Friday Jul 11, 2014

What Does Your Personal Learning Environment Look Like?

As we were finishing a conversation this week about blogging and communicating, my colleague asked, “What’s your motivation for writing?”

After thinking for a minute, I realized that I write because it allows me to synthesize all the information that I’m receiving about a particular topic. As I write, I can recognize common threads, define questions for myself, come up with possible answers and make sense of all the content that comes my way. Blogging is, quite simply, one tool that I use to learn about and organize information.

This realization made me think about the concept of personal learning environments (PLEs). I first heard of PLEs last summer when we were at my neighbor’s house for a backyard fire. My neighbors are teachers, as were a large number of other guests, and they were all talking about their PLEs. As a learning person, my ears perked up.

I found out that a PLE is basically a flexible structure – identifying digital and non-digital resources that help people organize the influx of information that is a part of their learning. All of the applications, tools and resources in a PLE are selected by the user, thereby the ‘personal’ part of the equation. The “E” is a visual representation of everything.

Because it seemed like a fun thing to do, I mapped out my own PLE, and it looks like this:

My PLE shows my ‘gathering’ activities on the left and my ‘action’ stuff on the right. I’m a big gatherer of information – I love to read, search and explore, and I do this with a wide variety of tools and resources. Once I have this information, I move to the right side of the page – I need to act on it. For me, ‘action’ might mean aggregating like ideas, writing a blog or tweet to share some kind of insight, sharing the information with my colleagues, or putting something out on Beehive for later use.

Yesterday, I felt like my brain is just always busy. Today, my PLE gives structure to how I gather and process information. Educators argue that mapping this PLE and understanding how we deal with the huge influx of information gives us the opportunity to reflect and build our capabilities around any given topic. This is a key feature in what educators call Information Fluencya triad of domain knowledge, critical thinking and presentation & participation – a state of competency in any subject.

The University of Alaska, Fairbanks has mapped out some common activities that occur as part of the Information Fluency triad:

Although this concept is used in the education world, I think it has a great deal of significance in the business world as well. Think about it like this: You have a person supporting a new product (I’m going to use ‘his’ just for ease of writing). That person needs to increase his knowledge about the product and does so by talking with others, reading user guides, observing other support people (domain knowledge). As knowledge increases, he can start analyzing issues, explaining problems, etc. (critical thinking). As he becomes an expert, he might blog about the product, speak at OpenWorld, or serve as a mentor to new people (presentation & participation).

The Information Fluency triad provides the model for defining competency; the Personal Learning Environment identifies the tools and resources used to achieve that competency. Understanding these two components might make us better at helping our people learn the things they need to be successful in their roles.

Overall, I think mapping your Personal Learning Environment is an interesting exercise as it gives you the opportunity to:

  • See how you access information and what you do with that information
  • Identify areas of strengths
  • Identify areas for improving knowledge and/or productivity
  • Use it as a discussion point with your manager
  • Use it to define opportunities for your development plan
  • Reflect on how you learn and how you are motivated

So, my challenge to you is this: map out your personal learning environment.

If you’re concerned about what it should look like, don’t be. Google ‘personal learning environment’ and click “Images.” You will see that a PLE is as unique as any one individual. Start small and take your time – PLEs are meant to be dynamic and will change and adapt to your learning needs and goals.

Those teachers talked about a lot of other things around the fire that night, but I’ll save those for another post!


My blog is a look inside my head on ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff. I manage Oracle's Managing at Oracle team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!


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