Personal Learning Environments

In an effort to build a personal learning environment (PLE) in the office of the CIO at Brigham Young University, we have been researching literature on personal learning environments. There is a lot out there, but it’s all theory. The more we research, the more we realize that building such an environment is no small undertaking. All of this research is a combined effort of myself, Tarah Kerr, and those in the office of the CIO at BYU.

The concept of a PLE is quite vague so for the purpose of staying on the same page, this is what we have narrowed our scope of a PLE to be:

  • Not a software application; new approach to using technology for learning. Comprised of the different tools used in everyday life for learning (Attwell)
  • Digital space in which users can access, aggregate, create, store, and share learning materials (Archee)
  • Platform where learners direct their own learning and pursue educational goals (Educause)
  • Collection of tools and software, usually social software, to foster self-regulated and collaborative learning (Valtonen)

What activities occur within  a PLE?

  • Plan
    • Organization of learning plan, objectives, long-term and short-term goals
  • Consume
    • Consumption of already published materials and resources
  • Publish
    • Creation of original content with the potential to be shared and published
  • Store
    • Repository of resources, tools, personal work

The current world of PLEs is sparse. Some consider a PLE to be their laptop, where they store all their info and others their ePortfolio or personal website to be their version of a PLE. Neither of these instances of PLEs encapsulate what the literature visualizes a PLE to be in its entirety.

We began to ask ourselves: what do we want our PLE to include? How can we aggregate all of the materials that every learner at our institution is using for their daily learning? This was and still is perhaps the most daunting and discouraging barrier to building a PLE. If you take a minute to list all the tools that you, one individual uses on a daily basis for learning, and multiply that to encompass 35,000+ students, you’ll begin to feel similarly.

We tried to express what needs to be included in a PLE in a diagram. Of course all learning is not going to be stored within the PLE, but a great deal of it can be. We saw the role of the learning environment to aggregate not only formal learning, but also informal learning and naturally formed social networks.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 12.16.44 PM.png

Although this was a valuable way for us to begin visualizing the PLE, we needed to wrap our minds around how this might work and the solution was obvious to a group of individuals trying to develop a university API. Personal APIs were the clear solution.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 12.19.36 PM

The model of the PLE evolved for us, and it became less about what applications should we include, but how where can we start and how can we bring the PLE from the abstract to the concrete. There is no answer and if you have input, we’d be more than happy to listen. Moving forward, the office of the CIO will seek to build a PLE that encompasses the benefits of a learning environment that is learner centered.

We hope that our PLE can embody:

  • New approach to using technology; comprised of all the different tools we use in everyday life for learning
  • Ability to access, aggregate, create, store, & share learning materials, can interact socially with others
  • Importance of community
  • Obliges students to forge their own networks, make unique connections, & become autonomous learners
  • Challenges students to take charge of their learning process, reflect on the tools & resources they use to help them learn best
  • Capacity to demonstrate competencies




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