PLEs come in sizes

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".


  1. This is an impressive series of posts about Personal Learning Environments.

    My question for you: how are you able to write a cogent essay just about every single day? Do you ever get blocked, or feel tapped-out? Or does your PLE feed your blog?

    Just wondrin' in California

  2. Thanks for the question Roger. I do get tapped out on occasion. I find it harder to write the first post of the week than the others. This is my second blog and an improvement over the first in terms of getting a steady stream of ideas to write about. Growing changing learning creating is broader in scope and less inhibiting for me to write of my latest interests. Also I have a larger audience and more comments which inspire me with things to say.

    Two other routines contribute to my steady production of posts. I'm reading lots of blogs and several books a month. These are fertile ground for lots of new ideas to come to mind. (Thanks for recommending The Black Swan - that proved to be a rich provocation for my further insights). Also I usually get up around 4am each day and spend the first 2+ hours capturing creative inspirations on paper as they come to mind. I usually get several ideas for blog posts, as well as reflections on the previous days reading during the early morning with my mug of coffee. When I get around to writing the post later in the morning, that's a second go at those ideas. I can then get in a groove of writing without stalling out to come up with new inspirations or getting left brained to sort out ideas.

    When I am stuck with nothing to say, I've found a change of pace helps tremendously. Walks, music, DVD's and jigsaw puzzles all work to disrupt my over-thinking the issue. My goal is to let inspirations come to mind while I've distracted my "logical operations center".

    That's the inside scoop here in Colorado :-)