Personal learning environments is not an easy term to define. But the truth is, most of you are probably using some form of personal learning environment without realizing it.
Think about it this way. We all already engage in “personal learning.” This simply refers to what we choose to learn on a daily basis—and it might be more than you think.
For a moment, think about how much learning you do online every day. Perhaps you: check the news
scroll through your social media streams
watch some how-to videos on YouTube
look up a recipe for spaghetti squash
look up what a spaghetti squash even is
search for the definition of a new word you heard
translate a foreign phrase
use Google Maps to find your friend’s apartment
use Yelp to find a good restaurant nearby
use it again while at said restaurant to figure out the most highly rated dishes
look up home remedies to alleviate an upset stomach
(For a video representation of this, check out A Day in the Life.)
If you’re a person who has access to the internet and a personal device from which to do so, you probably do a massive amount of personal learning every day.
Now, where does the “environment” part fit in?
Environment refers to a specific platform or platforms you use to collect and organize the information you learn. That doesn’t mean it has to include everything you learn online. It just means that on some particular online platform, you put effort into curating the information you see and create. This platform becomes a personal space that you customize based on your needs and desires.
So what does it look like?
A PLE can take on many different forms. Here are some examples:
- Social Media Feeds. Yep, a PLE can be something as ubiquitous as a Facebook or Twitter homepage. Why? Because the content that you see on your social media feeds are actually curated—by you. Social media algorithms are constructed so that you see more of what you click. If you click on certain friends’ posts more than others, those are the ones the site will show you more often/with higher priority. Similarly, you also can choose to follow different news sites on social media. These acts of curation make your social media feed a personal space where you have say over what information you see, and hence learn.
- Google News. Google News allows you to choose which information is most important for you to hear about and which news sources you trust most, so it can prioritize those in your news stream. On top of that, you can choose to receive alerts on specific topics, further curating content. The customization and curation this platform allows makes it a clear example of a PLE.
- Blogs. In some classes, teachers require their students to create a personal blog based on class content. This represents a PLE because the student not only chooses what to information to put on their blog, they also choose which other blogs to follow (presumably including their classmates’) and which posts to comment on. Of course, people not in school can also use blogs to organize their personal learning.
- Wikis. Wikis are a similar PLE to blogs. Although they are often assigned for a specific class, students can shape their wikis based on the information that’s important to them. Of course, like blogs, wikis are also used by many people who are not in classes.
- Rhizr. Rhizr is another great example of a traditionally class-based PLE. Generally, all the information on a person’s Rhizr falls into a certain category, say for a class. However, each individual student is able to curate the content they find most important relative to the class and thereby customize their platform and make it a personal space.
- Google Docs. Google Docs can be viewed, edited, and shared, and you can choose which docs to add to your personal drive. In addition, Google Docs allows you to choose who you want to collaborate on a certain file with, who only has access to view files, and the information you want to share or keep private. By selecting which files you contribute to and which you keep on your drive, you’re creating a PLE.
Of course, these are just some of the more prominent examples of PLEs, but they can be created on many different platforms. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you already have a PLE in one of these forms. Next time you’re on that platform, pay attention to the way you curate it and the kind of information you tend to search for. This will show you even more about how PLEs are used—by showing you how you use your own.