A PLE, or personal learning environment, is a customised online study space, built by and for an individual. In some ways, PLEs stand between, and serve to connect, PLNs and e-portfolios. Firstly, a PLE can be seen as a subset of an individual’s wider PLN in which focused learning occurs at a particular time, usually for a limited period during a course of study. Secondly, a PLE can be an important stage in the development of an e-portfolio. Inspired by the social networking principle of organising webpages around people rather than topics, PLEs are actually quite similar to e-portfolios except that they are not usually designed for public display. At the end of a course of study, a student might select his or her best work from a PLE and export it as an e-portfolio, which would document achievements and function as a kind of digital CV to show potential employers.
It has been argued in recent years that PLEs represent an improvement on sometimes rather rigid, one-size-fits-all institutional LMSs, or VLEs. While PLEs and VLEs are in some ways at opposite ends of a continuum of online study spaces, there is considerable research currently being carried out into how individually customised PLEs might be combined with institutional VLEs in such a way that they can function as complementary spaces.
Essentially, a PLE allows students to develop an online presence which draws together all of the people and resources associated with their course of study. Students might collect:
In addition, students might link to their wider PLN by building in:
- other elements of their online presence, such as blogs, microblogging accounts on services like Twitter, social sharing accounts on services like Flickr, Instagram or YouTube, or social networking accounts on services like Facebook; these aspects of their online presence could simply be displayed as links, or alternatively as RSS feeds from such services, which is often made very easy in contemporary web design templates
- sites of interest and/or relevance to their studies and work
Like e-portfolios, PLEs do not depend on a single piece of software, but can be built on websites, blogs, wikis or social networking sites, or they may even make use of aggregator services. One very popular and easy-to-use aggregator service is Symbaloo, seen in the image at the top of this page. It has been employed for a number of years in education, as demonstrated in the video below, where a US school student discusses her use of Symbaloo to create a PLE for her science class. Alternatively, PLEs can be built using dedicated e-portfolio software.
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