The L word in PLE

I previously wrote about the P word in PLE and considered this follow-up post at the time -- about the L word. We often take the concept of learning for granted or dissect it into an extremely complex issue. Neither serves our refinement of effective Personal Learning Environments.

I'm fond of the notion of PLE's because it captures the possibilities of free ranging exploration, self-directed choices and intrinsically motivated assimilation of new ideas. As I've mentioned before, my experience of blog reading, writing, commenting, quoting and subscribing seems to me like a PLE extrodinaire. What's missing in those listed features of my personal learning is all the reflection I do in between all that input and activity. When I consider how much time I spend chewing on what other bloggers have written, I realize a PLE could be a "car with no keys for the ignition". Having access to lots of information of one's personal choice does not cross the line from finding it to integrating it. The power tool is only as powerful as the learner putting it to use.

It's the learner, not the PLE that generates the questions, searches and selections from the finds. It's the learner that puts the new information into a context of personal use, meaning or further exploration. The PLE is usually given too much credit for the learning, just like the car that got us somewhere needed a driver with a place to go, not just a road and fuel in the tank.

PLE's seem like leverage for an intractable problem: the rank and file members of organizations who stick to their tried and true concepts, the same old approaches and some obsolete tools. The hope is the new tool will get them to open their minds, reconsider their asssumptions, formulate new questions and explore alternatives beyond their comfort zones.

I suspect a PLE is necessary, but not suffficient to induce free range learning. The L word takes a social context to encourage it, expect it, reward it and refine it. That context may be created by colleagues, managers, or customers. Learning can occur in social isolation, but its more likely and fruitful when contextualized by other interested parties. Once the intrinsic learning is activated, the learners will find likely find a online community of like-minded thinkers to nurture the continued explorations and ruminations


  1. This is a great post, Tom. I agree that without the learner asking questions, synthesizing, etc. you have nothing. It's why I think that particular types of people have been driven to create their own PLEs--because they have a thirst for learning. For some people, this is already intrinsic. But others do need the social context. I also think that there are times that the social context adds a driving force to learning that might otherwise be missing. One of the things I've found in going through my 31 Day Challenge to Building a Better Blog is that going through this experience with other people has pushed me to learn more and to actively reflect and ask more questions. I would still have completed the project, but I'm certain that I've gotten more out of it by having it happen with others.

  2. Thanks for the insightful addition Michele! Your own experiences with social context, personal motivation and learning inspired me to write today's post.

  3. As well you should feel honored, Michele :-)

  4. Would I be jumping the gun Tom if I made reference to the E word? You've done P & L. :)

    'Environment" - a very burdened word, carrying so much that everytime I encounter it I am distracted by all the saddlebags & packages & agendas hanging off the the poor thing. While embracing the whole PLE concept I was disappointed with the nomenclatural consensus that gave us Personal Learning Environment. Even when reading, hearing or saying PLE I hear environment & it is more dominant than personal or learning.

    I love the idea of learners free-ranging across a terrain, a landscape, country. However, 'environment' as a word in need of a cup of tea & a good lie down seems to constrain the possibilities, circumscribe potential.

    I also think that leaping straight to the environment or terrain or place where learing is to take place is, (repeat metaphor alert) jumping the gun. :)

    I have been working in the sub-teen, prepubescent, justpubescent scene & I was into
    PEPs - Personal Learning Projects.

    My concept is a lifelong project with metaphors of toolkits, backpacks, storage vaults in use.
    The environment, terrain, place where the project is developed will change & change & change. And some of those changes will arise from the constructions & connections made by the projecteer.

    I just don't want to trap the kids in AN environment even if it is theirs & they are learning something.

    Tom & Michele I discovered your blogs quite separately - gotta say to both of you - just love yr work.


  5. You're not jumping the gun - you're instigating a new post. Thanks for your wonderful insights into the E word in PLE. I delighted with your sensitivity to not trapping the learners!

  6. Tom, I would suggest:

    P: PERSONAL, build and managed by the learner for his own use (the most important thing for me)

    L: Learning, that is, the goal of what the learner does is to learn, to improve his knowledge, skills and performance

    E: Environment (the less important word) I would say, just a group of tools used for "personal learning"

    Regarding the social part of learning, I do agree with you: it is one of the most important parts in learning, and social networking should be a part of the PLE for me

    I would appreciate if you take a few minutes to take a look at 2 small posts where I summarize what I understand for PLE and how to implement it in the real World, and give me some feedback as I am doing right now with you:

    Thank you in advance.