I have become increasingly interested in the idea of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) as a way of understanding distributed learning. As the programme that I manage is a work-based professional development route for individuals in full time employment who are seeking a degree level qualification, it is essential for them to recognise fairly quickly the range of learning opportunities that are available to them. However, I often find that students initially take a narrow view of what constitutes learning due to preconceived ideas rooted in their experiences of formal education which valued and recognised classroom learning at the expense of other types of learning.
Although the programme does include a substantial measure of the more formal type of learning there is plenty of scope and flexibility for students to save both money and time by recognising the multitude of innovative ways in which learning can occur. Naturally, I include technology and social media in this mix but often, if I approach this too soon in the course it can scare students off as they worry that they don't have the technological know how and skills. Equally, there needs to be recognition of the skills required in order to effectively plan and organise self directed study.
Students are introduced to the university's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) very quickly, but although this can support the more traditional forms of university learning it is not expansive enough for work-based students who require a more personalised framework for study which is organised around the context of their work and includes content from a variety of sources outside normal university resources.
This year, I chose to introduce the concept of a PLE in week 4 of the introductory module. I found Steve Wheeler's diagram a useful starting point with the students.
I also found Graham Attwell's stuff on the matter very useful as he, along with Steve Wheeler, discusses PLEs from a pedagogical perspective; which although encompasses the use of technology and social media also includes learning opportunities from a range of contexts. As a historian and not a technologist, his take on matters is very accessible and I invited him into the classroom by way of his eight minute summary of PLEs.
I also used a short two and a half minute video by PLE TU-Graz which moves from a student studying at a desk covered with papers and files to a computer screen full of amazing widgets. The message being that the study habits remain; it's just the organisation that changes.
PLE - Personal Learning Environment Platform from PLE TU-Graz on Vimeo.
Once the concept was discussed it was time to look at some actual examples of visual representations and I was amazed to find a relative treasure trove to share with students in a wiki created by edtechpost. http://edtechpost.wikispaces.com/PLE+Diagrams I am also hugely in debt to Paulo Simoes @pgsimoes and his brilliant resource on PLEs which I located via Twitter http://www.scoop.it/t/the-ple/
By the end of the session I invited students to begin to draw their own visualisations with a collection of pens, pencils and felt-tips. It was a really interesting exercise and it was clear that the understanding of learning was being stretched to far beyond the classroom stuff at a very early stage. Some students chose to develop their representation in their own time later in the week and have continued to expand their diagrams. Take a look at a selection that students are happy to share on my blog...