If this is your first PLE

Yesterday, Kevin Prentiss asked me to provide some concrete steps for launching a PLE. In one sentence, I'd say "think up some personally meaningful questions, search for some juicy RSS feeds, subscribe to them in your feed reader and set-up access to that reader for when you're wireless or on your cell". Here's a longer version of some concrete steps to launch a PLE:

Personal learning environments are very different from completing school assignments or complying with a job description. A PLE is something we make up on our own because we feel like doing it. We learn what we want to learn without formal instruction or training. PLE's are not about jumping through hoops. When we figure things out on our own, they make much more sense to us than something we were taught.

I hope it seems really strange for me to tell you how make a PLE up on your own. Why not just wing it and discover what works for you? All I can contribute is my familiarity with what you can look forward to and what's important about different steps you can take. Your PLE is entirely up to you and depends on how you feel for it to work like it should.

Start with your vague and scattered interests: Most learners I've known have very clear ideas about what is expected, graded, or required to learn. They have much more vague ideas about whatever really interest them. Those personal ideas don't get developed equally because they don't count for whatever hoops they're jumping through. So an online search is going to be difficult and possibly unproductive with these personal, yet scattered ideas. Early searches will mostly about which keywords work best, not what's available to learn that looks interesting. By refining which tags, phrases, people and books -- relate to your vague ideas, you'll get an initial sense of how to successfully load up your PLE with fascinating resources.

Check in with your feelings: While your exploring which keywords work best for your scattered thoughts, notice how you're feeling. If the interest you assumed was yours personally has you feeling energized and more curious than before -- it's the real deal. If you're finding this topic is boring or something you're making yourself explore, forget it and try a different idea. PLE's are self propelled. Unlike homework and jobs, PLE's only happen when they energize and fulfill you. The thing you're learning has to be your baby, not somebody else's that you're babysitting.

Search for RSS feeds to subscribe to: PLE's are different from hanging out in a library or searching archived web pages. The sources for personal learning are alive and growing. The people to learn from are expressing themselves and changing their minds every day. They may link to and quote inert text, but they wrap it in paragraphs about what it means to them, how they find it useful and what else the text ties into. Most everything that changes regularly has an RSS feed to add to your PLE. You can even subscribe to an RSS feed of searches for text or tags in web sites, blogs, wiki and bookmarks. Your feed reader will have new stuff to read and think about every day. You'll get the idea that learning is a vibrant process that defies prediction and control. You'll realize that disagreements and contrasting viewpoints induce more realizations for you than consensus and confirmations of one right answer. You'll discover you're learning from the combination of RSS feeds in your feed reader, not just one subscription at a time or each feed in isolation.

Interact with your best finds: After watching your RSS feed subscriptions for several days or weeks, you'll get a sense of your favorite contributors. You may admire how they think, become fascinated with how they learn, or get inspired by how they continually change. Writing to them or about them online will start a conversation and inspire you with more to write about. Notice how your learning doubles when you start expressing yourself, joining into dialogues and sharing your insights with others. You'll gain confidence in what you've learned, value your process more than before and want to go deeper in this direction because it's so rewarding. You'll appreciate your PLE as a process that continually unfolds and surprises you.


  1. Tom, you've been on fire lately with your PLE posts--just really great stuff! This one in particular is very helpful, I think, and a good reminder to me right now on how to get back into my own personal learning. I think the three best pieces of advice here are to keep it loose, listen to your gut and interact with your best finds. Great info!

  2. This is pretty funny. I was just reading Michele's posts on PLEs and then I discovered your link from Stephen Downes and really appreciating what you have written.


  3. Thanks Tom for your timely post. I am just starting to sort out what is a PLE. I know I have one but its such a helter skelter affair. Your basic beginning point will help me narrow down my focus and encourage me to write more.

    Brent MacKinnon

  4. Fascinating takes on PLEs Tom. Would you care to comment on this:

  5. Hi Tom,

    We have you pinned down ( all going well ) to converse with you and a whole group of f-2-f people here in Sydney and I would imagine a equally as interested mob online -

    We are keen also for others interested to test the connection space and give us their take on PLE's and the associated but poorer cousin e-portfolios....are they the same or are am I getting confused lol.???

    I once wrote something amongst other ramblings on PLE's -

    That lead to a great deal of consideration for me as to the concept of open PLE - go to Google - search for 'alexanderhayes' see what you find.

    Looking forward to your networks response and the interrogation that grows accordingly

  6. Thanks Michele- Your emphasis on feelings proved very helpful to formulate my latest post.

    Thanks for the appreciation Beth!

    Brent, I'm glad you're getting in touch with your energy and focus to pursue personal learning!

    AJC: If you look through the PLE category on this blog, you'll find I've created many more taxonomies of PLE's besides the one you've summarized on different sizes. You'll find in my latest posts that I've realized it's very misleading to think of PLE's as things, which is the premise of the paper you're writing.

    Alex: Thanks for the update and links to your own ruminations on PLE's. I see the potential for "content generation" process to provide a means for evaluation by instructors, but that entire area of ePortfolios is loaded with pitfalls that snuff out the free spirited exploration of personally significant ideas, perspectives and skills.

  7. Thanks Tom! I love your emphasis on relationships in the last point. There is so much wonderful research on emotional engagement and its positive effects on learning outcomes. Learning is social.

    In California they say "Surf where the energy is."

    And I, for one, love to surf with friends.

  8. Thanks Kevin
    Likewise I love to blog when it feels like I'm a DJ on all request nite and the dancing kicks up a level when I play my tunes! The social dimension of learning rocks!

  9. This quote alone was worth the price of admission: "The thing you're learning has to be your baby, not somebody else's that you're babysitting."

    I quoted you in a response to Michele Martin's post today on ego-blogging -- when blogging is a tool in a personal learning environment, you've got to be writing about your own babies or the passion's not there.

  10. Thanks for quoting me Cammie. I'm delighted with how you picked up on that turn of phrase!

  11. Hello Tom

    Interesting presentation today. Thanks
    The conversations around 'common ground' and our own babies will be interesting.

    I feel it is exactly that tension between what is visible as a standard or qualification and what is able to be adaptive and innovative and eccentric which is useful negotiation ground.

    Organisations do not like to be creatively wrong or to have time to reflect?

    I am interested in what happens when learning is more scoped by focus that by organisation or membership or related fenced participation.

    Would be a nice time to have a look at the social policies around learning including student rights to their learning materials, writings, copyleft or similar to enable students to make mashups and to collaborate, ability to reuse learning in other contexts, interoperability, choice of tools.

    A lot of these kinds of expectations could be clarified as criteria for tools which enable free participation and ple.
    They are the kinds of social contracts around learning.


  12. Janet:
    Thanks for adding a comment here and clarifying some of your ideas for me that flew by in the text box. I'm delighted to see you have a vision that balances the two sides of many of the legal dimensions of PLE's. The more I become aware of the diverse facets of the PLE possibilities, the more potential conflicts I see. When someone like you sees the potential for negotiation, common ground and resolution, I'm inspired.

  13. thanks tom,
    i really enjoyed reading your article. i was a little fuzzy about what a ple was. but i understand now that it's kind of something that you can truly call your own, because it's coming solely from what interests YOU. keep bloggin man. peace out.

  14. Christopher: Thanks for getting my message and letting me know it works for you. Peace to you too!

  15. Thank you for your insightful comment on PLE. At the first sight of PLE, I was totally at loss about the distinct feature of it and thought it was nothing but a personal website. After I read this posting, I got a pretty clear idea about how to start your first PLE. Just try to follow the four features mentioned in this posting.

    1 Start with your vague and scattered interests
    2 Check in with your feelings
    3 Search for RSS feeds to subscribe to
    4 Interact with your best finds

    I am sure educators as well as students will benefit from PLE a lot.

  16. Hey Tom! I just read through your post because for my class online I have to set up a PLE. Thanks for posting the information, because it cleared up some questions about how a PLE works. Is it kind of like a MySpace page for education? Because that's how I'm imagining it (haha). I'm picturing something like Classroom 2.0, but better!

    Anyways, thanks for the information!!!

  17. Lan and Rissa
    Thanks for letting me know this page is still providing value. Good luck launching your PLE's!!

  18. I am completely new at PLEs. Your post helped me better understand what they are and how we fit them into our ever growing technology lifestyle. I am eager to learn more and I am trying to motivate myself to use more technology in my teaching. I think a lot fo what you said in your post is clear and to the point.
    Thanks so much. I will be checking in through RSS feeds.
    Chayna Prizel

  19. I don't want to be anonymous.
    My name is Chayna Prizel

  20. Chayna:
    Thanks for the great feedback on what I wrote here. Good luck incorporating more technology and PLE structures into your teaching.


  21. i'd love to hear how you're organazing your PLE. never heard the concept before, but i practicaly run me own PLE and having serios trouble keeping track with all that i'd like to.
    currently i keep bookmarks in Diigo (which i find very usefull), subscribed to blogs by email, and keeping a Google group with a single member (that's me) where i right my thoughts and all.
    i'd lobe to organaize it mere efficiantly but havent yet found a propper tool.
    Readers - i tried several time to implement them, but i never realy keep checking on them. its much better to get it all to my mail box...

  22. Thanks for your questions. A PLE is a name for a bunch of different tools you choose to use. It does take effort to keep track of everything, since it involves different web sites, logins, passwords, etc. Most of the personalizing happens by choosing what blogs, searches, and twitterers you subscribe to. As your interests change, you can change what searches and writers you're subscribed to. The main point is "to make it your own", not whatever tools you're using to learn what you want to learn.

  23. Hi,
    This is my first time to use PLE and thanks for your advice. In PLE, the most attractive things for me are subscription and interaction. Firstly, by subscribing the RSS feeds, I can keep abreast of news anytime, anywhere. I believe this function is very convenient for the communication among teachers, students, administrators, and parents. Everybody can know each other’s minds, ideas, and news in time. For example, some students are very shy to express themselves in public. However, Blog offers them a chance to speak loudly; and by using RSS, teachers and parents can keep communication with children instantly and constantly. Secondly, interaction can stimulate people to learn more knowledge. PLE provide a very perfect platform for people to make conversation. In this big community, people can share what they’ve found, what they are thinking about and what their insights are. I agree with your idea that “learning doubles when you start expressing yourself, joining into dialogues and sharing your insights with others.” When you start expressing yourself by your own words, the learning efficiency will increase fast.

  24. Great post, i like your easy to use and clear 4 step method. I'm sure this can be refined and used by teachers to help their students build informative and effective PLE's

  25. @Guang Thanks for your insightful reflections on the challenges and benefits of both the subscription and interaction facets of PLE's. Your emphasis on self expression could enhance students' experiences tenfold.

    @Rooz I hope lots of teachers do follow your advice to help their students. Thanks for your thoughts.