PLEs: Is “personal” also “social”?

Are Personal Learning Environments only about “personal” or also about “social”? Here are some thoughts and questions:

Ilona: It seems to me that the focus on “personal” in the discussion on PLEs makes people think that learners are isolated, on their own, not communicating, while actually “personal” is more about individual, learner-centered, learner-owned. The social has been somehow pre-programmed to PLEs, especially with Web 2.0, but not thematised explicitly, so maybe that’s why the PLN concept was created to fill out this “social” missing. How much social is there in PLEs and what’s the difference to concepts such as CSCL?

Ademar: Ultimately, “personal” and “social” are different terms, but closely related, for sure, since there is no “social” without “personal”. In terms of LEs, I see difference between using Personal LE or Social LE, only in the emphasis of each term, i.e., although both have commonalities, PLE seem to focus “more” on the individual, personal learning, and SLE suggest that focus “more” on the aspects of learning together, in a more social way, and therefore favors some features more than others. I see also PLN as a term closer to SLE, but by not having the LE in the term, it seems that emphasises the network, the contacts, the links of the social graph, and not the learning environment itself.  CSCL as a concept can be placed very close to PLN and SLE and … etc. The point is again the same for me: where is the emphasis in the terms? In CSCL the emphasis was on having the learning process supported by computers. Since today everything is supported by computers, the term CSCL sounds antique for me, and not really grasping anymore the essence of learning with technology.

Ricardo: I agree with Ilona that the “social” was somehow implied in PLEs, but not explicitly, and I think that’s where the PLN concept emerged. In other words, I think that PLEs foster PLNs. I have been thinking about this for a while, and I think that it could be argued that the creation of a Digital Identity is the foundation of a PLE, which allows the learner to develop connections that in turn create a PLN. If you want to take this one step further, in terms of the learning process, maybe this sequence is one of the drivers behind MOOCs. In fact, in a MOOC you’ll see both “social” and “personal” sides of the digital support to learning processes. As Ademar says, the emphasis is put on different elements, but it is true that there is no social without personal – and, in the end, we are still talking about learning, whether it is alone or as a part of a community – or both.

What do you think? Join the discussion!

Ilona Buchem, Ademar Aguiar and Ricardo Torres

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