Personal Learning Environments and Communities

The concept of “Personal Learning Environment” (PLE) is getting quite a lot of hits in the blogs. It is often presented as some kind of new paradigm of e-learning. Still there is no proper definition of PLE, and for example Teemu Arina said somewhere that his company is his PLE. I actually like that definition.

Probably the most common definition of PLE is that it is different than “virtual learning environment” (VLE).

Checking “virtual learning environment” from the Wikipedia made me think that, actually I have never had anything to do with “virtual learning environments”:

“A Virtual learning environment (VLE) is a software system designed to facilitate teachers in the management of educational courses for their students, especially by helping teachers and learners with course administration.”

Huh! I am very happy to write that I have never designed or developed anything for teachers to manage their educational courses or to help them with course administration. What a relief.

Really. Fle3 is not VLE. LeMill is not VLE. MobilED is not VLE. UNESCO’s Young Digital Creators website is not VLE. Even the Kuoma learning environment from the year 1997 was not VLE (the short article is still worth of checking – a lot of web 2.0 stuff in it).

These are not VLEs, but they are not “PLEs”, either. What they then are? They are all – first at all – community tools.

Learning is about sharing. Contradictory, “personal” is something you rather not share. Sharing takes place in communities, personal things you keep for yourself.

In general I do not like “personal things”. For example the idea of having a server computers and client computers was almost killed with the idea of “personal computer” (PC). In a client-server environment you just have a terminal, which you use to get access to servers shared with other users. After PC revolutions, suddenly everybody was doing their personal (paper) letter writing with word processor and accounting with spreadsheets. Without the World Wide Web and universities with their UNIX infrastructure, which made the expansion of the web so fast among academics and students, we probably would still sit alone in front of our PC’s with virtual helmet on. The Word Wide Web brought back to life the clients (browse) and servers (web sites).

I know that when people talk about PLE they do not think that “personal” would somehow excludes social interaction between the users of the “personal learning environments”. No, actually they often talk about web 2.0 and social media, and see them as a crucial part of the “personal learning environment”.

Behind the PLE there seems to be a strong ethos of individual right to choose to study whatever they want, with who ever they want. I guess this is what makes it “personal”. The ultimate freedom to choose also means that there can’t be a request of commitment.

I am afraid that behind the PLE concept there is actually the metaphor of learning as a knowledge acquisition, and not only knowledge acquisition, but also community (or people) acquisition. Communities share. individuals consume. With PLE students will consume information and each other.

I also wonder if Linus Torvalds would have started his little project of a (free) operating system on his PLE (what ever it is) and not on an existing community of alternative operating system developers, would there be Linux today?

4 replies on “Personal Learning Environments and Communities”

Teemu, take a look at my take on PLEs on my blog here
Then note that I was at ASCILITE in Sydney where I saw Scott Wilson, one of the authors of the PLE Reference Model for CETIS, fail to properly promote what a PLE should be about (blogged here).


You say "Still there is no proper definition of PLE". However, a 'proper' definition has been around since mid 2006. I posited that "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 sub-systems: As such it may be a desktop application, or composed of one or more web-based services."This is at , and is reproduced in several places including <a href=""&gt; Wikipedia's History of Personal Learning Environments. A slightly earlier definition that I provided is that "a PLE is a single user’s e-learning system
that provides access to a variety of learning resources,
and that may provide access to learners and teachers
who use other PLEs and/or VLEs." MvH's ICALT 2006 paperregards


PS. Nice work that you are doing with Meraka on the MobilED Project; I've been looking at it from a distance for a whileregards


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