Over the last few years, there has been a lot of research in the area of personal learning environments (PLEs). There is no one exact definition for PLEs. Godwin-Jones (2009, pg. 3) describes a PLE as a “flexible and creative learning environment more in tune with today’s students through the use of (mostly) free tools that allow for a customized set of resources and services”. The resources services and tools, generally consisting of emerging web 2.0 technologies, are used by students in their daily lives. However, it’s very important not to just view a PLE as a collection of software; it is more of an approach to using technology for education (Attwell 2007, Johnson and Liber 2008). There is also a strong social element to a PLE. Wilson (2008, pg. 18) describes a PLE as an “environment where people and tools and communities and resources interact in a very loose kind of way”. Finally, a PLE is able to support lifelong learning, informal learning and different individual styles of learning (Attwell 2007). More specifically, Severance et al. (2008, pg. 48) state that a “PLE supports both completed individualized, personal life-long learning efforts and trajectories, and learning within more structured learning (for example, a course at an institution) where there is some organized or facilitated activity”.

But there is some debate as to the level of “personalization” in a PLE (Johnson and Liber 2008). One view is that “personal learning” should be learner driven. All learning tools are resources are selected by the learner, not by a more traditional education provider. The other view is that the “personal learning” is learner-centred but that tools and resources are selected predominantly by the education provider. Severance et al.’s definition above is perhaps a combination of these two views.

One solution to the problem might be for educators to use personal teaching environments (PTEs) as part of larger personal learning spaces. In a PTE, the educator is responsible for the selecting most of the learning resources and tools that will be used on a course. However, within the PTE, learners are encouraged to create their own PLEs. In these PLEs, learners have multiple learning spaces. One of these spaces would be for the current course. Others would exist from previous courses and some may have been set up for personal study. Similarly, an educator’s PTE could also be part of his/her wider PLE. Hence, a huge educational learning/teaching space, or “open participatory learning ecosystem” (Seely Brown and Adler 2008, n.p.) has been created. In this space, there is potential for educators to become learners and for learners to become tutors and mentors (Banyard and Underwood, 2008). In addition, as the learning space increases, the number of connections made between members also increases, thereby giving members more opportunities to learn.

For more details, please read the papers listed below.

Finally, any comments would be more than welcome.

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Attwell, G. (2007). Personal Learning Environments – the future of elearning? elearning Papers, volume 2, pp. 1-8

Banyard, P. & Underwood, J. (2008). Understanding the learning space. elearning Papers, volume 1, pp. 1-12

Godwin-Jones, R. (2009). Emerging Technologies – Personal Learning Environments. Language Learning & Technology, Volume 13, Number 2 pp. 3-9

Johnson, M. & Liber, O. (2008). The Personal Learning Environment and the human condition: from theory to teaching practice. Interactive Learning Environments, 16:1, 3-15

Seely Brown, J. & Adler, R. (2008). Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0. EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (January/February 2008): 16–32

Severance, C., Hardin, J. & Whyte, A. (2008). The coming functionality mash-up in Personal Learning Environments. Interactive Learning Environments, 16: 1. 47-62

Wilson, S. (2008). Patterns of Personal Learning Environments. Interactive Learning Environments, 16: 1, 17-34

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