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Personal Learning Environments

by Gordana Jugo

Personal learning environments (PLEs) help people manage both informal and formal learning and thus unify these learning experiences.

Nowadays when many people are engaged in lifelong learning, it is a common that an educated person has many different diplomas, certificates, and degrees in his or her portfolio. Formal qualifications are often accompanied by professional development, on-the-job training, conferences, projects and other learning experiences. Many people learn through interaction with other people; for example, many people are members of professional organizations, communities of practice, etc.

Sometimes it can be demanding to manage all those learning experiences, networks, materials, etc. The answer to that problem can be a PLE.


The Definition of Personal Learning Environment

Attwell (2007) reflects that there was a buzz around the idea of Personal Learning Environments at the Association of Learning Technology’s 2006 conference. Someone even came up with suggestion that in the near future we would not need the Virtual Learning Environment. In spite of all the talk. there was no consensus on what a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) actually was. Most people seemed to agree that it was not a software application but a new approach to using technologies for learning. It seems that consensus of what PLE is has not been reached yet.

Attwell (2007) thinks of PLEs as a concept. When he talks about physical PLEs, he states that a PLE is comprised of different tools we use in our everyday life for learning.

Anderson (2006) defines PLEs as a unique interface into the learners' digital environment. PLE integrates their personal and professional interests including their formal and informal learning. For Anderson (2006), PLE is also a portfolio system allowing learners to maintain their repository of content and a profile system allowing searches of the individuals and their digital contributions. In a way, a PLE is "a social as well as an information environment, connecting the user to individuals and cooperative events and activities throughout the Net.“ (Anderson, 2006).

Van Harmelen (n.d.) considers PLEs as "systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning“. PLEs provide support for learners to set their own learning goals, manage the content and process of their learning, communicate with others and, as a result of that, achieve their learning goals. Van Harmelen (n.d.) suggests that a PLE may be composed of one or more sub-systems, such as a desktop application, or one or more web-based services.

Lubensky (2006) sees PLEs as a "facility for an individual to access, aggregate, configure and manipulate digital artifacts of their ongoing learning experiences”. He believes that PLEs are situated at the intersection of VLEs, Web 2.0, and an expanded view of ePortfolios.


Siemens (2007) considers PLEs a concept-entity including "a collection of tools, brought together under the conceptual notion of openness, interoperability, and learner control“.

Levine (2007) is sceptical about PLEs, noting, “But in researching it, beyond papers, presentations, and digrams, I could not really find something I could say, 'This is a PLE' — not discounting successful deployments of learning environments using a network of blogs +/- wikis, but is every instance of using a suite of web tools a PLE? In that case, my definition of a PLE is the Internet.“

Hilary Burchett considers Personal Learning Environments to be the future of education.

The Characteristics of PLE

The crucial characteristic of a PLE is that it is controlled by the individual, not institution (Atwell, 2007; Lubensky, 2006), which is also an essential attribute of informal learning. Lubensky (2006) states that "the primary goal of a PLE for an individual is to bring all the disparate artefacts of interest for learning under a single operating roof. The presumption is that there are many artefacts, organising them is time-consuming and it's easy to forget about or lose them. PLEs are meant to simplify managing these artefacts, creating meaning through aggregation, linking and metadata tagging (eg comments, keywords) “. Lubensky (2006) notes that PLEs can contain different digital resources and references that are included in an individual's present process of learning and can be recalled in the future. These resources include not only static content but also dynamic content and services, such as instant messaging, online forums and weblogs. PLEs can be integrated with digital services to which the individual currently subscribes, such as the university VLE, the workplace LMS or Web 2.0 services, like social bookmarking or photo sharing (Lubensky, 2006). PLEs span the various learning experiences which an individual may have throughout life thus recognizing the idea of lifelong learning (Atwell, 2007; Lubensky, 2006).

Broader Implications of PLE

According to Attwell (2007), the idea of PLEs is compatible with some of the pressures for change in the present education system. These pressures include the idea of learning as an ongoing process (Lifelong Learning) and the more significant role of the individual in organizing his or her own learning. Additionally, PLEs recognize that learning takes place in different contexts and is not provided by a single learning provider. PLEs also underline the importance of informal learning.

Attwell (2007) points out that there is a disconnection between everyday informal learning and the formal learning which occurs in our educational institutions. PLEs have the potential to bring together these different modes of learning and thus make learning in educational institutions closer to real life. Bringing together separate sources and contexts for learning, PLEs provide a more holistic approach to learning (Attwell, 2007).

In his video „Schools out – Personal Learning Environments“Attwell discusses the reasons to move from the industrial schooling system to Personal Learning Environments.


Anderson, T. (2006, January 9). PLE’s versus LMS: Are PLEs ready for Prime time? [Web log]. Retrieved from

Attwell, Graham (2007). The Personal Learning Environments - the future of eLearning? eLearning Papers, 2 (1). Retrieved from

Levine, A. (2007, April 14). TLA, ergo sum. [Web log]. Retrieved from

Lubensky, R. (2006, December 18). The present and future of Personal Learning Environments (PLE). Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2007, April 15). PLEs – I Acronym, Therefore I Exist. [Web log]. Retrieved from

Van Harmelen, M. (n.d.) Personal learning environments. Retrieved from the Knowledge in Social Software Wiki:

Photos and Graphic Data

IQ Matrix. (n.d.) [A mind map]. Lifelong Learning. Retrieved from

Lubensky, R. (2006, December 18). [A diagram showing how PLEs are situated]. Retrieved from

External Links


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