PLEs and their companions, ePortfolios, are back on people’s radars at the moment. I had a go at spotting the difference between the two some months ago, and Leigh Blackall and Mark van Harmelen have being describing PLEs on the TALO list this week.
"First and originally there is the software development line largely coming out of the UK and Europe that is looking to develop a single solution in terms of software that captures the intent of a Personalised Learning Environment. Things like ELGG. Through both the name PLE and the software developmental approach it is easy to see the influence of the Virtual Learning Environment or Learning Management System. It is this association that critics use against this approach.
The second, more recent, and deeper line of thinking with regard to the PLE ……is more interested in the PLE as a process. A process of establishing an online presence (with what ever is readily available), expressing yourself, and collecting tools, information, finding channels.... and in the process building relationships and networks around your expressed interests so as to develop a personalised learning environment.
To me, the second line of thinking is near enough the same to Networked Learning: Networked learning is a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information, and communicating in such a way so as to support one another's learning. Wikipedia Feb 2008."
"The integrated systems approach to PLEs (eg ELGG) is not at odds with the view of assembling resources, and the two co-exist well. In fact jumping over to wikipedia you'll find a definition (of mine) that captures the conjunction of the two 'views':
"Personal Learning Environments are systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to
• set their own learning goals
• manage their learning; managing both content and process
• communicate with others in the process of learning
and thereby achieve learning goals.
A PLE may be composed of one or more subsystems: As such it may be a desktop application, or composed of one or more web-based services."
What I'd particularly like to point out is that the PLE movement, whatever its 'guise', has settled on an approach that stresses independent learning (ie self motivated, often self directed) learning rather than teacher controlled learning. Teachers can assist and facilitate, but not control. Peers can assist and facilitate. This to me is the real nub of a PLE, as a tool / set of tools that enables this approach. So I'm not hung up on precise system characteristics, and I'd suggest that a system classification sidesteps the real and deeper and more meaningful and enduring value of the PLE movement." (my italics)
I’m not hung up on system characteristics either – a single all encompassing tool or a collection of web applications are both fine – but we all know that the organizations we work for are going to push option 1. They will want their staff/students to use the tool they have paid for or developed so they can control security, standards, etc. I guess in the spirit of PLEs as expressed by Leigh and Mark, students should be free to choose the endorsed tool or their own collection of scattered personal artefacts, and be supported in whatever choice they make. It is about process after all, not end product. Though I find that hard to accept sometimes. I love the process, but I also get a lot of satisfaction from looking at end-product I have created. For example, I’m gonna love proof reading this post and seeing it as a end-product that represents people’s thoughts on this topic right now, but also feel excited at knowing that it will be superseded within days. Such is our ‘habitus of learning’. (Norbert Pachler) But I’d hate to see Blogger fall over and never be able to find this post ever again!