Friday, February 17, 2006

Personal Learning Environment Model

Thanks to some valuable feedback from Dave Tosh, Aaron Campbell, James Farmer, Aaron Nelson and Graham Attwell, I've spent some time fixing up my midnight-brain-dump e-portfolio model. As Aaron C. and James pointed out, the e-portfolio label just isn't working for these concepts anymore. It was easy to take potshots at institutions and vendors for wrecking the potential of e-portfolios, but it's not really true. It might have been the label itself that was too limiting from the beginning -- people believe that we store stuff from our past in portfolios. Maybe that past stuff shows some evidence of a learning process over time, but it exists almost entirely as artifacts of the past. That's still a valuable thing, and tools to help people store and display their stuff are now easy to find and use.

The standard models (and perceived purpose) of e-portfolios fall apart when you expect them to reflect something more holistic about who you are, what you're working on or thinking about right now, who you're reading and collaborating with, and what you plan to be pursuing and learning in the future. Better e-portfolio applications or methods will help us collect and publish our stuff, but we haven't (and maybe shouldn't have) really expected them to connect us to a network of people with shared interests and goals, or help me synthesize connections between my past work, current projects or future goals. It looks like the PLE (personal learning environment) is taking on those weighty expectations instead. Just as a PLE is not meant to be an LMS, the e-portfolio was not designed to be a PLE.

So how will the PLE escape the limiting shackles that kept e-portfolios from growing beyond glorified CVs or assessment hoops for students to jump through? I'll oh-so-humbly quote myself from my response to Dave's thoughtful post on the topic:
"The main differences could be that PLE's will be seen to exist inherently in a social context, connecting data and contacts from multiple (and often free) tools, as well as being owned and controlled by the learner. All of these were key in your initial framework for Elgg, which is perhaps why people seemed to have a hard time seeing it as an e-portfolio solution -- it didn't fit their mental model. If those elements (social context, multiple tools, free/open, learner-owned and controlled) emerge as defining characteristics of a proper PLE, then it actually will be something really different..."
Instead of "really different" at the end, I should have said something like "way more valuable for someone trying to actually learn stuff." Anyway, I went back and revised last week's e-portfolio model and came up with a PLE diagram I'm happier with. The main changes:
  • Changed the name of the whole exercise from E-Portfolio Model to Personal Learning Environment
  • Removed the e-portfolio label from the unifying box in the middle and distributed it throughout the whole environment as a contributing tool with several specific functions
  • Renamed the unifying box in the middle to "Self-Directed Learning Tools" to reflect the types of tools and functions that connect these concepts above and below -- although the label still sucks, this is a significant conceptual shift -- we're not talking about a PLE (or e-portfolio) as a tool itself. I'm not even sure that it can be created or designed by someone for someone else. Just as each person's desires, abilities and past experiences are different, each person's personal learning environment should be their own unique combination of tools, networks and methods that help them accomplish their goals. If the learning environment is truly personal, the tools and the learning are self-directed by definition.
  • Changed the contents of most of the boxes to reflect more specific tasks, tools, activities and data -- the more people-friendly language of the last one was quickly swamped with acronyms and jargon, but I resisted the urge to label each arrow with RSS. The most interesting to me right now: sending data to and from LMSs in courses (most self-directed learners take courses occasionally), the inclusion of IEP (individual learning plan) and PDP (personal development plan) in the "What You Want to Do" and the PLA (prior learning assessment) in the "What You've Learned" box -- these are all concepts with huge potential...leverage points in revolutionizing education systems.
  • Changed a label from "What You Can Do" to "What You've Learned" so it reflects a broader range of knowledge, rather than focusing exclusively on doing. That led me down the path of splitting "What You're Doing" into doing and learning as well, which made it natural to do the same to "What You Want to Do"...the result is more buckets for learning.
  • Labeled the top boxes more explicitly with their relationship to the past, present and future
  • Made most of the arrows bi-directional to reflect the flow of data in both directions
So, here it is past midnight again and a week later and this is still a messy work in progress. The key flaws in the whole thing are the lack of relationship between the boxes, the ugly embedding of a network within someone's "identity" and the minimized role of information -- it's implied in several places, but seems like it should be more important in any diagram about learning. Feedback welcome, of course.


Steve said...


I love the way all of this is coming together (I apologize for coming off as grumpy in my comment on James' weblog). What I see as key here is the flexibility of the center such that there are ways of reincorporating what has changed and incorporating what will come in such a space. Might that be a core concept: a flexible center?

Jeremy said...

Nah, wasn't it was James who said he was being grumpy?

Yes, flexibility is the key...I think that's what I was trying to articulate (poorly, unfortunately) in the idea of individual combinations of tools and processes (and goals) at the center...the idea that a personal learning environment may not be something we can create for someone else...their environment is what it is, and the tools they choose to use help them shape it and derive meaning.

steve said...


I've provided some of my own backstory on the PLE model on my own weblog.

Bill Fitzgerald said...


Thanks for another great post --

RE "So how will the PLE escape the limiting shackles that kept e-portfolios from growing beyond glorified CVs or assessment hoops for students to jump through?"

It seems like it comes down to people remembering that an ePortfolio/PLE is not a goal, but part of the process. As I'm coming to understand it, PLE can be understood best as a tool for the lifelong learner. The learner can bring this tool into a class, an experience, an interest, and use it to reflect on the experience, connect with others who have similar experiences, etc -- basically, the PLE will do the things you describe and diagram. This, however, is a far cry from an assessment hoop, which by its nature, implies a stopping point.

In a very general way, the development of the discussion about PLEs parallels past discussions about using technology in education. When a promising technology emerges, there is always a slow transition from "We need to have that" to "We need to have that because..." In my experience, that transition marks the time where sound pedagogy, the needs of students, the needs of institutions, and, most importantly, the innovation and creativity of students, informs the technology use.

Djeault said...

Good day
Just a word to let you know that I reduced your gr@ph from ±131 KB to ± 18 KB. Here it is

Downes said...

Yeah, I have trouble with tiny unbolded text. You have to give us old guys with bad eyes big arrows and flashing lights.

Jeremy said...

You'd think that a full-time web designer would recognize that the two most important labels in the diagram shouldn't be the tiniest fonts on the screen.

(shakes head at self)

Jeremy said...

Thx, Djeault...I thought a 100k or so wasn't too bad for the original, but smaller is generally better.

Jeremy said...

Fantastic points, Bill. I'm nodding along reading your comment here.

I remember being in a student in a Faculty of Education in the mid-'90s when the web was just taking off. There was a sense from the early adopters that the goal should be to get students on there as much and as quickly as possible...but they didn't really now why or what they were trying to accomplish. It was almost like the main fear is that kids would somehow be left behind if they weren't immediately exposed to it.

Jordi said...

Excel·lent formalization of the PLE model.
Find in my blog TICoTAC the translation of your figure to catalan.
Best regards from Barcelona (Spain)

Jeremy said...

Very cool, Jordi -- glad to see that you thought the model was solid enough to go to the trouble of translating it!

Aaron Nelson said...

Manual Trackback:
Is it the Journey or the Destination? II

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the manual trackback, Aaron.

I think you're really internalizing the process vs. product conversation. It seems like in common usage and implementation, people are having a hard time viewing anything with the portfolio label as process. Hence the interest in the PLE and other variants. You nailed it with your measures of success and failure.

UK Interior Designers said...

smaller is usually better - i don't know if in this case though...