2. The next barrier to adoption is curriculum delivery. There is a lot spoken about personalisation but teachers are not trained for environments in which every child is operating at different levels with different interests managing their own learning. What if they don’t choose to learn about “ox-bow lakes” or heaven forbid they miss out “the Victorians”! The solution is either a competency based curriculum in which children can be recognised for their own interests or alternately, if we really do feel some content is essential to life, longer project times with less restricted outcomes or approaches so teachers really can be facilitators not lecturers.

    3. The final barrier is assessment. If everyone needs to sit a test on a certain day and it contains a very restrictive set of skills and knowledge then who wouldn’t prepare the child for it? If children or adults are gaining huge social skills or collaborative skills online but the school and the individual cant gain recognition for these then they wont invest time or resource in them and they will be sidelined. We have to address assessment of the competencies we all know are so vital to successful living. Computers can’t assess these skills because if we can write an algorithm for a computer to assess these skills then we can probably write one for the computer to carry out these skills so any job using them could be replaced. These skills have to be assessed by another human being or group of human beings which is where web 2.0 comes in.

    Take all this together and the PLE needs to have
    – automated increasing access to more of the web based on readiness
    – competency framework to allow recognition of achievement regardless of which content you choose
    – authenticated peer assessment methods so whenever you complete something you are proud of you can gain some recognition that can be used as qualifications are now
    – generate opportunities for publication, sharing and face to face praise.

    We put all this together into PbyP and it is working really well for the 10,000 children on it but is still falling victim to the fact that at the end of the day most schools don’t really trust children with their own learning even though the research suggests 85% of it doesn’t happen in schools. When we crack the mistrust we will wonder why we ever thought we needed VLEs in the first place.


  1. […] 11, 2009 · No Comments This is a response to Personal Learning Environments by Graham Attwell. PLEs were never about developing a new generation of educational software. […]

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