Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What is a PLE?

Connectivism looks at learning as taking place through a network of connected sources of information, opinion and experiences. This network forms a personal learning environment.

For some a PLE is a product - a package that can be added to an instutions' course management system, portal, or e-portfolio, to provide a greater range of tools and enable access beyond the formal education period.

For others, constraining the personal learning environment into something that can be mapped and labeled is an impossibility, the PLE is:

In between these two views debate rages as to what constitutes a PLE, and as to how valuable they might be.

Terry Anderson asks PLE’s versus LMS: Are PLEs ready for Prime time? and compares the advantages and disadvantages of an educational system based on the familiar LMS versus an emergent one based on a PLE. His conclusion, with which I agree, says that a learning management system offers little that can not be done outside the system. Their widespread adoption by educational institutions is a result of the packaging of the features for convenient use - not the features themselves. While individual teachers might allow students to choose their own learning sources and tools, on the whole I think we will see PLEs implemented as plugins to Blackboard such as Learning Objects' Campus Pack.

But if we can think of PLEs not as a product, but as a process, it becomes a productive way of focusing attention on how we, ourselves, learn. Every few years in the staff club someone says, "You know that 90% of education funding and attention goes to formal learning, but 90% of learning takes place informally." This might be becoming truer by the year. Opportunities for acquiring information, sharing experiences, expressing opinions, and creating texts have increased exponentially with the widespread use of networked technologies.

Documenting these connections is a way of thinking through how we learn, helping to frame questions about what, how and why we are learning, and assisting in framing personal learning goals.

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