Personal Learning Environments (PLE)

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Personal learning environment (PLE) describes the tools, communities, and services that constitute the individual educational platforms learners use to direct their own learning and pursue educational goals.[1] The PLE approach is based on a learner-centred view of learning and differs fundamentally from the alternative Learning Management System or Virtual Learning Environments approach both of which are based on an institution- or course-centred view of learning. Van Harmelen describes Personal Learning Environments as systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to

  • set their own learning goals
  • manage their learning; managing both content and process
  • communicate with others in the process of learning
and thereby achieve learning goals.
Personal Learning Environments

History of PLE

[2] The phrase “personal learning environment” appears to have first been mentioned at the annual JISC-CETIS (Joint Information Systems Committee Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards) conference in 2004 (Martindale & Dowdy, 2009). The development history of the PLE concept has been documented in resources such as Wikipedia and by Mark van Harmelen of the University of Manitoba. A key event in PLE history was [3] Scott Wilson’s presentation of VLE of the future”. Soon afterward, the PLE was a theme of the 2005 JISC-CETIS annual conference. As the PLE idea gained exposure, researcher Scott Leslie(2008)solicited and posted a collection of PLE models [4] that would receive a great deal of attention.

Tools, communities, and services

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PLEs can exist both online and offline. Many of the online tools are Web 2.0 tools. [5] The development of Web 2.0 technologies, sometimes called social software,has given learners a large collection of tools for creating, organizing, and making meaning from content. [6] Schaffert & Hilzensauer(2008) defined a PLE as a collection of social software applications the learner has collected that are useful for his or her own specific needs. Example of these tools are Wikis, Blogs,YouTube,Google Docs,ElggFlickr,Skype, Twitter, Jaiku, Ning, Myspace and Facebook Using such software, learners can organize content that has meaning to them and easily share that content and their own interpretation of it. The offline tools can be used via mobile learning such as mobile phones and E-Book readers. Ray Sims included an interesting PLE diagram that highlighted not only Web 2.0 technologies but also personal relationships. Sims included meditation, book reading, and the physical spaces where people learn . This highly personalized version adds a dimension to PLEs beyond social networking technologies[7] .

Benefits of PLE

The PLE will allow the learner to manage their own learning, and will function as the learner’s personal educational record and online portfolio. Downes (2006)[8] claims that the heart of the concept of the PLE is that it is a tool that allows a learner (or anyone) to engage in a distributed environment consisting of a network of people, services and resources. It is not just Web 2.0, but it is certainly Web 2.0 in the sense that it is (in the broadest sense possible) a read-write application. Important concepts in PLEs include the integration of both formal and informal learning episodes into a single experience, the use of social networks that can cross institutional boundaries and the use of networking protocols (Peer-to-Peer, web services, syndication) to connect a range of resources and systems within a personally-managed space. The pedagogy behind the PLE offers a portal to the world through which learners can explore and create, according to their own interests and directions, interacting as they choose, with their friends and learning community[9] .

Limitations of PLE

[10]"Personal learning environment" is an evolving term, one without a single, widely accepted definition. The concept remains somewhat amorphous, made up of disparate re¬sources—including people—often beyond the boundaries of the institution or the user, that can come and go, creating a lack of continuity. For academics, a simple reference to sources may not be enough in such an environment, as data can easily disappear. As a learning platform that is by definition always evolving, a PLE requires students to engage in ongoing decision making to maintain, organize, and grow their learning environments. The process of self-directed learning requires a degree of self-awareness, and it must be given time to mature. Some students, however, may have never taken the time to think about their own metacognition or to reflect on how they learn best. These less experienced students may not be ready for the responsibility that comes with building and managing a PLE.

Implications for teaching and learning

[11]The concept of the PLE marks a fundamental change in the role resources (people and media) play in teaching and learning. In an environment where information is easy to find and needs only to be located, there is a greater premium on skills that support fast and accurate access to information and on the ability to assess that information. In this regard, teaching is less a matter of data trans¬mission and more a collaborative exercise in collection, orches¬tration, remixing, and integration of data into knowledge building. The goal for the student shifts from a need to collect information to a need to draw connections from it—to acquire it, disseminate it, and collaborate in its use. Furthermore, the use of PLEs may herald a greater emphasis on the role that metacognition plays in learning, enabling students to actively consider and reflect upon the specific tools and resources that lead to a deeper engagement with content to facilitate their learning.

PLE is very supportive of learning systems including adult learning, informal learning, lifelong learning and workplace learning. Moreover, the concept could be extended to support learning organizations that see knowledge as the most significant resource to remain current and competitive. [12].

See Also


  1. Petrushyna, Z. (2008) Personal Learning Environment (PLE) – a new learning concept or a new learning system?. Retrieved June 15, 2011 from
  2. Martindale,T.,&Downdy.M.(2009) Personal Learning Environments Retrieved June 23, 2011 from
  3. Wilson, S. (2005, 4 October). Architecture of virtual spaces and the future of VLEs. Message posted to view?entry=20051004162747
  4. Leslie, S. (2008, 4 June). A collection of PLE diagrams. Retrieved June 22, 2011 from
  5. Martindale,T.,&Downdy.M.(2009) Personal Learning Environments Retrieved June 23, 2011 from
  6. Schaffert, S., & Hilzensauer, W. (2008). On the way towards personal learning environments: Seven crucial aspects. eLearning Papers, (9)
  7. Sims, R. (2007): Personal Learning Environments (category). Sims Learning Connections. Retrieved June 18, 2011 from
  8. Downes, S. (2006). Learning networks and connective knowledge. Instructional Technology Forum. Retrieved June 22, 2011 from paper92.html
  9. Educause learning Initiative. (2009).7 things you should know about Personal Learning Environments . Retrieved June 20, 2011 from
  10. Educause learning Initiative. (2009).7 things you should know about Personal Learning Environments . Retrieved June 20, 2011 from
  11. Educause learning Initiative. (2009).7 things you should know about Personal Learning Environments . Retrieved June 20, 2011 from
  12. Arenas, E. ( 2008) Personal learning environments: Implications and challenges retrieved June 20, 2011 from

External Links

Adult Learning

Collection of PLE Models

Personal Learning Environment (PLE) – a new learning concept or a new learning system?

Workplace Learning

7 things you should know about Personal Learning Environments

Image Links

Personal Learning Environment framework

Using electronic resources to enhance teaching and learning