Thoughts on PLEs


I have been looking into the ideas and use of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and the differences that exist as compared to VLEs (aka LMS).

Amongst some of the compelling arguments for utilising PLEs in education (as practitioners and learners) I sympathise with:

  • It’s not about the technology/tool used but more about the concept; creating , maintaining and contributing to a learning environment.(Sclater , 2008)
  • Collaborative/social learning is increasingly the norm and not a trend – several examples in literature , the blogosphere and scholarly articles are pointing to a change in education that emphasise constructivistic approaches fuelled by web 2.0 tools
  • Allowing students to use the tools they want does empower their learning and enhance their experience as well as improve engagement.

I agree with Sclater (2008) that there are still issues around accessibility, assessment and technical support that have to be looked into when making use of web2.0 tools supporting students individual PLEs. Another important point which I have been pondering upon relates to how educators can use web 2.0 tools compromising privacy? Can institutions ignore the fact that “free tools” normally involve a risk to students privacy? In a recent conversation with a colleague of mine it seemed that creativity/media rich features are prioritised over privacy issues. Basically the argument goes that it’s too late, everybody leaves a digital footprint all over the web and an individualised web (semantic web) is the future. (By the way if you wish to hear something with a wider approach to privacy listen to BBC Radio 4 – Privacy Under Pressure, I found the comments about Google glass very interesting)

Back to the topic of PLEs. I guess looking closer at how I manage my learning using social media and other online tools  I see that I have tried to sustain some kind of boundary between work/leisure. So my PLE is not quite as blurred as Weller (2007) describes his to be. I use Facebook only for friends and LinkedIn only professionally. However when using Twitter I have blurred the areas of leisure and work ; following both course relevant, professional/personal interests. But I keep my tweets very educational. Whilst Weller wanted to only include online tools he himself contributed too I decided to have a mix  (perhaps because I am more of a consumer) and more importantly try to illustrate the flow . As seen from the diagram my iPhone is really the key component in the transfer/exchange and organising of information/knowledge. By creating this diagram I quickly realised that making an exhaustive list of all the software and tools I use was too time-consuming. I have clearly reached a peak in using social media/ web 2.0 tools fuelled by studying the H800. I also thought about what I used to use few years back and included things that I have moved on from just to have a contrast. I found that as my workplace does not really support social media (no mobile phones on sight etc.) I must include physical resources as I still have some reliance on them and think their influence should not be underestimated.

As I said above I consider PLE’s to be more of a conceptual idea than a system hence think that VLEs are something different. In other words I don’t think we will see VLEs being completely replaced overnight or in future. Sclater hit’s it on the nail in his statement:

“…the shortcomings of LMSs may, however, have as much to do with institutions’ lack of understanding about how to facilitate learning with them as with the inadequacies of the systems themselves.”

No system or tool can be perfect but it is increasingly important that the tools we decide to use have a purpose to fill. I agree with Weller and Sclater in their prediction that LMSs will become a background system which will involve a higher degree of incorporating students individual PLEs (OU, 2013).I think a few years from now it will probably be possible as like the search industry have been left by Google as the dominating engine we will be able to see a few years from now a few social media tools becoming equal to that activity. This may well resolve some of the technical support issues mentioned as a reason not to use social media in education. I personally would have really benefitted if the Open University system could ‘talk’ to my twitter account. I would have been able to share tweets/resources in the forums more easily. What do you think, is the integration of VLEs and PLEs possible?



Sclater, N. (2008) ‘Web 2.0, Personal Learning Environments, and the Future of Learning Management Systems’, Educause Center for Applied Research, Research Bulletin, vol. 2008, no.13.


Weller, M (2007) ‘My personal work/leisure/learning environment ‘, blog entry posted 6 December 2012. Available from: (accessed 20 July 2013)


Open University (2013) Sclater/Weller podcast debate introduced by John Pettit [online], (last accessed 20 July 2013).


One thought on “Thoughts on PLEs

  1. Completely agree with you – all the kinks will be ironed out of systems or systems will be replaced so Universities can jump on the bandwagon. However why should Universities wait?

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