Monday, 27 July 2009

Personal Learning Environment

Today I am about to start decorating my study. I made a joke on my Facebook profile that this is my Personal Learning Environment. In the old days, that's what it would have been.
I remember having something called a carrel in the 6th form centre at school where I kept text books, files, and stationery, and which I decorated with photos of pop stars and little artistic additions of my own. My teenage bedroom was similarly a repository of art materials, writing paper, books, magazines and music. When not at home, I haunted the local library and at University I spent many happy hours in the stacks, researching and writing.
I used to dream of a house with a private study lined with books - to me the ultimate in "on tap" knowledge and my ideal of a perfect environment in which to relax, learn, withdraw from the demands of the world. These were my ideas of what a personal learning environment looked like.

Today my study is a former dining room with some course materials in hard copy and a handful of text books but the key equipment is my PC, printer/scanner, my laptop, my iphone, the wireless broadband hub, the webcam and the phone. My physical personal learning environment is a room housing the equipment that allows me to keep in touch with the world.

Learning is not something that happens in the privacy of my study but is collaborative. It is not something handed down by an expert which I sit back absorbing passively, it is a collaborative event, and an active one.

This isn't new - seminars and tutorials were always the places where I learned the most becasue I could hear and dispute others views and have my own questioned in turn.

What is new is the fact that many of these conversations now take place on line. That most of what I read is stored electronically rather than in paper copies in my cupboards, and that the trails of my researches are noted in digital bookmarking sites rather than index cards.

To keep track of all of these digital resources requires a system - a place where all the various internet sites I use daily are easily accessed. I happen to use Netvibes: to collect "feeds" from my favourite blogs and news services, keep up with my friends' updates on Facebook and join in Twitter conversations. To remember links to important sites, and what tasks I have to complete, to access music and video sites and provide bite sized chunks of a Spanish language course I am following.
When I think of the term PLE, I sometimes think of Netvibes as the most obvious visual representation of my learning resources network, which is the reason why I am using a screenshot of my personal page to illustrate this post. But the real PLE is the whole network of colleagues - and the resources they access and contribute to in their turn (see for example this Twitter conversation about Personal Learning Environments)- with whom I communicate on a daily basis. With current internet tools, we have the capability to enter into collaborative learning that takes place on a world wide platform and yet is both immediate and highly personal.