A DIY Approach to Learning: The Personal Learning Environment

Megan's PLE Diagram
Megan’s PLE Diagram

This week, we were asked to create diagram illustrating our own personal learning environments (PLE). What seemed like a pretty straightforward assignment became complicated quickly. As I began to mull over the course materials and conduct research of my own, it was immediately apparent that the term PLE had a variety of connotations among both educational technology researchers as well as thought leaders and bloggers online. A few writers described the PLE as the physical place where a learner’s tools and resources were held or stored together – many referring to the now extinct iGoogle as a platform for PLEs. Some use the term PLE and the personal learning network (PLN) interchangeably whereas others argued that the PLN and PLE were different entities but could never quite lead readers to a clear distinction between the two. The muddled distinction between the PLE and the PLN only served to further complicate the issue.

Creating My PLE Diagram

Taking advice from this article’s approach, which described the organic development of a PLE, I considered the way I work to locate knowledge and ideas professionally and personally. I tried to combine tools and processes I used before beginning the EdTech 543 course and those learned in class and intend to keep. My diagram is organized in four quadrants which each represent different behaviors I exhibit during my learning process or cycle. The first phase, being research or knowledge gathering, features the most tools since I prefer lots of variety when perusing the internet for ideas. As I move through the learning process towards creation the tools used begin to dwindle revealing my focused intention to utilize specific tools for certain purposes.

Comparing PLE Diagrams

When comparing my PLE diagram to others diagrams in class, I discovered a number of similarities and differences. All of us seemed to break our tools down into groups. Of the six I analyzed, five categorized the tools by function, similar to my own PLE diagram. One of the six actually organized the tools by content type which was quite different from mine. As expected, many of us use similar social media tools, including Twitter, Facebook, Google +, YouTube, or Pinterest as common themes. Three of the six chose to diagram the process of working (as stages or phases) within their PLEs as I did. However, others highlighted non-process connections or relationships between their PLE components by using arrows or a venn diagram. All diagrams conveyed information in their PLE diagram in one of three ways: 1) the diagrams featured just tools, 2) tools and content resources, and 3) tools, content, and organizational resources.

This comparison made me realize that most of us focused on digital tools despite the traditional, face to face knowledge networks we undoubtedly have access to in our daily lives. This prompts the question – are PLEs merely digital or a blend of digital and traditional?  I also realized that I had not defined a distinction between my PLE and PLN, which points to the possibility that I still have yet to reconcile the differences between the two concepts in my own work. If I had more time, I’d likely have to add to my existing diagram. There are lots of communities, both digital, face to face, and professional, that I rely on heavily in my work which are missing from my diagram. Through this analysis process, I do think that I have identified an underlying process for knowledge discovery and sharing that will not change, even if the tools and communities I belong to do evolve over time.

My classmate’s PLE diagrams

Rob Johnson’s PLE

Nick Urban’s PLE

Cinnamon Johnsrud’s PLE

Darin Gray’s PLE

Megan Poindexter’s PLE

Cassie Davenport’s PLE


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