#H800 My Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and the OU’s VLE

My PLE
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Starting from the different digital tools I’m using, I created a mindmap of my own Personal Learning Environment (PLE).  I tried out different designs, but found that a separation of ‘target groups’ or ‘motivations’ wasn’t helpful.  Some of the tools can be nicely classified, but others I use interchangeably for learning, work and leisure, such as Google Reader, Diigo, Calibre and Twitter, adhering to the concepts of ‘lifelong’ and ‘lifewide’ learning.

My PLE …anno 2011

Creating my PLE made me realize how many tools I’m using.  There are around 20 tools in my PLE, not taking into account some obvious ones such as Google (for searching), Google mail and Wikipedia.  Quite some are Web 2.0 tools.  Tools such as Picasa (for photos), YouTube (for videos) and SlideShare and Prezi (for presentations) are convenient for storage and let you share stuff in the same breadth.  Much more people access my presentations through Slideshare than through viewing them on a workshop or conference. Using these tools for storing (and sharing) instead of my desktop computer has strongly expanded my PLE in a short time.
Studies, both formal with the OU (H800) and informally through participating at MOOC’s (LAK11), have expanded my PLE as well, bringing me in contact with tools such as Diigo, Netvibes (ditched again in the meantime) and Elluminate.
Mobile 2.0 tools are rather absent from PLE, with Calibre (for e-book management) as an exception.  I’m a reluctant user of iTunes – I like Apple devices, but hate being locked in by dreadful programmes such as iTunes – and I receive tweets as sms on my cell phone, a great service offered for free by the Cambodian telecom industry.
There is some integration of tools in the PLE mostly grouped around Google (Picasa, Google Reader, Google Mail) and the Moodle module of the OU.  Overall, however, most tools are used in isolation and for one specific purpose. 

PLE vs VLE?
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In the PLE vs VLE debate, my opinion is heavily affected by my experience with the (Moodle) system we’re using within H800.  I find that approach rather well-balanced.  We’re invited to explore a lot of externally hosted tools such as Compendium, Twitter, Diigo and Google Reader.  A VLE with a basic, but robust forum, wiki and blogging functionalities is used for the ‘core’ communication with each other and the tutor. 

I find it important that a course (in particular on technology-enhanced learning) stimulates learners to develop their own PLE in order to enable us to continue our learning informally afterwards.  On the other hand, I also like the ‘brand identity’ a VLE offers.  I also agree with the arguments that not all learners (and lecturers) are equally tech-savvy (and thus able to create an efficient PLE) and that assessment –related tasks should use internally-hosted systems.
Within our group of students the VLE offers a convenient one-stop place, where we can read and react on each other’s comments.  Try-outs with everyone blogging (on different blogging platforms) for course posts went nowhere, because it was much more time consuming to visit everyone’s blog for reading and commenting.  If you stimulate learners to develop a PLE, the logical outcome will be that everyone has a different set of tools, and communication will end up more fragmented than in a one-stop shop, where everything happens.
The introduction of Google Apps for Education and Elluminate within the OU VLE indicate that the boundaries between internally hosted VLEs and externally hosted Web 2.0 tools are blurring.  So, it looks like the debate might be settling itself.
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