PLENK 2010: Just Like ‘Watching Football’

Stefanie PankeBy Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

This week marked the start of  PLENK 2010, a seven week online course on personal learning networks (PLNs) and personal learning environments (PLEs). The “Massive Open Online Course“ (MOOC) is sponsored and organized by the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute (TEKRI) of the Canadian Athabasca University. George Siemens (TEKRI), Stephen Downes (National Research Council of Canada), Dave Cormier (University of Prince Edward Island), and Rita Kop (National Research Council of Canada) serve as facilitators. In addition, several invited speakers will attend the weekly live sessions. More than 1300 participants have registered in the Moodle platform so far.

[Note: Please see Jan Schwartz‘s “Learnings from a MOOC” re the inaugural MOOC in 2008. -js]

This first week was dedicated to gaining a clear understanding of basic terms and concepts and negotiating the procedures and rules of collaboration. From this week’s reading list, I have compiled a collection of definitions for the concept PLE:

The term personal learning environment (PLE) describes the tools, communities, and services that constitute the individual educational platforms learners use to direct their own learning and pursue educational goals. […] the term encompasses the entire set of resources that a learner uses to answer questions, provide context, and illustrate processes. […] the term refers not to a specific service or application but rather to an idea of how individuals approach the task of learning. (Educause, 2009)

The idea behind the personal learning environment is that the management of learning migrates from the institution to the learner. The PLE connects to a number of remote services, some that specialise in learning and some that do not. Access to learning becomes access to the resources and services offered by these remote services. The PLE allows the learner not only to consume learning resources, but to produce them as well. Learning therefore evolves from being a transfer of content and knowledge to the production of content and knowledge. (Downes, 2007, 19)

The critical design flaws inherent in today’s learning systems can be addressed through adopting a new design pattern that shifts emphasis away from the isolated experience of the modular VLE. We characterize this new pattern a Personal Learning Environment, although unlike the VLE this is primarily a pattern concerned with the practices of users in learning with diverse technologies, rather than a category of software. (Wilson, et al. 2006)

PLEs are the tools, artefacts, processes, and physical connections that allow learners to control and manage their learning. (Couros, 2010, 125).

In the general discussion forum, Steven Greene, junior high teacher in Edmonton, Alberta (CA), came up with some interesting observations: Is this MOOC a PLE? Of course it is, isn’t it? . . . I think my learning environment must be something that I create, but there must also be other larger entities that are accessed, this MOOC being only one of several possibilities. I am the nucleus of my own PLE with dendrites reaching out into other larger and more organized learning environments, thus if I use this branch, rather than another possible branch, it then becomes a part of my PLE, but only if I take advantage of it.

In today’s Elluminate Web conference session, Dave Cormier encouraged the participants to develop two “live slides.” The approximately 110 participants were asked to brainstorm on the meaning of personal learning networks and personal learning environments – an impressive experiment.

Click to zoom in.

Afterwards, the organizers gave their point of view. Rita Kop described the difference between PLE/PLN as less important: “I always thought they were the same thing, because I saw it used interchangeably between my UK and Canadian colleagues.” Stephen Downes emphasizes that the original concept was the PLE, used to describe a specific kind of infrastructure. The term “PLN” was introduced to shift the focus towards the action of people. Dave Cormier warned that there is a tendency to believe that a “personal network” is “a network that belongs to me,” which by definition, would not be  a network.

Both the discussion and readings helped me to refine my understanding of both concepts. To me, the term personal learning network refers to processes and structures within the personal learning environment. Another personal learning outcome is my new awareness of the importance of “curation” in online classes, an issue I have not yet thought about. A great deal of discussion time was dedicated to the problem of curation, that is, how to make the results of a forum or live discussion available without having to read through all comments. Dave Cormier and the participants vented different ideas and approaches – from structuring the process of curation in a wiki and using word clouds like Wordle and visualizations like concept maps to discourse analysis and approaches from computational linguistics.

Stephen Downes encouraged participants to be selective in their attention and activities within the class. “Think of it as football.  People do not stop watching football just because they cannot watch everything!”

5 Responses

  1. Stefanie,

    I am glad you wrote this post. I had registered for the course but had not gotten any information about getting started. I went to the website, and honestly, I felt like I had fallen into the deep end of the pool. I swam around a bit and finally found a discussion area with introductions. I know how to do that! After writing a short intro, I swam over to another discussion area and found a survey which I completed. A lot of the questions were about PLEs and since I had no idea what a PLE was, my answers may not be very useful ;-) Then I bobbed around and found a reference to a video Downes had made about setting up an RSS feed. I watched it several times and then set up a test blog and added my RSS feed. I have no idea what an RSS feed is and why I would want to do it, but I did it. At this point, I finally found the course instructions in the blog! Now I feel like I am treading water at least. See you there. Lynn

    • Lynn, I am glad you liked the summary and we can meet next week for more discussion on PLEs! And you might want to add the RSS-feed of ETC, now you went through the trouble to set up an RSS reader!

  2. Hi Stefanie – thanks for posting your reflections! I missed the session so it’s a good overview.

    In terms of curatorial teaching – I’ve explored this briefly here: and

    Educators play an important role in curating resources when no clear content path is available. Ideally, we’d have the option of “sensemaking and wayfiinding” through social systems…and for those less adventurous, a system of greater structure with clear learning paths.


    • Hi George! Last year I read “New Media in the White Cube and Beyond – Curatorial Models for Digital Art” edited by Christiane Paul – mainly because I had an – unfortunately non-successful – job interview at her department at the New School. I was intrigued by the highly developed field of digital curatorial practices, but never made the link to e-learning, and particularly not to open learning and connectivism. Now I can read the book again in a new light. Thanks for that!

  3. […] session (recording available here) and I saw a lot of re-tweets for this blog post – PLENK 2010: Just Like ‘Watching Football’ – by Stefanie Panke. (Stefanie later got a mention by George in The […]

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