Growing PLEs from seed

Yesterday Patrick Higgins posed a wonderful question to me that has spawned a barrage of reflective insights this morning (thanks Patrick!):

My idea is to surround them (the students) with a network, much like how you have described PLE's, that will give them access to information, allow them to create content on the fly, and truly give them the freedom to pursue what interests them by making meaningful connections. My question to you is, how does this process start?

PLE's propagate from seed. PLE's cannot be successfully manufactured or constructed. They are organic by nature and need to be nurtured with attentive care. The growing conditions vary so dramatically that success is an adaptation to the particular context, not compliance with rules or recipes. Giving students the picture of "gardening their PLE" will help them to understand the complex challenge, to avoid trying too hard or not enough, and to recognize self-inflicted problems.

PLE's require balance to grow. PLE's are a vibrant combination of frameworks and freedoms. The structure of Web 2.0 tools and connectivity provides space to move about freely. Neither the freedom or the framework is a enough on it's own. They are like plants that die from excessive sun or insufficient water or vice versa. Too much and too little of either freedoms or frameworks proves lethal to the PLE. Other names for PLE's that capture this synergy include: "independently networked learning", "autonomous social learning" and "self-inspired immersion in others' learning".

PLE's blossom after other growth stages. PLE's take root in a soil of personal passions, motivations and interests. When a PLE is grounded in these personal feelings, it can take off and flourish. When PLE's try to sprout in the muck of class requirements or imposed expectations, they whither and die off. The urge of learn more, connect more, see more, explore more -- comes from within the sprouting seed. The growth is "self propelled" and cannot be controlled. Blossoming follows cycling through processes repeatedly. The growth is energizing, satisfying and developmental.

PLE's are contagious:  Learning to be curious, courageous, reflective and passionate comes from others exhibiting those qualities in our presence. We catch on to PLE's like fads and viruses, by immersing ourselves in the processes of other successful learners. We benefit from what they are finding through their PLE that they can, in turn, give to us and strengthen our PLE. We "come down with" the propagation of mutual benefit, reciprocities and emergent solutions.

It takes a PLE to grow another's PLE. When the others are obviously learning about OUR OWN exploratory processes, experimenting with affecting OUR learning outcomes, and nurturing OUR development in desired directions - our growth takes off. Their PLE's nurture the development of our PLE's. Together we realize what works, what interferes with results and what makes a bigger difference than something else.


  1. Tom - Your answers are good philosophy and thought frameworks (and that's what I love about your blog in general) but what about the concrete steps?

    Perhaps this is someone else's area that you could point to?

    I believe that the separation between philosophy and practice is normal, so I don't expect you to have a ready instruction manual for implementation of your ideas, it's just that, if you did, I would love to see it :)

    What about starting with and an RSS reader?

    Or rss to text messaging (knowing that more students have phones than computer access).

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks Kevin
    I did come up with some concrete steps and caveats for each one to help newbies get started. It's long enough to be tomorrow's blog post. I'm glad you asked me to get down to the specifics to get a PLE started.

  3. Tom, I've been reading your blog with interest, particulary in reference to PLE's and it seems to me that the looser the definition of a PLE the better.

    The danger with being prescriptive about something as nascent as the concept of individuals being involved in self directed, immersive and networked learning, is that you run the risk of limiting it's scope.

    I have read your post also on "your first PLE" and appreciate your acknowledgement of the concept as organic. The pot plant metaphor goes a long way to describing how I feel about PLE's.

    I would be interested to hear from Kevin how he is using the tools that he has at his disposal to construct his PLE.

    "What's your definition?" is a personal question, and everyone will have a different way of using what they have around them.

  4. Thanks for your insightful thoughts!
    I share your hesitation about prescriptive definitions and have sought to keep the possibilities wide open with phrases like "my world is my PLE" and "PLE's are nothing". When we make a PLE into a thing, we disrupt it's open-ended process with too much structure.

    Kevin in part of a startup: which increases the networking among college students on a campus. I suspect he was exploring PLE's as a way to identify student interests to match up with other students. Several other bloggers have revealed their uses of the tools to formulate their own PLE's. Stephen Downes, Michele Martin and Harold Jarche come to mind. A Google search could come up with many more I'm sure.