M.C. Garcia

University of Dundee (UNITED KINGDOM)
There is no single definition for a Personal Learning Environment, as it is a notion difficult to conceptualise: Attwell (2007) highlights that it is not a software product, but a paradigm shift in the way that we understand and use educational technologies. Wilson et al (2007) express its learner-centred philosophy and the symmetry in the relationship between tutor-learner. Downes (2007) describes a PLE as a portal to the world through which learners can create and explore according to their own needs and therefore, “it is a tool that allows a learner (...) to engage in a distributed environment consisting of a network of people, services and resources” (2007, p 24). Ravet and Attwell (2007) provide a compelling metaphor about the nature of PLEs and eportfolios defining the latter as the DNA and raison d'être of a PLE, without which “a PLE is nothing more than a glorified LMS or VLE” (2007, p 4).

One of the most complete definitions of the term is provided by Educase (2009): “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”. This definition reifies the double nature of the PLE as a framework or plethora of services that enable the creation and connection of meaning in the context of a community of enquiry.

Reinhard (2009) and Ravet (2007) have identified reflection and connection as the key functions of a PLE. Web 2.0 technologies are software tools that allow individuals to gather and exchange information in a network, as well as authoring and distributing multimedia content. The popularisation of these technologies, along with the emerging theory of connectivism (Siemens 2005) – in which learning can rest in a community or network and a learner can improve their own learning exponentially by connecting to a network - may lead to the temptation of considering PLEs as some kind of read-write-share web 2.0 application.

Yet learning is a complex process. It involves two modes of thinking: one discursive, active and rational, focused on the creation and sharing of knowledge, and the other reflective, insightful and receptive, focused on the apprehension of knowledge (Levys 2007). A well designed PLE should support both modes of thinking: active and reflective. Learning is the “result of sharing the world”, as Downes suggests (2007, p.27), but also the result of contemplating the world.

This paper analyses how a PLE should address and support the two dimensions of learning, reflective and active, linking them with the core functions of reflection and connection. This paper introduces the theoretical model of the Artefact-Actor-Networks (AAN) as the Solomonic solution that can best balance reflection and networking. This paper also describes the main characteristics of an architectural approach based on the AAN model.