What “Postures” Make Up Your Personal Learning Environment

Just now a silly argument broke out in twitter concerning the acronym “PLE” that I wanted to follow up on. I say “silly” because it was the classic “It’s personal, not monolithic” complaint with the term, which I get and agree with. My response is not to defend the “PLE” acronym but instead just say if it bothers you, come up with a different one, or don’t use a moniker at all, but more importantly, model model model it for the 95% of learners (and teachers) who are drowning in the tsunami of information and choosing to turn their backs rather than learning to surf (to borrow metaphors from a bunch of people whom regular readers and blogosphere denizens will recognize on their own).

And I’m not proposing to re-open this debate here (but maybe I am), instead I have a question for you.

What are the various “postures” by which you understand your own orientation/embeddeness to/in your own personal learning environment (network, whatever!)?

Let me explain a little more of what I mean. I broadly collect my own actions on my learning network, the tools I use, the uses I make of them, and the people that comprise it as well, into three broad “postures”, or ways of relating. For me these are, at a high level,

  1. reading/consuming information, content, reflection, etc,
  2. producing/creating information, content, reflection, etc,
  3. weaving together components, people and conversations on the network, and activity that surely encompasses the former two but also has some distinct aspects to it in and of itself.

Now I don’t think these are exhaustive nor even particularly well conceived, but they are the buckets into which I sub-consciously find myself putting my various activities. And what I am interested in finding out from all of you is, at this high level, what “postures” you see yourself as having in relationship to your learning network, your networked learning, your practice. Are there others you would add to this list or do you have a totally different way of conceptualizing this?

I believe, again without a lot to substantiate it, that you all do indeed have many other ways of organizing and conceptualizing  this. But are these all entirely idiosyncratic? Well, to the extent to which we can still talk about “categories” and to the extent to which ideas like “learning styles” still have any meaning, my sense is that we can tease out a number of different “postures,” and a number of different ways to relate these postures, and use these as the entree with which to orient newcomers to weaving their own “personal” learning environments. Certainly these will be personal in the sense of being oriented around them, and certainly be personal in the sense of including different tools, content sources and conversations than mine or yours might. But to argue that we cannot evolve some ways of talking about generally how we orient ourselves to our own PLEs is I think to embark on a solipsistic road that doesn’t resemble the one I find myself on.

So what do you think? Is there a sense in which we can use this notion of “postures” (again, feel free to suggest a better term) as a conceptual entree to helping new people weave their own PLEs, or is this already to reify it. Will it always only be a case of each of us modelling our individual practices, with whatever pieces and conceptions of them resonating individually with each person who sees them. – SWL

(P.S. I am certain this post belies my thoroughly amateur status, that there is lots of nomenclature in the learning sciences that better describes what I am fumbling with here. Please feel free to educate me on it. I do not need tot invent terms where better ones already exist. Like I keep telling you, I am a slow learner).

20 thoughts on “What “Postures” Make Up Your Personal Learning Environment”

  1. I share your frustrations as this is a topic we share a passion for. The idea of a PLE is inherently tied to learner _and system_ independence in my mind. PLE is all about spinning your own network and very little about the specific tools one uses to spin it. Not only do I think you can teach people to build a PLE, I think those of us who understand the concept _must_ teach it: model, explain, encourage exploration, reflection, assessment, and evaluation. Many don’t undertstand that they even have a PLE, making pruning and growing their PLE–if possible–at least cumbersome, not efficient.

  2. I have to admit up front that I’ve not read anyone’s thoughts on PLE’s because I have been turned off by the activity surrounding the concept on Twitter. So, I’m truly not qualified to judge it as a concept, theory, practice or whatever it is. I didn’t recognize the conversation today as an argument, or I would have been more thoughtful in my comments.
    With decades of research on Social Cognition as a resource, I have a hard time understanding proselytizing the PLE as an entity. I’m not speaking to or of anyone in particular, as I’ve not fully followed the trend. I am almost certain that if we sat down over a good meal and a beverage, you and I would walk away smiling.
    I know this doesn’t directly answer your question, but here are the things that have kept me from studying this PLE movement.
    1. A Twitter shout out is not the way to model learning. Showing off how many friends I have, doesn’t teach anyone about metacognition.
    2. Holding workshops on PLE doesn’t make sense to me. Any professional development should include contact with your own personal learning network as a model for others.
    3. Those of us connected to specific tools need to take a step back and recognize others have networks that use different tools. I hate to see people pushing teachers into Twitter before finding out how the teachers are currently gathering and processing their information.
    4. People are more important that tools. I would prefer to deeply connect an instructor with one other person doing related work than to try to get them to build an online network in hopes of finding a few good connections.

    I like your postures. I need to take some time to process and apply them and compare to my own.

  3. “Those of us connected to specific tools need to take a step back and recognize others have networks that use different tools” Jen, this is exactly right, but this is what I’m trying to explore with the notions of “postures” – that there are some high level relations we have in engaging with our networks that are useful ways to frame the approach for newcomers, but that the specifics will be very much driven by the person, their context and choices.

    “proselytizing the PLE as an entity” – well, I think that was what I was bristling at today on twitter; I understand how people think that even the acronym or the phrase carries us along to far in reifying this, making a monolith out of a process, but hopefully I’ve been clear this is exactly what I trying NOT to do.

    “I would prefer to deeply connect an instructor with one other person doing related work than to try to get them to build an online network in hopes of finding a few good connections.” Well I agree but I kind of don’t. I think one factor that is causing interest in the approach is precisely the proliferation, not just of data and information but of context and perspectives, and that if woven well, a PLE has the opportunity to actually augment the way the individual can cope with the proliferation AND offers richness in exposing a person to more diversity. So yes, connecting an instructor with one other person is a good thing. But connecting them with a network of people may be even, better?

    Anyways, thanks for these comments, they do help my own thinking along.

  4. Jen,

    I think the problem really is with the term PLE. To me PLE is nearly synonymous with “personal learning network”–a term you use in your response. The difference between the two is that defining one’s PLE would reference or describe whatever tools one decides to use to facilitate the network. I’d like to make a few responses to your 4 points quickly:

    1. PLE is not Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace, though each of these _may be a tool individuals choose to use_ in their own PLE. I can understand an aversion to Twitter etc, but the point is these are not incontrovertibly tied to the concept of PLE. No tool is.

    2. If you can model a personal learning network (PLN), why can’t you hold a workshop that (1) models different types of PLEs/PLNs, (2) teach tools that may be used to facilitate networks, (3) ask individuals to understand and begin fertilizing their own network through whatever tools suit them, and (4) teach measurement and assessment strategies for sustaining and growing a network?

    3. Yes, and really as far as I know PLE never meant a certain set of tools. Oh, and PLE is not Twitter.

    4. Tools are (mostly) irrelevant. In my department we produce Web developers who design and build using software tools, but those tools are ancillary to our primary instructional objectives: we teach theories, strategies, and practices. Like a neural network, a good PLE relies on the strength of the pathways, making it’s core strength the “deeply connected-ness”. Casual connections will always be a part of PLE, but they are not and probably should not be what defines them.

  5. “model model model” I can agree with. Better still, “map map map”.

    Tools DO matter. Apart from the fact that tool (and channel) choice singles one PLE out from another, students do need to be made aware of a range of tools or many will indeed drown in the tsunami of information.

  6. Scott, thanks for writing this post. I realize that my comments of Twitter were flippant and dismissive, and I apologize for that.

    I think your 3 “postures” of PLE activities are bang on, and also appreciate the “model,model, model” sentiment. In my understanding, PLE isn’t a specific set of tools, nor is it a set of prescribed patterns of interaction. It’s more of a philosophy of connectedness and interdependence, and a personal exploration and evolving set of strategies to cope with that. Every individual’s PLE will be as unique as their fingerprints, both in technologies and social organization. There are also strong offline aspects to thus – it’s not all web 2.0 for education.

    Anyhoo… Thanks for putting your thoughts together on this, and I apologize for the (good natured?) Twitter-baiting.

  7. Not sure what went on in the Twitter-spat, but just wanted to concur with the postures you identify. At Glasgow Caledonian University we have been thinking about how the individual participates in their knowledge networks largely against the background of work on the transition between HE and employment. We conceptualised activity as having three primary components: Consume, Create and Connect which map directly to your three postures ( see: http://caledonianacademy.blogspot.com/2007/11/collective-learning.html). In addition, we feel there is an additional component which exists in parallel to these three: Charting. Charting is a process whereby the individual manages their participation in their knowledge network to achieve their own personal goals. Charting tools would allow the individual to plan and reflect on their progress towards achieving those goals. Posts written after the one cited above try to develop the ideas. Things have gone a bit quiet as we have now diverted to bid-writing mode.

    As an aside, in the original CETIS PLE project, we used to joke that we had problems with the P, the L and the E in PLE.

  8. Colin, nice one! I appreciate your comments and the link. I wish we could come up with a term other than “consume” – it just has connotations I’d rather avoid. But it is heartening to find that what I’m describing has some resonance. Indeed, I think you folks added another, “Charting” which is worthy of consideration, and it makes me wonder if “reflection, modelling, meta-cognition/analysis” isn’t also one to consider, or if this simply runs through the other ones.

    AJ, I don’t disagree that the tools matter, clearly at some point they matter a lot, but the effort here was to come up with a higher level way of thinking about this which gave room (specifically in the context of presenting the idea to new ‘teachers’) for them to slot in their own existing practices and make their own choices. And indeed further, for them to play around with how they conceptualize this, because I do not think, even at this high level, that we should be seeking a single ‘universal’ model. One of the reasons I’m gravitating towards the term ‘postures’ is that for me it combines the notions of ‘personal’ and ‘orientation.’ I do think people’s PLEs will look quite different in part because of how they conceptualize themselves and their relationships to their networks, their discipline, their formal roles as “instructor” or “learner”, their goals. People will come with different frames of reference, say from existing educational structures, or say instead from something like “The Tipping Point” (mavens, connectors, salesmen – all types of network learners if you ask me) to others, and their postures may look quite different depending on what frame they approach this with. That was why I was asking for other people’s, because not only do I think the sets of tools, people, feeds, etc, will be different for each individual, I think there are likely a number of different sets of “postures” we can identify that will help different people grasp PLEs in a way that is most meaningful to them. I guess I am trying to walk a line between providing a useful conceptual framework and not reifying a specific set of tools and practices as THE PLE. In the end, maybe they will only get built as others have suggested, one instructor, one learner at a time, but I’d like to think there are ways we can give newcomers a leg up without biasing them too far. I am willing to be proven wrong, and as a friend said on twitter the other day “sinking *is* learning”

  9. Saw the spat and didn’t get it to be honest – having been in the field of learning objects and then VLEs, this arguing about terms is something that I avoid. Every bloody paper on the previous two used to start with ‘There is no clear definition of X..’ as if a clear definition would make it okay.
    PLE is a term that has some currency, so let’s roll with it.
    Anyway, back to your postures Scott – I recognise them, but I also feel that 3) doesn’t quite capture an important aspect. I’m not sure I can articulate it, but it goes something like ‘Actively combining professional and social interaction to build and maintain a personally relevant network’. The point I want to make is that as well as just consuming content a lot (but not all) of the way you use these tools deliberately intertwines social and professional knowledge. This is because, surprise surprise, one reinforces the other. And so one is, not necessarily consciously, building a useful network, for its own sake. Rather like tending a garden.
    For instance although I’ve never met you, D’Arcy, Brian et al, we have similar professional interests, but these are reinforced by social glue also.
    That doesn’t make any sense does it?

  10. Martin, I think I’d need to understand better the distinction your are making because I *think* that was what I was trying to get at with #3. Let me think some more though – this is definitely still a work in progress (Jared Stein, Chris Lott and I are set up to do a full days workshop in November and this came out of some preliminary conversations. We will hopefully get some more opportunity to road test this with some instructors before then). Cheers, Scott

  11. Scott, yes I think that was what you were getting at with 3) I was trying to work it through myself. There’s something of a continuum from ‘pure content’ to ‘pure social’, and I wasn’t quite sure 3) got to the ‘pure social’ end. Be interesting to see what you, Jared and Chris come up with.

  12. I think most of people in this Blog just have a thought how learners can survive in PLE, likely some one under marine into a big ocean. What are the most important things that understand their own orientation in PLE? The author suggested a very good term “posture” to make a transition among the learners, strategies, and environments. The author raised the question about ” What “Posture” Make Up Your Personal Learning Environment”. Actually I have heard about a couple of similar terms that I am interested in, such as “connect, interweave, reciprocal interact, interdependent. To be honest, this is my matter as well which one is the best term as the description of the transition of learning to learning environment. Again, after I have read all the comments in this Blog. I mostly agree with Colin Milligan. Quoted from ” We conceptualized activity as having three primary components: Consume, Create and Connect which map directly to your three postures.” But I would say somehow that I will change the orders of the three terms as ” Consume, Connect, Create.” As a learner, when we totally engage our learning and observation into the learning environment and social networks, we will have a deep connection with them by following the framework in our own pattern, and then we are able to create the framework to suit on our own learning. But I would not add the another term “Chart ” into the three postures. Like Colin Milligan said ” Charting tools would allow the individual to plan and reflect on their progress towards achieving those goals”. Yes, Chart is a specific tool for learning rather than the general orientation on learning. I would like to use the term” Chunking” instead of “Charting”. Chunking is a combination of information in a meaningful fashion. In my opinion, what the term is the best depends on the mounts of learning approaches and the proper instructional conditions. Therefore, both as a teacher and a student, I would like to have some doctrines to warn my self or others. 1. As a learner, a variety of learning approaches should apply for learning. And we must avoid from either categorization style learning or Egocentrism during building up a well PLE.
    2. As a teacher, the best teacher plays a facilitator role to motivate learners to cooperate learning actively and build up a very flexible PLE towards individual self- actualization. I am glad that someone has a problem as same as me on the concept of PLE. The problem-solving study is always a good way to catch learners’ attention. During the problem –solving process, learners can try to collect the different views on it and figure out the best strategies working on it. I believe we are going to have sunshine on this topic in the near future.


  13. Personal Learning Environment, is what makes us unique and is what differentiates our learning styles form others. This is a very interesting blog with many different perspective reflected on the idea of personal learning environment. I agree with one of the bloggers who says : The idea of a PLE is inherently tied to learner, it is the system the learner chooses, which is also the independence of the learner. As facilitators, we can be a great role model and engage the learners to active learning. However, it is the learners who gap the bridges and connect their interdependence to their productively in their personalized learning environment.

  14. Yes, Sevtap,
    The transformative learning could be an effective tool to reduce the gap by constructing a meaningful fashion on PLE.

  15. I am joining in with this blog as an assignment given to me in a graduate course that I am taking, please forgive my being naive about this subject of PLE.
    I work in rural central Maine, and to my understanding the concept of PLE is “the Personalized Learning model of education combines many of these key elements in its learning process. These key elements include parent involvement, responsibility, and participation in their children’s education; small class sizes; learning program collaboration between teacher, parent, student, and school; ongoing credentialed teacher training; learning style assessment; flexible learning in multiple environments both within and beyond the classroom; home learning environment support; flexible curricular choices; multiple assessment tools and measurements; technology learning access; and varied pace learning.” My question is, why must there be a label, or title about a philosophy of teaching, that in my mind and in my teaching practices, should be automatic. Am I missing a bigger picture? Please help. Sherry

  16. Hi Sherry, not exactly sure where you are quoting from. Some of this I would definitely say relates to the idea of Personal Learning Environments, other bits not so much (“ongoing credentialed teacher training”?)

    As for the need for the actual term, firstly I think it is important to situate it historically. To date much of “online learning” (which, while not the totality of what a PLE can encompass, is nevertheless the domain from which the term originated) has been dominated by the “course management system” approach, largely replicating a classroom-type scenario online with a single, monolithic environment, password protected from the rest of the net, its content and learners. In the UK, these environments are called VLEs or Virtual Learning Environments, and I think it is important to understand the term PLE firstly as a response to these earlier systems and that earlier term, a response that tries to preserve learner choice, interest and styles and recognize that learning doesn’t end at the boundries of the course management system but, if done in a way that understands the power and properties of the network, can be differently constituted around each user.

    The problem, then, is partly with the term “environment” which, as a hangover from the earlier term, carries with it the baggage of being a single tool or even a single set of tools or a single approach. Which is precisely what it is not. So why a label? Well, precisely for the same reason we label lots of complex multifarious concepts, to make it easier to talk about. It is jargon, and I do not mean that pejoratively; it is specialized language. I don’t know that we need to be talk to learners about it; maybe, maybe not.

    What is important, though, is that it is by far from obvious; everyone says “well of course I have a PLE and so do you” and yet they will then turn around and teach a course in isolation from the rest of the net, using inauthentic tools and assessment measures, as if this was respecting their students’ “person.” So in my mind at least, it is a worthwhile term to keep using and moreso, a worthwhile practice to help people adopt. Hope this helps, cheers, Scott Leslie

  17. Thank you for the response, Scott. However, I guess I didn’t mention that I am a fifth grade teacher, and the advanced vocabulary that you used in writing back to me only confuses me more.
    I think that the quote was referring to teachers who place value on being a life long learner, to have a desire to develop the craft of teaching to a higher level.
    Can someone out there clarify for me the big idea around PLE?

  18. Sorry Sherry, my aim was not to confuse and I was trying to address your question as straightforwardly as I could. You might find some background material on the idea of “personal learning environments” helpful. One good starting point I could suggest is a collection of links and quotes put together by George Siemens at http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/wiki/index.php?title=Ple

    Hope this helps. Cheers, Scott

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