PLEs extended

The full paper of your PLE_SOU submission for the PLE Conference in Southampton 2011 is finally online.

Here is the full title:

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

You can find the full paper here:

Here is our abstract:

“This paper represents a scientific analysis of a broad range of publications surrounding the field of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). Personal Learning Environments can be viewed as a concept related to the use of technology for learning focusing on the appropriation of tools and resources by the learner. Capturing the individual activity, or how the learner uses technology to support learning, lies at the heart of the PLE concept. The central research question guiding this review was: What are the characteristic, distinguishing features of Personal Learning Environments? This paper argues that PLEs can be viewed as complex activity systems and analysed using the Activity Theory framework to describe their key elements and the relationships between them. Activity Theory provides a framework of six interrelated components: subject, object, tools, rules, community and division of labour. In referencing over 100 publications, encompassing conference papers, reports, reviews, and blog articles, this paper takes an activity-theory perspective to deconstruct the way central aspects related to PLEs are addressed in different publications. The aim of this study is to create a better understanding of PLEs and to develop a knowledge base to inform further research and effective practice. The literature review presented in this paper takes a broader view on PLEs recognising that research in this field stems from different scientific communities and follows different perspectives.”

We put the list of publications we used for the literature review into PB Wiki. By doing this we follow the goal of extending this list collaboratively and creating a public repository of PLE publications.

The original selection of publications can be found here: Original list of PLE Publications

We would like to enourage everyone to extended this original list and in this way create a public repository of publications related to Personal Learning Environments.

If you would like to add a publication to this public repository, please name a reference as a comment to the following page: PLEP Recommendations.

Thank you  all for your contributions and comments!



Personal Learning Environments and Media Pedagogy

This week I gave a presentation (or rather led a discussion) at a Multimedia Workshop at Goethe University in Frankfurt on Personal Learning Environments from the perspective of media pedagogy. We had a very interesting discussion which really came down to the basic questions and problems of formal education.  I presented together with Sebastian Fiedler and so we shared the PLE subject and looked at it from different perspectives: me from the perspective of media pedagogy and Sebastian from the  socio-historical perspective.

I focused on different forms of use and different examples of PLEs (especially from the PLE Conference 2010 in Barcelona and from some key EU projects) and on how PLEs change learning/teaching/organisational cultures. In the introduction to the PLEs I avoided providing definitions (as we agreed this would be Sebastian’s part) and instead showed the different metaphores that are used to describe Personal Learning Environments. As a linguist I find it fascinating to deconstruct metaphors and abide by Geoge Lakoff claiming that metaphors play a crucial role in shaping our collective thinking. I need to write more on this soon … oh well, once I find some time 😉

As far as different types of PLEs are concerned – me, Graham Attwell and Ricardo Torres are preparing a paper for the PLE Conference in Southampton which we base on a meta-analysis of over 100 papers on PLEs. One of the outcomes of this analysis are differnt possible ways of categorising PLEs that we are trying to arrive at.

You will find these three basic ideas in the slides:

(1) Based on type of technological implementation

  • individual, dispersed aggregation
  • integrated mash-up system with personal dashboard

(2) based on locus of control/ownership

  • private, owned by the user
  • institutionalised, integrating institutional resources

(3) based on duration of use

  • long-term (longer episodes in a life long process of learning)
  • short-term (e.g. project-based, within a particular course, conference etc.)

Unfortunately I could not attend Sebastian’s part as I had to rush to the airport after unexpected 2 hrs of my own presentation woven with discussions and sharing of positions on PLEs.  So @Sebastian – I hope to learn more about your standpoint in a blogpost 😉

So here is my presentation. Let me know what you think:

PLE Conference 2011

Following the first PLE Conference in Barcelona (#PLE_BCN) in 2010 (PLE = Personal Learning Environment), this year’s PLE Conference will be held at the University of Southampton from July 11th ­ to 13th 2011 (#PLE_SOU).

The PLE Conference is intended to produce a space for researchers and practitioners to exchange ideas, experience and research around the development and implementation of PLEs – including the design of environments and the sociological and educational issues that they raise. Whilst the conference includes a traditional research paper strand, we particularly encourage proposals for sessions in different formats including workshops, posters, debates, café sessions and demonstrations aiming to sustain the dynamic, vibrant and interactive discussions established by the opening event in Barcelona in 2010.

As a member of the organizing committee I can already tell you that we are going to have some great keynotes and topics, which we are going to announce soon in our new PLE_SOU Newsletter.

Also this year we are hosting the Mediacast Contest 2011. With one difference: Last year we used YouTube to collect and rate your submissions, but since YouTube groups have been stopped at the beginning of this year, we decided to go for Vimeo.

Have a look at this mediacast announcing the contest that was produced by our colleagues in Barcelona:

CfP Mediacast Contest PLE_SOU, 2011 on Vimeo.

We are looking forward to your submissions. The deadlines are:

  • Abstracts – April 10th
  • Mediacasts – June 30th

For more information visit the official website:
E-mail to:
Follow twitter and blog updates via the conference hash code #PLE_SOU

PLE definition in retrospective

Is hard but true – I have not done any blogging here for a long time.  And one post I really owe to everyome who was involved in organising, participating in and following the PLE_BCN Workshop on collaborative mindmapping of the PLE definition (more on that in my previous posts here and here). So I hope you can forgive me this late posting. What can I say, time has been wild, working like crazy, I am sure you all know it.

So what happened during the workshop? What did we achieve?

On the whole the workshop went really well … but it had its ups & downs. We had three groups at the venue, each working on a PLE definition based on the initial mindmap. Each group took a different approach and produced different results. I can only describe my impressions and final results here and it would be great to hear from those who participated, how the working in the groups really was!

So to start with, the group moderated by Cristina Costa engaged in a discussion about different aspects of PLEs digging deeper into the matter. This group came up with the following textual definition of PLE:


What it is:
“Everything and anybody I learn from.”
A set of learning objects, systems, processes people and spaces, described from a personal perspective.
A metaphor for a set of meta-cognitive skills that enable a learner to describe their learning setting.
PLEs are cognitive user models, created naturally in a process of social leanring. The PLE model represents an individual’s social learning context: they are technologies, subjects, artifacts, devices, agents.

What it does:
Travels with you throughout life
Provide choices
Produce knowledge-able students
Transformative e.g. in relation to how we understand ourselves, others and our identity

What it looks like:
It can be a set of tools
A network of interaction between human and machine agents
Organic (an ecology)
It is private / it is public -> It is allows negotiation between this boundary
It can cross real and virtual spaces, be composed of digital and non-digital objects. people, places and interactions

What processes are involved:
Meta-cognition about learning
Connection making, sharing
Provides continuity (learning as a continuous process)
It is part of our identity
Allows flow between formal, informal, and non formal learning settings
Includes all of your communities

What objects are involved?
Rich content, books articles etc.
Technology tool sets
Mixture of digital and non-digital

What it does not have:
Pedadgogy i.e. pedagogically neutral
Size (Quantifiable dimensions – no definable size?)


The group moderated by George Couros could also just not stop discussing what the PLE was and came up with the following concise textual definition:


Learner is the main focus of their own learning
PLE = the people and tools someone uses to learn
PLE = P+L+E or is L+E+P?


I was trying to have the group that I was moderating to discuss and illustrate the main ideas on the mindmap. This was really hard to do in the short time we had (about 1.5 hrs) and I am so thankful to the participants that they tried to go that way with me.  I think we produced a very interesting result, with everyone agreeing on one main thing – that “learning” is at the center of of our PLE discussion. We also added new categories, such as support and resources , and placed links between different aspects. This visual defintion can be seen here.



We also planned a remote group working on a separate mindmap from  homes/workplace moderated by Wolfgang Reinhardt. However, this didn’t work so well and there are no visible results of this activity, if there was any? The mindmap we created for this group can be still accessed and worked on, so you can visualize your ideas on what PLEs are here.


First of all a big thank you to @cristinacost, @gcouros and @wollepb for your great support and ideas. Will remember all that brainstorming we did on that 😉

To sum up the results of the workshop: my observation from the workshop is, that we are struggling with organising the PLE concept as we tend to define it pretty broadly. All definitions we came up with during the workshop have, in my opinion, the following points in common:

  • Learner & learning are (at) the heart of PLEs
  • PLEs are something more than ICT tools
  • PLEs are multi-layered and multi-faceted

… and we still need reliable means to structure it all …

Finally my question to you is:
Is the PLE concept as we tend to define it ideal (normative) or real (descriptive)?

The grassroots spirit of the PLE Conference Barcelona 2010

I have just got back to Berlin from Barcelona and my mind is so full with different thoughts and memories that it will definitely take time to sort things out. At the moment I just have the need to share some most vivid memories and reflections.

The PLE Conference was an amazing experience for me as a member of the organizing committee and as a participant at the same time. What was most amazing when I think about it is the fact that this conference was completly based on personal initiative and engagement of people not only within the organizing committee but also everyone contributing before and during the conference. From the perspective of the organizing committe member it was extremly interesting and personally very enriching to experience the grassroots organisation of the conference. Everyone involved in organizing the conference, including the organizing committee, the academic committee and all people shaping the conference with their contributions & ideas, with multi media goodness as Graham Attwell called it,  spreading the word on social media, co-creating the UnKeynote in google docs, were volunteers  giving their time and “mental capacity” to co-create and support the conference! When I think about it how much work each of us put into it, its just amazing to realize the power of personal engagement for a cause. And it was so great to see people before and at the conference co-creating sessions, taking responsibility, taking initiative, grabbing the mike and shaping the proccess. I think there was simply “room” for everyone, for personal ideas, for known and unknown formats, for experiments, for different forms of participation, but also for not being absolutely perfect and flawless. There was “room” for improvisation and for spontaneity. And there were many different ways to connect with people in a meaningful way. It was empowering! It was great! The grassroots spirit of the PLE Conference may stay with us forever! 😉

PLE_BCN Conference – Day 1

Ok, I am using some time to keep some first impression from the 1st day of the PLE Conference. Looking from the bird’s eye view, I am just trying to figure out what are we talking about here today and what “trending topics” are.

  • Institutionalising PLEs: There is much discussion about the role of institutions in PLE, questions posed being “how much institution a PLE can bear” and “howe much PLE can an institution bear?”. Some people say that some institutional support is positive for PLEs, e.g. because institutions can help with data protection and they can provide ressources. Some people say that “personal” is the opposite of “institutional” so there is not room for an institution in a PLE. Ok, you probably heard that discussion before…
  • Naming PLEs: There is still an issue of how to label the different formas and variations of learning environments. Someone came up with an acronym iPLE to name insitutionalised PLEs. Someone suggested contrasting PLEs with HPLE – hybrid PLEs. Some people say institutionalised PLEs may be an oxymoron, some propose to call them rich learing environments. Some people say that “open learning environment” would be a better name.
  • Defining PLEs: And as ever again in almost every session I attended people come to the basic question being what is a PLE after all. How can we delineate PLE from other learning environments? Is institutionalised PLE still a PLE? Where do we draw the line? What criteria do we use to draw the line? I want to address all these questions tomorrow in our workshop on the PLE definition.
  • Designing PLEs: Also many times the issues of how we design PLEs and what pedagogical strategies we use have been addressed. As far as pedagogy we didn’t move to far I am afraid. Learner-centered design, supporting interactions, focusing on activities… I think we’ve all heard it before. So I am hoping for some more on that tomorrow.

These are just some of my mental notes. Let’s see what’s going to be on tomorrow…

#PLE_BCN Collaborative Mindmapping: Update

Just a few hours ago we (me, Cristina Costa, George Couros and Wolfgang Reinhardt) had a fruitful chat an Skype and changed the way we want to engage people into discussing what PLEs are about during the workshop. Instead of having each co-moderator discuss one of the key aspects with a group, we want to discuss all aspects in each group. We hope this way we can connect ideas much better and we will surely be more flexible to change, rename and move things around on the mindmap. Also it will be very interesting to compare the different mindmaps people will create, including the mindmap created by “virtual” (=remote) participants. The idea is that each group can work on an own, unique mindmap. Technically speaking we will “clone” the starting map (below).

What is important about this map is that it is a starting point for a discussion. None of the branches is fixed and necessary – on the contrary it should challenge us to reorganize it, change it and extended it based on personal views. Since we will be doing this in groups it will be important to negotiate meaning and definition of PLEs and concepts constituting it.  What I find especially interesting about this social negotiation of meaning is to find out what different perspectives will come together in this workshop and to discover the “economy of meaning” as Wenger calls it, meaning that different participants have different degrees onf ownership of the meanings that define their communities. I think it will be a great learning experience!

And the great news is that George Coursos will be moderating this session! He has blogged about it in his recent post – he encourages us to share our thoughts, so let’s do it!

I can only quote him here: “a mutually agreed upon definition will not likely be reached, but it would be great to hear your ideas”.