25yearsedtech,  PLE

25 Years of EdTech: 2011 – PLE

Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) were an outcome of the proliferation of services that suddenly became available following the web 2.0 boom. Learners and educators began to gather a set of tools to realize a number of functions. In edtech, the conversation turned to whether these tools could be somehow “glued” together in terms of data. We got quite excited about the idea of eduglu, which might be a bit embarrassing now. Instead of talking about one LMS provided to all students, we were discussing how each learner had their own particular blend of tools. Yet beyond a plethora of spoke diagrams, with each showing a different collection of icons, the PLE concept didn’t really develop after its peak in 2011. In 2014 I asked why we didn’t talk about PLEs anymore, and offered the following reasons:

  • It’s become commonplace, so drawing the distinction between your set of tools and an institutional learning environment isn’t necessary. It’s a bit like saying “my phone is mobile!”
  • It’s become absorbed, so it is seen as an extension of the LMS, or rather the LMS is just one other part of it. We don’t differentiate between tools for different settings because the boundaries between personal and professional have been blurred.
  • There has been a shakedown in the market, so actually we’ve all settled on the same few tools: Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, Slideshare, plus some other specific ones. My PLE looks pretty much like your PLE, so it’s not really a Personal one anymore. Just like with the early days of search engines, we don’t talk about whether you prefer Lycos or Webcrawler now, we just Google it.
  • It wasn’t a useful term or approach. There were projects that attempted to get data passed between LMSs and PLE tools, or to set these up for people, and in the end people just opted for some tools they found useful, and didn’t feel the need to go further.

These still seem reasonable, particularly the reduction in variety of tools. The problem was that passing along data was not a trivial task, and we soon became wary about applications that shared data (although perhaps not wary enough, given recent news regarding Cambridge Analytica). Also, providing a uniform offering and support for learners was difficult when they were all using different tools. The focus shifted from a personalized set of tools to a personalized set of resources, and in recent years this has become the goal of personalization. But that is a whole different story. I miss the excitement of having a favourite url shortener though.


  • Laura James

    This all makes sense. I wonder what today’s emerging ideas around personalisation (of education and other things) via AI will mean for your excellent point about support – if we all have genuinely different tailored experiences, what happens when you need help? mmm….

  • Alan Levine

    It’s not worth quibbling about but like Scott tweeted I’d peak it maybe 3 years earlier. I never found beyond the diagram d and the dreams/experiments to tie them together what it really was.

    It always seemed like looking at photos of people’s tool sheds. Sure I could see and sense all the ones they had but nothing about their craft or what they made. The diagrams never indicated relationships with them (until projects like visitor/residents) they could have been just lists.

    It does feel a bit naive how little I was in not thinking too much about the data sharing of providers but yes it sure was some heady times of possibilities

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