Monday, December 21, 2009

On PLE and walled gardens

Just like many of the terms in distance education (DE), I've come across the term Personal Learning Environment (PLE) a year or two ago.  But I did not get it.  I thought it was some kind of software that would glue together free services like Google tools and social software.  My DE thinking was still dominated by the Learning Management System.

It was only this year after retaking Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2009 (CCK09) that I think I get it. My understanding is not merely one that is logical but actually explains a subjective experience I had with one of the online courses I was taking in my Masters of Distance Education.  The previous semester after I attended Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008 (CCK08) I had a course on Multimedia Educational Materials for DE. Both online courses encouraged the creation of the student's PLE. That was the first time I've attended such courses; online courses not centered in an LMS. I found them to be exhilarating, overwhelming and at times exasperating.  The following semester, the courses I've attended returned to the LMS, the walled garden learning environment.  I could not explain it, but I felt uncomfortable with a learning environment that I had been attending for the past three years.  It appeared bland compared to the PLE.  I didn't even use the word PLE, and I could not explain why I was feeling bored and limited with the LMS centered course. 

It's like the feeling you get when you have an older and slower computer.  As long as you have not used the newer and faster computers you don't really notice the speed difference.  But when you touch the newer computer, you find it difficult to work with the older computer.  You can't ignore the speed difference, and it irritates you.  You just can't go back to the old computer, similarly it was difficult going back to the LMS centered course.  Could it just have been the novelty.  But the fact is I continued creating my blog and other bits outside the course, even if they were not going to be evaluated.  I probably did half of my thinking aloud outside the course, in the parts of my PLE beyond the teachers' bounded learning environment.

I was recently reading Theo Hug and Norm Friesen's Outline of a Microlearning Agenda (2009), and they spoke of "technologically emancipated" education (Fiedler and Kieslinger as cited in Hug & Friesen).  That's what I feel at this moment about PLEs, they are technologically emancipating.  But at the same time I can't help but think that from the learner's perspective there could be "technologically emaciating" education as well.


Hug, T., & Friesen, N. (2009, September). Outline of a Microlearning Agenda. In eLearning Papers, 16. Retrieved December 13, 2009, from

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