Proceedings of the PLE Conference 2013

I am happy to announce that the Proceedings of the PLE Conference 2013 have been published as post-prints under CC-licence. We have altogether 26 articles providing insights into some of the current state of research and practice on Personal Learning Environments. Enjoy reading!




Personal Learning Environments: Current Research and Emerging Practice

“Personal Learning Environments: Current Research and Emerging Practice” is the title of the Special Issue of Journal of Literacy and Technology with selected research papers that were submitted to the PLE Conference 2013 in Berlin and Melbourne. This is the second Special Issue published with papers from the PLE Conference 2013. The 1st Special Issue was published with elearningpapers and focused on PLEs in smart cities. Both Special Issues provide first-hand insights into current discussions, studies and concepts related to Personal Learning Environments from our global PLE Community.

As the Guest Editor of both Special Issues I would like to thank all authors for the cooperative spirit!

Hope to see you at the PLE Conference 2014 in Tallinn this year! And lots of fun to all of you attending our parallel event in Kuala Lumpur!


When is a LE a PLE?

When does a Learning Environment (LE) become a Personal Learning Environment (PLE)? This is a question that has been guiding some of my recent research on PLEs. I have take a psychological perspective on PLEs and wanted to find out when people feel that they “own” a learning environment. I have based my research on the theory of psychological ownership by Pierce et al. (2001, 2003) and conducted a number of studies showing that the scale of psychological ownership – which so far has been used to measure the feeling of ownership in organisations – can be applied to capture the feeling of ownership of learning environments. You can find more details in this publication.

Just recently, I have presented the approach of psychological ownership and selected research results at a workshop dedicated to Personal Learning Environments at University of Potsdam. The workshop was organised as part of the project eLIS, which takes a different, technology-driven approach. The contributions and discussions showed once again that there is a wide range of understandings of what PLEs may be.

My personal view is that PLEs and customisable, integrated platforms are two different things. A PLE is an environment which is constructed by an individual out of available elements. Customisable, integrated platforms are always constructed by someone else but they may be appropriated individually and become a part of someone’s PLE.  You may find more about my views on PLEs in the presentation below.


Buchem, Ilona (2012). Psychological Ownership and Personal Learning Environments. Do possession and control really matter? Proceedings of the PLE Conference 2012, 12 July 2012, Aveiro, Portugal. URL:

Pierce, J. L., Kostova, T., Dirks, K. (2001). Toward a theory of psychological ownership in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 26, 298–310 (2001)

Pierce, J. L., Kostova, T., Dirks, K. T. (2003). The state of psychological ownership:  integrating and extending a century of research. Review of General Psychology, 7, 84–107

PLE and Smart Cities

As the guest editor of the first Special Issue of eLearning Papers on Personal Learning Environments with best papers from the PLE Conference 2013: Learning and Diversity in the Cities of the Future / 10-12 July 2013 Berlin & Melbourne, I am glad to announce that the whole Special Issue and the single articles are available online and can be downloaded as open access under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivativeWorks 3.0 Unported License here:


Here is the list of articles:

Thank you to all authors and to the editorial team of eLearning Papers for swift collaboration on this Special Issue!

Call for Papers: Personal Learning Environments

As the guest editor of the Special Issue of eLearning Papers on Personal Learning Environments,  I would like to invite you to participate in our open Call for Papers (Deadline, September 29th, 2013). eLearning Papers is an Open Access publication series and part of the portal – an initiative of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education and Culture, aiming to transform education through technology. The open Call for Papers runs parallel to the submission process of papers which were submitted to The PLE Conference 2013 Berlin/Melbourne and selected as best papers for the Special Issue. I am looking forward to all submissions and the Special Issue on Personal Learning Environments which will be published at the end of October!

For more information please visit:




This year I was honoured to act as the General Chair of the 4th international PLE Conference, which took place 10-12 July 2013 in Berlin at Beuth University of Applied Sciences with a parallel event in Melbourne at Monash University.

The PLE Conference is dedicated to Personal Learning Environment and is an international scientific conference taking place annually, each time in a different city. Following the successful events in Barcelona in Spain 2010, in Southampton, UK in 2011, Aveiro, Portugal and Melbourne, Australia in 2012, the 4th International PLE Conference 2013 was held in Berlin, Germany and in Melbourne, Australia. The aim of the PLE Conference 2013 is to create a space for researchers and practitioners to exchange ideas, experiences and research around the development and implementation of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) – including the design of environments and the sociological and educational issues that they raise.

This year, the special theme for the conference was learning and diversity in cities of the future. The focus was on how to design Personal Learning Environments in order to support diversity, cross-boundary learning and interdisciplinary transformation of urban spaces as part of highly interconnected social and technological infrastructures of smart cities.  As in smart urban spaces, people, organisations and objects become interconnected by means of new technologies and media, innovative, sustainable and inclusive solutions for connected learning become crucial not only in terms of emerging technologies but first and foremost in terms of (i) human knowledge and skills, (ii) diverse and inclusive communities, as well as (iii) learning and knowledge networks.

In search for an intelligent exploitation of networked urban infrastructures for learning and the extension of the current understanding of Personal Learning Environments, the PLE’13 Call for Papers looked for concepts, scenarios, technologies, frameworks as well as educational approaches for constructing PLEs to support learning in smart urban spaces. We are currently working on the Conference Proceedings and the Special Issues – the Special Issue of eLearning Papers (Issue 34) and in the Special Issue of the Journal of Literacy and Technology (JLT) – which will include best papers from the PLE Conference 2013. The publications are scheduled mid September.

I would like to take this opportunity and thank all of you who supported this year’s conference as a member of the Organising Committee and/or as a member of the Scientific Committee!  It has been a great experience and the success of this year’s conference would not be possible without you!!!

We will soon have the recordings of the sessions featured at  BeuthBox campus TV.  For the time being have a look at the pictures from the conference on Flickr, e.g. here + here + here + here + here + here + here +  here + here + here – and have a look at the latest updates including links to slides on SlideShare in our PLE2013 Facebook group.

Personal Learning Environments – measuring the impact

Just recently a Tweet by @mkalz appeared in the #PLECONF Twitter stream:

The PLE idea will die without impact studies. #pleconf

As much as I agree that we need impact studies, we all know that measuring impact in general is all but straightforward: How do measure the impact of PLEs? And the impact on what/who – the learner? the learning process? the learning outcomes? the peers? the teachers? the system the learner operates in? What dimensions and criteria are appropriate? Certainly, we have to start with the goals we want to reach when designing and implementing PLEs or supporting others in doing so in our roles as educators.

A framework that may be useful when designing an impact study, especially when defining and interrelating various dimensions and possible impacts, may be the activity theory triangle that we proposed here:

Buchem, Ilona; Attwell, Graham; Torres, Ricardo (2011). Understanding Personal Learning Environments: Literature review and synthesis through the Activity Theory lens. pp. 1-33. Proceedings of the The PLE Conference 2011, 10th – 12th July 2011, Southampton, UK

The triangle defines the main dimensions of a PLE (subject, object, tools, rules, community and division of labour) and the core attributes of elements in each dimension, which can be contrasted with attributes of other activity systems to reveal potential points for conflicts and clashes.

PLE triangle

In an impact study we can focus on all or selected dimensions and apply research methods in order to collect empirical evidence about the attributes of the learning environments as object of our study. For example we could ask questions like:

  • Does the learning environment we study promote the feeling of ownership and grants control over its various elements (subject)?
  • Does the learning environment promote learning that is based on interest and participation (object)?
  • Does the learning environment utilize tools that can be customised by learners to facilitate their individual learning  (tools)?
  • Does the learning environment employ principles of openness and decentralised distribution of resources (rules)?
  • Does the learning environment enable boundary crossing and social support (community)?
  • Does the learning environment enable learners to pursue self-directed learning and teachers to facilitate this process (division of labour)?

If we could empirically prove in a study, that a learning environment we are researching does just that, we would have some evidence on possible impact.

Another idea may be to start from the point of view of a “perfect” personal learning environment and take all these attributes from the triangle for granted and so focus on collecting empirical evidence on learning processes and outcomes in such an environment. Maybe we could contrast it with learning in other settings, e.g. in a learning environment, which has different attributes in all or some of the six dimensions in the triangle.

In a research study me and colleagues from different countries are recently preparing and which we are submitting for the PLE Conference 2013:  (BTW: Call for Abstracts is running until 25th March), we combine both perspectives. Based on the survey on the role of ownership and control in context of PLEs which was conducted in 2012 at two universities in Germany (see reference below), we collect empirical evidence on the impact of ownership and control as one of the key elements of a Personal Learning Environment on learning. The original study:

Buchem, Ilona (2012). Psychological Ownership and Personal Learning Environments. Do possession and control really matter? Proceedings of the PLE Conference 2012, 12 July 2012, Aveiro, Portugal. LINK

was rooted in the theory of psychological ownership by Pierce et al. (2001, 2003).  The results indicated that control of intangible ePortfolio elements, such as control of content or personal data, is strongly related to the feeling of ownership of one’s own ePortfolio as opposed to the control of tangible elements, such as technical tools. This may mean that learners feel that a learning environment is their own (belongs to them), even if they do not have the full control over technical tools and do not in fact own them. With ownership and control being critical issues in PLEs, the new study will focus on the following question:

What are the effects of the feeling of ownership and control of a learning environment on learning, such as time invested in creating an own PLE, creative uses of media, applying a PLE beyond the boundaries of the original context in which it was created/used. At this time we are collecting survey items with which we could collect evidence on learning effects. We are open to collaboration, so if you would like to join us in this, just let me know!

Diversity and Divide in TEL: The Case for Personal Learning Environments

This winter semester I am starting a new professorship called “Digital Media & Diversity”, which  anchored at the Gender and Technology Center at Beuth University of Applied Sciences. As my research and teaching will focus a range of topic related to diversity and new forms of digital media (including web 2.0, social media, mobile web, digital games), I have been looking at digital media use, concepts and initiatives from the diversity perspective (see for example my presentation from the ePortfolio and Identity Conference 2012 in London titled “Gender and ePortfolio Practice”).

One of the most recent works is the position paper titled “Diversity and Divide in TEL: The Case for Personal Learning Environments”, which Graham Attwell and me submitted for the workshop on TEL, The Crisis and the Response for the Alpine Rendez-Vous 2013.

Below is the text of this position paper, which Graham already posted here. What do you think? Can you relate to the idea of diversity and divide in TEL?

Looking forward to your comments!

“The digital divide cannot be discussed only as a gap between technology haves and have-nots. Below the inequalities in access and usage, there is also a problem of a divide between contexts, domains and communities that different learners operate in. The need for empowered learners as citizens engaging in cross-boundary, problem-solving has been advocated as a necessary means for social innovation. It is through boundary-crossing or bridging the divides that individual and sociocultural differences can become a resource. However, mainstream TEL has not fully recognised the potential of boundary crossing and engaging diverse learners in collective action related to solving real life problems. Much of TEL is developed to fit the prevailing educational paradigm, focusing on ever more efficient management of learning and more reliable methods of assessment rather than encouraging learners to explore diverse ideas, experiment with diverse formats or build bridges to diverse communities.

Can promoting diversity through TEL be a response to crisis? Certainly, in view of the growing complexity of societal, environmental and economic challenges and the ever increasing amount of information and communication possibilities, diversity may raise new questions, challenges and concerns. However, both research and practice provide evidence that diversity, in terms of individual or group attributes as well as in terms of different content, resources and tools provides valuable opportunities for intellectual engagement, personal growth and the development of novel solutions.

In this position paper, we discuss whether current TEL promotes diversity or divide and the current barriers in promoting diversity in TEL. We discuss these issues based on the example of Personal Learning Environments (PLE), which is as an approach to TEL aiming at empowering learners to use diverse technological tools suited to their own needs and connecting with other learners through building Personal Learning Networks. We argue that this approach to TEL promotes diversity through boundary-crossing and responding to the diverse needs and prerequisites that each individual learner brings in. At the same time we discuss how the PLE approach challenges current educational practices and what tensions arise when Personal Learning Environments are implemented in educational institutions.

Personal Learning Environments, as an approach to TEL, focus on the learner-controlled and learner-led uses of technologies for learning with no centralised control over tools, information or interactions. This strong focus on autonomous, literate learners as agents and decision-makers taking control and claiming ownership of their learning environments is of course in contrast with regulated and planned processes at schools and universities, demanding radical changes in the prevailing educational paradigm. TEL, based on the Personal Learning Environments approach, vests learners with control over learning processes and outcomes, including planing, content, interactions, resources and assessment. In this way, the PLE approach challenges not only the prevailing educational paradigm, but also TEL approaches inspired by this paradigm, such as Learning Management Systems and pre-programmed, locked-down systems, such as some types of video games or mobile apps, which place learners in the role of recipients and consumers of systems devised by others, while failing to foster both generativity and boundary-crossing.

Such pre-programmed, quality-controlled and locked-down approaches to TEL have led to “walled gardens in cyberspace”, isolating different learners and learning contexts, posing external constraints on what learners can do in such environments in terms of activities, resources and tools. Alternatively, learner-controlled uses of technologies, as embodied in the Personal Learning Environments approach, have facilitated boundary crossing and merging multiple learning contexts, domains and communities.

The postulate of boundary-crossing through the PLE approach has a human and technological dimension. On one hand, the PLE approach calls for learners to claim and make use of ownership and control over their learning environment, exerting agency in terms of the human capacity to make choices and uses those choices in real world interactions. On the other hand, the PLE approach calls for openness, decentralisation, connectivity and permeability of technological systems.

With learner ownership, control and agency combined with openness, decentralisation, connectivity and permeability of technological systems being the core attributes of the PLE approach to TEL, diversity becomes natural. The PLE approach promotes diversity of social interactions, diversity of learning contexts and diversity of learning practices. Personal Learning Environments entail diverse people and communities coming together, diverse technology tools and platforms used and combined by learners, diverse content production and consumption modes, diverse access points and modes of learning.

However, diversity promoted by the PLE approach is a source of conflict when PLEs and other systems interact. Specifically, tensions arise at the points traditionally considered as legitimate divides in the education system including TEL, for example (a) private vs. public access, (b) course members vs. non-members, (c) disciplinary knowledge vs. practice-based knowledge, (d) formal vs. informal learning context, (e) expert vs. novice, (f) individual vs. collective practice, (g) assessment vs. reflection, (h) planning vs. implementation, or (i) standards vs. innovation.

We argue that challenging these presumably legitimate boundaries in TEL as postulated by the PLE approach is a way to innovation which may bring viable responses to the crises.”

Personal Learning Environments and Psychological Ownership

When does a learning environment become a Personal Learning Environment? I think it has much to do with our perception of the learning environment and a something that is ours, an environment that belongs to us, a learing environment that we own and feel responsible for, something we can identify with. This is where I think the theory of psychological ownership can help us to understand what it means to feel an owner of a learning environment. Let me just briefly introduce the idea and the study that I presented last week at the PLE Conference in Aveiro on 12.07.12

Personal Learning Environments and Psychological Ownership

View more presentations from Ilona Buchem

Last year we wrote the paper titled “Understanding Personal Learning Environments: Literature review and synthesis through the Activity Theory lens” (Buchem, Attwell & Torres, 2011). In this study based on the grounded theory analysis of over 100 publications on Personal Learning Environments it were the concepts of ownership and control that emerged as core concepts that authors related to when writing about Personal Learning Environments. It intrigued me that we know so little about what it actually means to feel an owner or be in control of a learning environment. As I searched for helpful approaches I came across a vast body of research on psychological ownership. This research, inspired by the theory of psychological ownership by Pierce et al. (2001, 2003, 2004), has been to a large extend applied to the exploration of the role of psychological ownership in organisations.  A number of studies has looked into how the feeling of being an “owner” of an organisation one worked in affected work attitudes, job performance and organisational citizenship. A number of studies showed that employees who feel owners of the organisation tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, feel responsible for what is happening in the organisation and in consequence care for the organisation as it becomes part of their self-identity.

It struck my mind that we can apply the theory of psychological ownership as framework to explore the role of ownership in context of Personal Learning Environments. This is why this year we conducted the first study, which applies the theory of psychological ownership to technology-enhanced learning environments, based on the example of ePortfolios in higher education. I presented this study at the PLE Conference 2012 in Aveiro and found out that there is a lot of interest in this approach.

The study results show that the measure of psychological ownership can be applied in to research on learning environments. The measure of psychological ownership I am proposing in the paper showed to have a very good internal consistency and I am looking forward to conducting further studies to see if the results can be replicated. One of most interesting outcomes of the study was the relation between control and ownership. The results show that while perceived control of intangible aspects of a learning environment (such as being able to determine the subject matter or access rights) has a much larger impact on the feeling of ownership of a learning environment than perceived control of tangible aspects (such as being able to choose the technology). Another interesting result was to see that psychological ownership is a very good predictor of the quality of learning in terms of engagement, invested time, creativity, interest orientation and self-direction.

This very first study seems to confirm my hypothesis that the feeling of ownership of a learning environment is significant for learning and one of the key aspects of Personal Learning Environments. What I am interested in is to find out ways to promote the sense of  ownership of learning environments in education.


  • Buchem, Ilona, Attwell, Graham & Torres, Ricardo (2011). Understanding Personal Learning Environments:Literature review and synthesis through the Activity Theory lens. Proceedings of the The PLE Conference 2011, 10th – 12th July 2011, Southampton, UK.Sunday, July 15, 2012
  • Pierce, J. L., Kostova, T., Dirks, K. (2001). Toward a theory of psychological ownership in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 26, p. 298–310. 2.
  • Pierce, J. L., Kostova, T., Dirks, K. T. (2003). The state of psychological ownership: integrating and extending a century of research. Review of General Psychology, 7, p. 84– 107. 3.
  • Van Dyne, L., Pierce, J.L. (2004). Psychological ownership and feelings of possession: three field studies predicting employee attitudes and organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25(4), p. 439-459.

Personal Learning Environments: Call for Contributions

This is the third time we organise the international PLE Conference and the third time we host the PLE Mediacast Contest. Over these three years have built a vivid international community inspired by the idea of Personal Learning Environments (PLE) as a concept reflecting self-directed practice of appropriating convergent media for learning (as I see it). As every year, we invite everyone to participate in the discussion on Personal Learning Environments by taking part in the conference, including the Mediacast Contest, which aims at enhancing the participatory culture (see: Henry Jenkins) also in the academic world.

The PLE Mediacast Contest follows the idea that by producing new creative forms, such as digital videos, individuals and groups can contribute to shaping the evolution of concepts, such as Personal Learning Environments. By creating and shaping the flow of media, each of us has the opportunity to contribute to the global discourse about what we understand under the term “Personal Learning Environments”, to share examples and experiences of Personal Learning Environments, to discuss potentials and challenges of Personal Learning Environments, to bring in perspectives from different domains, including academic perspectives (such as educational, social and computer sciences) and non-academic perspectives (such as enterprise, public and individual practice), and to express own future visions of Personal Learning Environments. Therefore, I would like to invite you to the PLE Mediacast Contest and sharing your own production with the PLE community!

Just a short, personal story to wind up: This year I asked a group of students to create a video announcing the PLE Mediacast Contest. Unfortunately, as it turned out pretty late, the project could not be realised. So there I was end of April without the video we have been planning for months. Disappointed as I was, I realised that it may be a good moment for me to learn how to work with tools sich as iMovie. Surprisingly, producing an own video was much easier than I thought. It took me two evenings altogether to learn the tool and create the video which you can see below.

So, let me just encourage you to participate and let your creativity unfold!

The PLE Mediacast Contest 2012 from Ilona Buchem on Vimeo.