Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/Definition & History of PLE

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Definition of Personal Learning Environment (PLE)

In 1999, Bransford suggested “knowing where one is in a landscape requires a network of connections that link one’s present location to the larger space.(Bransford, 1999:127). The idea of PLE makes this statement concrete. Every individual has his or her own network of learning from schools, friends, libraries or the Internet. Greeno (1999) stated “learning to live in an environment is learning your way around, learning what resources are available, and learning how to use those resources in conducting your activities productively and enjoyably” (Greeno, 1991:175). This perspective has not changed but could be applied to the emerging idea of PLE as well. An individual not only can be educated through traditional schooling but can learn multiple resources now readily available through technology, even get an online degree.

The idea of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) was initially discussed in 2001 by Olivier and Liber, later many others contributed to enrich the concept, such as, Stephen Downes, Ray Sims, Mark van Harmelen, George Siemens, James Farmer, Michelle Martin, Scott Wilson, Steve Barth, Terry Anderson, Will Richardson, and David Delgado to name a few. Simply, PLEs help people control and arrange their own learning process and provide supports to “(1) set their own learning goals (2) manage their learning; managing both content and process and (3)communicate with others in the process of learning and thereby achieve learning goals.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Learning_Environment

The term, PLE, also suggests “a collection of tools, brought together under the conceptual notion of openness, interoperability, and learner control.”(George Siemens) http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/archives/002884.html

An authoritative definition of PLEs does not yet exist. However, various ideas could be found on the Internet:

(1)“the heart of the concept of the PLE is that it is a tool that allows a learner (or anyone) to engage in a distributed environment consisting of a network of people, services and resources. It is not just Web 2.0, but it is certainly Web 2.0 in the sense that it is (in the broadest sense possible) a read-write application.” (Stephen Downes, 2006) and Downes describes PLE as “an aggeration of tool, service,people and resources.”

(2) “a collection of tools, brought together under the conceptual notion of openness, interoperability, and learner control.” http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/archives/002884.html

(3) “a facility for an individual to access, aggregate, configure and manipulate digital artifacts of their ongoing learning experiences.” (Ron Lubensky) http://members.optusnet.com.au/rlubensky/2006/12/present-and-future-of-personal-learning.html

(4) “a collection of free, distributed, web-based tools, usually centered around a blog, linked together and aggregating content using RSS feeds and simple HTML scripts.” (Sean FitzGerald) http://seanfitz.wikispaces.com/creatingyourple

A PLE is a concept, rather than a website, software or any online community. PLEs change, grow and cover various medium. Within traditional, formal, education a PLE was never a focus because the environment was created by the teacher or an admisinstration. Now, with advanced communication technology, individuals can and should be encouraged to construct their own learning maps or PLEs.

Here’s an example of a PLE, a mind map of Ray’s PLE : http://simslearningconnections.com/ple/ray_ple.html.

An individual could establish his or her own PLE by a personal blog with web links and RSS subscriptions, or one can combine his or her institutional education and other learning resources with a LMS (Learning Management System). ANother example, is a PDA that is Internet enabled. PLEs differ from time to time, case by case.


boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html

Bransford, J. (Ed.). (1999). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. Retrieved December 8, 2007, from http://books.nap.edu/html/howpeople1/

Downes, Stephen (2005). E-learning 2.0. Retrieved December 7, 2007, from http://www.elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=articles&article=29-1

Olivier, Bill, & Liber, Oleg. (2001) Lifelong Learning: The Need for Portable Personal Learning Environments and Supporting Interoperability Standards. The JISC Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards, Bolton Institute December 2001.