Personal Learning Environments – An Overview

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There are many benefits that can be had through the use of technologies in education. Technology can be used both to stimulate and continue learning, building lifelong habits of learning in those willing to take advantage of what technology can offer as a tool for enhancing educational opportunities.

One way to build lifelong learning is through Personal Learning Environments. Personal Learning Environments have been touted as the ultimate future of online education by some, and derided as an unstructured mess by others for relying too much on students’ personal motivation. Whatever your viewpoint, getting to grips with the theory behind them is worth the effort.

A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is the network of formal and informal sources for learning and developing that individuals create for themselves throughout their lives. For example, if you have a hobby you may have attended classes to improve in your hobby; and be a member of a discussion board about your hobby; and watch you tube videos to learn more about your hobby. This combination of formal classes, discussions with peers, and informal learning through video would make up your personal learning environment for your hobby.

Dabbagh and Kitsantas (2012) discuss a framework for the use of social media in the development of self-regulated learning in personal learning environments (p. 6). Their framework works in three levels, giving students a scaffolded way to develop a mindful PLE.

Level 1 – encouragement of the use of social media for planning

Level 2 – use of social media as a means for creating peer networks of feedback and collaboration

Level 3 – using the same social media routes to encourage self-reflection and consideration to “synthesise and aggregate information from level 1 and level 2.” (p. 6)

Dabbagh and Kitsantas (2012) stated that

PLEs can serve as platforms for both integrating formal and informal learning and fostering self-regulated learning in higher education contexts. (p. 6)

This concept of the PLE as platform for personalisation and self-regulated learning is a powerful one. Although the teacher may be involved, the teacher engages in differentiation or individualistion. It is the learner that creates the personalisation of the environment.

If we are going to encourage student use of tools to develop a PLE, how do we determine if the tool is worthwhile? Haworth (2016) looked at what makes a tool a good one for a PLE. He came up with a list of four considerations in deciding if a tool is good for a PLE.

  1. ease of use
  2. openness (is it separate from the requirements of a student username/registration)
  3. dynamic (does it evolve with the user)
  4. ability to allow for collaboration.

Haworth (2016) would argue that an LMS, for example, does not fulfill these criteria as it is not open and it is not dynamic. Once a student is no longer registered, the resources and created materials lose their availability to the student. These are important considerations as much of what students learn is often locked behind an LMS or other system that requires an active student ID.

Students are already organically creating PLEs of their own using a combination of wikis, and Facebook at the minimum. Staff can aid this by guiding students’ development of PLEs based on how they feel most comfortable learning.

For some great examples, check out an excellent blog post by Connie Malamed (n.d.) who talks about some of the models for developing your own PLE which could be very helpful for staff and students as an aid to mindfully developing their own PLE to assist them in the goal of lifelong learning.


Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal learning environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: A natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3-8. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.06.002

Haworth, R. (2016). Personal Learning Environments: A Solution for Self-Directed Learners. TechTrends, 1-6.

Malamed, C. (n.d.). The eLearning Coach. Models for designing your personal learning environment. Retrieved from

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