When we think of Personal Learning Environments as things, we are on the same page as construction workers, factory stewards and warehouse operators. We are dealing with the components to assemble a PLE. We describe the PLE as "what we've got in it" like Web 2.0 tools and archives of our own creations.
When we think of PLE's as processes, we're on the same page as designers of architecture, software interfaces and customer experiences. We're dealing with what components do, how they function, what purpose they serve, and which difference they make. These intangible qualities are more difficult to visualize.
When PLE's are comprised of tangible components, there's a limit to how big they can get. We can only handle so much information before we go into overwhelm, denial or dissociation. When PLE's are appreciated for intangible functionalities, there's no limit to their scope, impact and value. When I speak of PLE's coming in different sizes, I'm addressing these intangible qualities.
Tiny PLE's - PLE's can be limited in scope to a research project. This is most common in academic settings where the PLE needs to "fit under the nose" of the instructor giving grades. The research can be of a personal interest and personal selection of resources, but it cannot get more personal than that. This is the kind of research that journalists do for their next story, legislative analysts use to draft new policies and academics rely upon to create new articles for their journals.
Elongated PLE's - PLE's can last a lifetime if they serve continual competency development. Networks like TENCompetence support personal career changing, reentry to the workforce, closing skill gaps and life long learning. The focus on personal skill development is a much larger scope than any research project. It builds on previous learning and requires more intrinsic motivation to succeed. The personal context involves more issues like financial obligations, social acceptance, personal confidence and family commitments. The PLE reaches into the past and extends into the personal future.
Deep PLE's - When PLE's explore why things happen and what they mean personally, they take on an enormous, new dimension. They becomes a source of anxiety relief, comfort and personal growth. The continual contrasts of personal perspectives with others' frames of reference clarifies one's own voice and gifts for the world. We find how we differ that then serves as the basis for how to contribute in ways that are deeply satisfying and significant. We construct "mental models" that gives us ways to accept, forgive and even utilize what happens in our world. We bring compassion and deeper understandings to dramas, conflicts and breakdowns of dialogue.
Infinite PLE's - When a deep PLE is sufficiently robust, we are set-up to learn from everything that happens. We become fascinated by occurrences and open to life's mysteries. "Life is our PLE" because everything imaginable is welcomed as something to possibly explore, reflect upon or incorporate into our understanding. Our reflective practice becomes more significant than acquiring new information. We learn as much or more going within meditatively.
In discussing portions of this with a colleague over the weekend, we concluded that a deep PLE can be started at a young age. His experiences with elementary school children has revealed the ability to "go deep" after the primary grades. The sooner we establish that tradition of personal meaning, the more likely the learners will develop the habit of graciously "learning from everything that happens".