A PLE – VLE continuum

There’s been a bit of a PLE flurry of posts, generated by some Twitter discussion. Chris Lott posted that he couldn’t see why people think you can’t teach PLEs, or about PLEs. Scott Leslie argues that some don’t like the acronym:

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

Meanwhile D’Arcy Norman maintains (with the aid of some cool diagrams) that one person’s PLE will differ from another’s, and it is the people that are important:

the exact technologies that are in use at any particular point in time
don’t matter as much as the fact that it is people being connected
through them. Tools come and go constantly, and the only constant is
that the people are the important part of the equation.

The debate on twitter seems to have been about whether one can usefully talk about PLEs since, by their nature, everyone’s is different. There is no The PLE.

I’d like to argue that the term is okay, it has context (that of VLE), and also there is some benefit in ‘teaching’ PLEs. But maybe we need to nuance the term a bit, as we may be lumping things together. If in doubt about an acronym, let’s create some more! So we have:

  • VLE/LMS – a centralised system that gives a consistent user experience to everyone
  • TLE – Teacher learner environment. This is along the lines of Scott Leslie’s loosely coupled teaching applications. Less centralised than a VLE, the educator determines the range of tools, e.g. a blog with specific widgets, but all students use the same.
  • DPLE – Default PLE. In this novice users (could be educators, students, employees, etc), are given a default set of applications to constitute their PLE, but they have the freedom to switch them out over time. A minor example might be my recent conversion to iGoogle from the standard Outlook provided services. Except the option and ease of switching would be stressed more. Imagine a default Netvibes page, which people would soon customise.
  • PLE – the type of thing we ed techies have accrued over time, and continues to evolve. Work might be required on getting these apps to talk to each other, but really the people who operate at this end don’t need much help.

This gives us a continuum of personalisation:


One thing to appreciate here is that there is no value judgement attached by the placing on the diagram – being further to the right isn’t ‘better’. These different approaches to technology will be suited to different contexts  and audiences. That is probably obvious to everyone, but was something of a mild epiphany for me – PLEs and VLEs are NOT in competition necessarily.

[Update – that last sentence originally had the ‘not’ missing (such a small word). I’ve added it in, but now I’m not sure – which is truer for you – they are in competition or they aren’t?]


  • Andy Powell

    W.r.t the first quote… technically one has to turn one’s back in order to learn how to surf! 🙂
    Re: PLE… I don’t see a problem with the acronym per se, though I was surprised to see someone trying to teach it, explicitly using those three letters, to their students. Seems to me it is a useful construct for those of us that want to talk about the concept, but that it doesn’t necessarily need to surface in the language of the students themselves – why not just say, here’s a bunch of tools to help us get the job done.
    My daughter and I were recently shown round a university by a student who proudly proclaimed they used the VLE every day. Ooh, I thought, fancy a student knowing what a VLE is. Unfortunately, when one of the other parents asked her what a VLE was, she replied, “It’s a Visual Learning environment or something”. Doh!
    For info, I recently blogged about the P in PLE – wondering if ‘personal’ means different things to the PLE and PRE crowds… see if you are interested.

  • Michael Smith

    An interesting article Martin. I agree with you totally about PLEs and VLEs been in competition with each other, as one of our institutions VLE Pilots (we are developing a moodle based VLE) I am constantly at odds with myself and the institution as to where to ask students to work. Do they use moodle forums and blogs to document and develop their coursework or do they use Web2.0 tools that are external to the institution, which would help us to promote life long learning. As it’s course work what happens if Blogger or other tools disappears overnight as D’Arcy suggests (unlikely with Blogger I know but it’s a well used tool)? Particularly with my students they like to use the external tools to college but always seem to fall back to the safety net of the VLE is they are confused about anything.

  • AJ Cann

    By adding the arrowhead, the “value judgment” is implicit – “ooh, shiny”! If the diagram were drawn without the arrow, it would be more neutral in terms of value judgments, and more in line with your argument.

  • Martin

    Andy – yes, you’re quite right, students don’t need to know what a PLE is, just how to use some stuff.
    Michael – ah, that was a mistake, I meant to say ‘not in competition’, but now I’m not sure!
    AJ – I thought that, initially I had a double headed arrow, but the axis is increasing personalisation so the arrow has to go the way it does.

  • William

    From an upper primary school perspective, it still does depend on the context and skills the children already possess as to whether the VLE and PLE are in competition. In my experience, the children have had very limited experiences and thus I have to guide them and help them create their environment based on what works best for them and me. So, in the end, we have a TLE where we use a Moodle-type system (VLE/LMS)which is complemented by some Web2.0 technologies which are external to the VLE/LMS.

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