What is a Personal Learning Environment?

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Everyone is different, and your environment has a lot of power over how well you learn. In this lesson, we'll discuss different aspects of the personal learning environment (PLE), and how to make that environment work well for you.

What is Your Personal Learning Environment?

''Tommy, you know that paper we're supposed to do on the origins of philosophy? I read the text, but I'm just not sure where to go next. I just can't seem to get started. Can you help?''

Tommy grinned at his stricken classmate, and turned to his laptop screen. ''Sure, Lisa, let me show you what I'm doing.''

Clicking on an icon marked ''Origins of Philosophy'', Tommy began to explain how his system worked. ''Every major assignment gets a page like this, with links to my important resources. I brainstorm ideas visually on my web page, which contains a blog, discussions, and pictures for friends and fellow students to see and comment on. I have links to search engines, RSS feeds, and publications. I can always get much more information than I need. Now, let's dig up some stuff for you.''

Your Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is the combination of tools, people, and services that make up individualized resources and approach to learning. It is centered around the individual's efforts to learn. Your PLE may include course resources, such as information from the lectures and assignments that happen in the classroom, but it will generally have much, much more.

When it's well designed, your PLE will connect you to the people and information that are the most useful for you, and will make you feel like you have a team working with you to get projects completed. Your PLE is your own personal resource for answers to questions, supporting context for ideas, and illustrations of the way concepts work.

Why a PLE?

You're a human being with a completely unique mind. Learning works best when you take advantage of the special ways that you personally receive and process information. Remember, in your mind:

  • meaningful means memorable
  • interesting means easier to remember and understand
  • pleasant and stimulating means motivational and productive

Unfortunately, most of the elements that would maximize learning do not happen in the classroom or lab. Teachers must present information to an entire class, so they can't focus on just you. You have to create your own learning model.

The good news is that thanks to the Internet, those resources are all out there. There are fellow students (some of them thousands of miles away) who would love to interact with you and work with you on topics of interest. There are:

  • YouTube presentations on virtually any subject
  • Twitter hash tag (#) labels that can connect you with people who want to talk about the same things you do
  • hundreds of people who will flock to an interesting website to provide you with vast amounts of free information about your subject of discussion

With the click of a mouse or the tap of your fingertip, it's all there.

Creating and Improving Your Own Personal Learning Environment

Technically speaking, you already have your own PLE. The general definition merely means whatever environment you're using to learn. The key to making it work for you is to take control of it, redesigning your world to make the most of all of your learning experiences.

So what does that look like? Well, it helps if you start with your own 'brain storming' session. Brain storming merely means writing down all of the ideas that come to your mind (or your group members' minds if you're doing collective brain storming) to get some ideas out on the table. For your PLE this means considering all of the possible sources for:

  • original information
  • context (supporting information)
  • feedback from others to help measure your efforts
  • pictures to illustrate the principles you're trying to understand and report on

Here are some steps to help you get started:

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