Personal learning environment

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Draft 3

Editor: Philippe Dessus, Laboratoire des Sciences de l’Education, Univ. Grenoble Alpes, France

Contributors: …/…


  1. A Personalized Learning Environment (PLE) is the socio-psychological context students as individuals perceive in the classroom (Fraser, 2002).
  2. A Personal Learning Environment is a digital space of which components have been selected and arranged by the learner to allow the access, organization, aggregation, building and sharing of learning material, in order to match his or her level of knowledge, competencies, needs, or preferences.

Comments on the history

The remainder of this entry focuses on the second meaning of PLEs (i.e. computer-based). The idea of personal learning environments is as old as that of personalization of computer-assisted learning environments, although the expression has not been used as such from the beginning. PLE research developed in the end of 1990's when looking for an alternative to less flexible Content Management Systems (CMS) and, later on as multi-purpose web 2.0 tools, both learner-centered and learner-driven (Johnson et al., 2006; Wilson et al., 2007).

Two main periods of the research can be identified (Park & Lee, 2004). The personalization at a macro-level (e.g. using pre-task measures and a priori information about instructional objectives and general learners traits). More recently, at a micro-level (e.g. using on-task measures of some learners characteristics).

The innovation brought by the PLE approach is the fusion of many features of TEL (Technology-Enhanced Learning), often available separately elsewhere (Hall, 2009):

- Fusion of content and people, since learners are both socially– and content–aware, allowing self-determined and co-authored content (e.g. wiki-based);
- Fusion of the applications made available by the PLE (mash-up);
- Fusion of the activities made possible within the system (e.g. search, review, read, write);
- Fusion of physical boundaries, software and physical environment, since other external resources can be part of the PLE;
- Fusion of temporal and institutional boundaries, with tools and activities proposed by institutions or chosen by learners (i.e. formal/informal learning).

Related terms

Personal Learning Network, Personalized Learning Environment, Student-Centered Learning Environment, Virtual Learning Environment, Mash-up, Content Management System, Distributed Learning Environment, Open Networked Learning Environment, Personalized Learning System, Complex Open-Ended Environment.

Translation issues

Français : Environnement Personnel d'Apprentissage (EPA), Environnement d'Apprentissage Personnel (EAP)

Disciplinary issues

Several disciplines are concerned with PLE research, emphasizing three combinations of terms from the acronym (Fiedler & Väljataga, 2011). First, computer scientists aiming at designing systems that can be used in context. Second, educational scientists aiming at measuring what is at stake when learners and teachers use PLEs and how they manage them. Third, instructional designers working on the way to design and personalize such systems. The following issues are still open and may lead to further research on PLEs.

Theoretical Issue : A substantial amount of research about PLE discuss whether they are a concept or a technology (e.g. Fiedler & Väljataga, 2011); more systematic and deeper research may investigate the following questions: Who/which personalizes and initiates the personalization (stakeholder view)? What to personalize (didactical and pedagogical view)? How and when to personalize, from which traces (feedback view)?
Design Issue : Since any PLE has to be built by learners themselves, can teachers devise efficient PLEs? Upon which process? Surprisingly few researches deal with the process of designing PLEs (see Berthold et al., 2012, however).
Cognitive Issue : How (and why) PLEs would be particularly able to support core features of the instructional process? Dessus et al. (2008) argued that the core abilities of the participants of an instructional situation are: – communicate/get information (search, recommend); – detect/monitor other's intentions, or detect the changes within the environment (understand gaps of knowledge, opinion, emotion, etc.); – get/provide feedback and discuss it (detect and trigger contradiction). These abilities may be used as a framework to describe and classify PLEs.
Assessment Issue : What kind of experiments would be setup in order to firmly establish the effects of PLEs on learning and teaching processes? For instance, their impacts (among other parameters often discussed) on motivation, self-regulation and social awareness.
Overpersonalization Issue : Pariser (2011) argued that search engines like Google overpersonalize their results, yielding “ [...] less room for the chance encounters that bring insight and learning”, since the reader's own knowledge and opinions are amplified. This risk may also be encountered in PLEs.

Key References

[1] Berthold, M., Lachmann, P., Nussbaumer, A., Pachtchenko, S., Kiefel, A., & Albert, D. (2012). Psycho-pedagogical mash-up design for personalising the learning environment. In L. Ardissono & T. Kuflik (Eds.), Proc. Conf. UMAP 2011 (pp. 161–175). Heidelberg: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-28509-7_16

[2] Dessus, P., Mandin, S., & Zampa, V. (2008). What is teaching? Cognitive-based tutoring principles for the design of a learning environment. In S. Tazi & K. Zreik (Eds.), Common innovation in e-learning, Machine learning and humanoid (ICHSL'6) (pp. 49–55). Paris: IEEE/Europia [retrieved on 1/7/2013]

[3] Fiedler, S. H. D., & Väljataga, T. (2011). Personal learning environments: concept or technology? International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments, 2(4), 1–11. DOI:10.4018/jvple.2011100101

[4] Fraser, B. J. (2002). Learning environments research: Yesterday, today and tomorrow. In S. C. Goh & M. S. Khine (Eds.), Studies in educational learning environments: An international perspective (pp. 1–25). Londres: World Scientific.

[5] Hall, R. (2009). Towards a fusion of formal and informal learning environments: The impact of the read/write web. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 7(1), 29–40.

[6]Jonhson, M., Liber, O., Wilson, S., Milligan, C., Beauvoir, P., & Sharples, P. (2006). The Personal Learning Environment: A report on the JISC CETIS PLE Project. Bolton: University of Bolton. [retrieved on 7/1/2013]

[7] Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the internet is hiding from you. New York: Penguin.

[8] Park, O.-C., & Lee, J. (2004). Adaptive instructional systems. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (2nd ed., pp. 651–684). Mahwah: Erlbaum [retrieved on 1/7/2013]

[9] Wilson, S., Liber, O., Johnson, M., Beauvoir, P., Sharples, P., & Milligan, C. (2007). Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 3(2), 27–38 [retrieved on 11/4/2013]