Guillaume Janssen

E-Learning with Personal Learning Environments: A Generic Conceptual Model

MSc Intelligent Computer Assisted Learning Systems Under the supervision of Annette McElligott

Faculty of Science and Engineering Department of Computer Science and Information Systems University of Limerick September 2009

Table of Contents

Abstract................................................................................................................................................. 3 CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................... 4 1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE RESEARCH ......................................................................................................... 4 1.2 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES AND TERMINOLOGY ......................................................................................... 4 1.3 JUSTIFICATION FOR THE RESEARCH....................................................................................................... 6 1.4 METHODOLOGY .................................................................................................................................... 6 1.5 DELIMITATIONS OF SCOPE AND KEY ASSUMPTIONS ............................................................................... 7 CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW ................................................................................................... 9 2.1 FROM CAL TO E-LEARNING ................................................................................................................. 9 2.2 INTELLIGENT TUTORING SYSTEMS ..................................................................................................... 10 2.3 CONSTRUCTIVISM, SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM .................................. 12 2.4 CONSTRUCTIVIST LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS AND LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS ................... 13 2.5 PROPRIETARY AND OPEN-SOURCE PLATFORMS ................................................................................... 15 2.6 CHALLENGES FACING E-LEARNING .................................................................................................... 16 2.7 WEB 2.0.............................................................................................................................................. 17 2.8 E-LEARNING 2.0 ................................................................................................................................. 19 2.9 CONNECTIVISM AND NETWORKED LEARNING ..................................................................................... 20 2.10 LIMITATIONS OF LMS AS A DOMINANT DESIGN AND EMERGENCE OF THE PLE CONCEPT ................. 22 2.11 KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT AND PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT..................................... 25 2.12 INFORMAL LEARNING ....................................................................................................................... 26 2.13 COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE ............................................................................................................. 26 2.14 THE PLE CONCEPT: A DEFINITION..................................................................................................... 27 CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH DESIGN ....................................................................................................... 34 3.1 POTENTIAL APPROACHES .................................................................................................................... 34 3.2 THE PERSONALBRAIN SOFTWARE ....................................................................................................... 35 3.3 A GENERIC TOOLKIT ........................................................................................................................... 36 3.4 TERMINOLOGY.................................................................................................................................... 40 CHAPTER 4: ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS ........................................................................................... 44 4.1 NOTES ON THE PERSONALBRAIN SOFTWARE ...................................................................................... 44 4.2 RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTIONS ................................................................................................... 44 4.3 THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE ............................................................................. 49 4.4 A CONNECTIVIST PESPECTIVE ............................................................................................................. 51 CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS........................................................... 53 BIBLIOGRAPHY ...................................................................................................................................... 54 Articles:............................................................................................................................................... 54 Videos: ................................................................................................................................................ 58 Online slideshows: .............................................................................................................................. 59 Blogs ................................................................................................................................................... 59 Wikis: .................................................................................................................................................. 59 APPENDIX I – WEBSITES REFERENCED IN THE PLE CONCEPTUAL MODEL...................... 61


This project seeks to assess the emergence of Personal Learning Environments both as a concept and as a new set of tools in the area of E-Learning. While existing learning or instructional design theories within formal education have traditionally been adopted in E-Learning to deliver content in the form of Learning Management Systems for instance, recent technological and sociological developments are starting to challenge this dominant design. Over the last few years, Web 2.0 technologies have enabled a more active user participation, interaction and collaboration which in turn have affected the way people learn in general. A new learning theory like Connectivism theory is echoing these changes while at the same time acknowledging that the process of knowledge acquisition is no longer confined to formal education. Learning also takes place in informal settings, in the workplace and is increasingly becoming a social activity. A user-centric Personal Learning Environment can support these new approaches to learning in a wide range of contexts. This research proposes a conceptual model for a generic Personal Learning Environment using the PersonalBrain mind-mapping software. Even though every individual user of a PLE will have a different perspective and require separate tools to fulfil distinct objectives, the proposed generic PLE conceptual model demonstrates that it can fulfil core activities of searching, analysing, authoring, collaborating, organising and presenting.


Chapter 1: Introduction
1.1 Background to the research
The background to this particular project stems from my personal experience. Following my move from France to Ireland eleven years ago, I worked in industry for eight years during which I made extensive use of my employer’s company-based Content Management System (CMS). I then decided to return to full time education where I have attended courses in two third-level institutions. During these two years, I used three different Learning Management Systems (LMS), namely Blackboard, Sakai and Moodle. Unless I saved or bookmarked on my own system any relevant information, documentation, file or reference (from an e-mail, forum entry, discussion thread etc.) that might be relevant at a later stage, this data was no longer accessible. In the case of my employment, I left the company and therefore no longer had access to the company’s CMS, and in the case of my third-level education, access logins to modules are no longer active on either LMS because I am no longer a registered student of the institution. In both cases, the learning was tied to an affiliation to a “brick and mortar” organisation, which can no longer be said to correspond to the world of today where information proliferates and careers are expected to change several times. This problem raises a key question which this research proposes to address: Can the implementation of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) overcome these difficulties and in doing so, support lifelong learning activities across organisations and institutions?

1.2 Research objectives and terminology
Several authors, researchers or learning technologists have come up with various definitions and visual examples of PLEs in their respective blogs1, and the purpose of this project is not to review or assess them in detail. These models are “personal” and



therefore valid to the user at the time of their publication. A PLE model which works for one user might not work for another. The fact that we are dealing with complex, subjective and valid perspectives constitutes a major challenge to this type of research. The objective of this research is not to provide a new PLE but to generate a framework or more precisely a conceptual model for a generic PLE that can be linked to a generic toolkit and adapted to the specific needs of the user. This conceptual model will attempt to synthesise existing approaches to learning which take place in different contexts (cf. Chapter 4). 1. Formal and Lifelong Education perspective. A student within a formal education framework will approach learning activities in terms of learning objectives and outcomes with a view to obtaining certification (Attwell, 2007b). These approaches are explored in further detail in the context of E-Learning (cf. Sections 2.1, and 2.4 to 2.6) 2. The Informal Learning perspective. The informal learner will approach learning activities with a business perspective. All learning activities must “add value” to existing activities within the workplace or the community. (Cross, 2007 and 2008). Informal Learning is defined more precisely in Section 2.12. 3. The Knowledge Management perspective. The knowledge worker will approach learning activities in terms of information needs and required competencies (Dorsey, 2001). Section 2.11 discusses Knowledge Management and more precisely Personal Knowledge Management (PKM). 4. The essential context of Communities of Practice (CoP) underpins genuine learning activities, formal or informal (Wenger, undated). CoP is defined in Section 2.13. 5. The Connectivist perspective which attempts to reconcile all of the above by recognizing that learning is a lifelong and continual process enhanced by technology, whereby work related and learning activities are no longer


separate (Siemens, 2004). Connectivism as a new learning theory and networked learning are explained in Section 2.9.

Can a generic conceptual model based on a Web 2.0 software toolkit capture all these approaches to learning and be tailored to a specific user?

1.3 Justification for the research
Most of the literature discussing PLEs is concerned with their potential use in higher education (Siemens, 2006; Attwell, 2007a and 2007b; Daalsgard, 2008; Wilson et al. 2006) and in general contrasts PLEs with LMS and their limitations (cf. Section 2.10). At the same time, the Web 2.0 revolution has had a ripple effect on many aspects of society in general (O’Reilly, 2005 and Alexander, 2006) and we now find the suffix “2.0” attached to all kinds of generic terms such as “Business”, “Enterprise”, “Library”, “Government”, “Management” etc (cf. Section 2.7). In other words, all these terms are integrating in their process some form of web-based interaction, user empowerment, real time social and collaborative activities, all of which are enabled by Web 2.0 technology. It sounds therefore legitimate to cross the boundaries of learning activities which have been traditionally confined to “brick and mortar” institutions and explore ways in which E-Learning takes place in the community and in the work place. In general, I believe the PLE concept to be a valid approach to E-Learning that is no longer restricted to higher education.

1.4 Methodology
The methodology used for this particular project is essentially a case study based on existing data and therefore can be described as qualitative secondary research centred on content analysis. The difficulty with such a perspective is that we are dealing with subjective approaches which might suffer from a particular bias. While I found there was an obvious consensus in the literature dealing with PLEs and all its associated concepts, I


also came across contradicting perspectives regarding the implementation of PLEs when compared with existing and established LMS (cf. Sections 2.10 and 2.14). This study is therefore purely speculative since PLEs remain an “emerging concept” that have not yet gained widespread adoption.

1.5 Delimitations of scope and key assumptions
Since this project is essentially focused on Web 2.0 technologies, the conceptual model I am putting forward is also based on existing Web 2.0 tools and is browser-based. I believe this approach requires the least level of technical This approach also allows for

knowledge for a potential implementation.

increased flexibility and transferability. The main drawback associated with a browser-based PLE is the need for multiple logins, even though Google or Apple Mac users for instance can access dozens of tools with the same login. As opposed to LMS (data-centric), PLEs are user-centric. I have therefore placed the user at the centre of the conceptual model. The PLE conceptual model describes learning activities and strategies which are all concerned with the manipulation of data which remains external to the PLE. I have associated this generic PLE conceptual model with a list of Web 2.0 tools. This choice reflects widespread usage on the part of both individual users and learning professionals (cf. Chapter 3). As well as that, there is an increasing body of knowledge available regarding the evaluation of Web 2.0 tools such as social bookmarking2, social networking3 or blogs4 and their use in higher education. PLEs are not meant to replace CMS or LMS (Jones et al. 2008). The latter remain essential as knowledge bases and internal communication platforms (CMS) or for assessment, grading and administrative purposes (LMS).

Krause et al (2007) “A Comparison of Social Bookmarking with Traditional Search”. Fitzgerald et al (2009) “Digital Learning Communities: Investigating the use of social software to support networked learning”. 4 Williams and Jacobs (2004) “Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector”.



Section 2.1 will provide the necessary background to contextualise and understand the emergence of the PLE as a new concept and its potential ability to support E-Learning activities in higher education, in the workplace or simply self-directed learning.


Chapter 2: Literature Review
2.1 From CAL to E-Learning
If one can describe a PLE as a technological support for any type of learning activity, then it becomes necessary to investigate the field of Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) and its evolution over the last few decades, i.e. ever since technology was first used to support learning. In all cases, technology enhances or enables the learning process to take place, and that same technology cannot be separated from the pedagogy or theory that underpins it. This aspect is always critical when it comes to understanding why different technological approaches have become prominent over the years. The American psychologist and theorist of Behaviorism B.F. Skinner was the first to experiment with programmed instruction in the 1950s (Mergel, 1998). However, it was not until the 1970s with the development of Personal Computers (PC) that Computer Based Training (CBT) or Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) became more prominent. A student can learn new skills by executing specific instructions from a computer based program, or tutorial, and such activities are generally self-paced. CD-ROMs and the increase in power of PCs over the years have greatly increased the possibilities offered by CBT, even though such activities remain expensive if used on a large scale both for the industry and the education sector. From the late 1980s onwards, the invention and rapid expansion of the World Wide Web (WWW) has had a considerable impact on business practices in general, including the education sector. Tim Berners-Lee, an English

researcher working for the CERN in Geneva, is generally credited as the inventor of the WWW. The basic idea was to link hypertext documents using Hyper Text Mark-up Language (HTML) and access them through the already existing internet via browsers (Wikipedia 2009). At that stage, several networks were already in place and used mainly by the army or by universities and researchers, but they were working in isolation. The internet as we know it today enabled all these existing networks to be connected together and communicate between themselves. Standards and protocols are supported and


developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and research is ongoing. As a consequence, this new situation has had an enormous impact on how we perceive knowledge in general and how we approach the acquisition or transfer of the same knowledge. Information is ubiquitous, and an enormous amount of information can now be accessed online. In technological terms, the advent of this new digital age has brought about new “affordances”. In other words, technology is affecting and extending our learning capabilities from an economic (faster access to information), social (increased communication and collaboration), cognitive (how we learn) and affective (motivation) point of view (Gagné et al. 2004). The combination of new technological affordances and the impact of the internet have clearly broadened the horizons of CAL. Today, E-Learning is considered a generic term for web-enabled teaching and learning that also encompasses other approaches such as online or offline learning, distance learning or blended learning. The latter describes a mix of traditional face-to-face and classroom-based teaching with E-Learning practices and has become a very common mode of teaching delivery especially in third level education. Nichols (2008) defines E-Learning as “pedagogy enhanced by digital

technology” where effective E-Learning is dependent on sound pedagogy.

2.2 Intelligent Tutoring Systems
Ong and Ramachandran (2000) describe Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS) as computer based training systems drawing on elements of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in order to “adapt” the content of the training to the student. Ideally, the goal of an ITS is to provide the benefits of personalised instruction as if it was provided by a single tutor, but in an automatic and much more cost effective manner. The main characteristic of an ITS is the ability to make inferences, i.e. to mimic the reasoning of the student when it comes to his knowledge and the mastery of a particular topic. This is how the concept of the “student model” has been developed (Wenger, cited in Urban-Lurain, 1996). In an expert system, a student model gathers data about the student by tracking the student’s navigation and interaction in order to create an adequate representation of the student’s learning process. In doing so, the system is able to adapt to the student’s pace by 10

presenting and selecting new information in a more personalised fashion (Ong and Ramachandran, 2000). In his analysis, Murray (1999) has reviewed the respective strengths and limitations of seven broad categories of ITS authoring tools and has also argued that while “ITS authoring tools are still research vehicles which have demonstrated significant success in limited cases, [they] have not been made robust enough to be placed and supported in production contexts or commercial markets.” Moundridou and Virvou (2002) echo the same concern and also point out that the complexity of ITS in terms of the time it takes to develop them, the amount of resources needed (human effort and cost) do not make them very attractive to potential buyers like universities or educational bodies. The words “prototype” and “stand alone” are often used to describe such

systems. Most of them can be described as “Expert Systems” i.e. they are built to suit a particular (and sometimes very limited) domain of application. The declining attraction for traditional ITS in the education sector must therefore be evaluated against the recent explosion or the WWW and the wide range of options it offers for educators from a technological point of view. As well as that, much of the research and development in AI now takes place within the very lucrative adaptive and serious games sector where the initial idea of the student model can be implemented in much more interactive and attractive fashion. At the same time, the Semantic Web vision, as it is currently developed by the W3C, is also trying to achieve a more intelligent, adaptive and personalised access of web-based information. Finally, UrbanLurain (1996) argues that another reason for the decline of ITS is the emergence and increased influence of educational psychology in the design of learning tools and technology. Whereas much of ITS technology was grounded in behaviourism and

cognitivism, the emergence of constructivism and social constructivism in the 1990s forced a re-think of the existing model of knowledge.


2.3 Constructivism, social constructivism and social constructionism
Central to every new theoretical or epistemological assumption regarding instructional design is the approach to learning and knowledge. As pointed out by Ertmer and Newby (1993), the philosophical assumptions of older behavioural and cognitive learning theories are essentially objectivist in the sense that the environment is external to the learner. In behaviourism, learning equates to a change in overt or observable

performance where learning occurs though a mechanism of stimulus and response. The early prototypes of computer based programmed instruction adopted a clear behaviourist approach. As for cognitivism, learning is equated to a change in knowledge stored in the learner’s memory. Learning and “knowledge acquisition is described as a mental activity that entails internal coding and structuring by the learner” (Ertmer and Newby 1993, p. 58). In the context of E-Learning today, the techniques employed in the design of online courses or teaching units (such as Gagné’s nine events of instruction) still draw extensively on cognitive principles (Gagné et al. 2004). On one hand, constructivist theories developed as a criticism of behaviourism, but at the same time, we can talk of progression, gradual evolutionary progress or even continuum to describe the evolution of instructional design as a theory. Jonassen (1999) elaborates on the notion of progression and introduces the notion of a fundamental philosophical change from “objectivism” to constructivism. With constructivism, reality is subjective, i.e. it is determined by the learner. From an instructional design point of view, this paradigm shift between objectivism and constructivism equates to a shift from teaching to active learning, from a passive transfer of facts to a mechanism of creation of meaning by the individual learner. In constructivism, learning therefore equates to an internal change in meaning which is “constructed” from experience and previous knowledge. The constructivist approach encourages learning by doing and by tackling ill-defined problems that require a wide range of problem solving skills. Social constructivism then extends constructivism by emphasising the importance of culture and context in forming understanding. Social constructivism draws heavily on the work of the Russian psychologist Vygotsky who defined learning as a social construct


mediated by language via social discourse (Vygotsky, cited in McMahon, 1997). Learning becomes a social process whereby meaningful learning occurs when individuals become engaged in collaborative activities. Knowledge is also a human product that is culturally and socially constructed (Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology, 2009). The term constructionism or social constructionism is often confused or associated with social constructivism when this learning theory developed by Seymour Papert actually elaborates on the constructivist theory. The difference is however subtle: learning, meaning and knowledge are still actively and socially constructed, but constructionism adds the idea that this process takes place especially when the learner is engaged in building artefacts or shareable objects, whether it is a mechanical object, a theory or a multimedia project (Papert and Haret, 1991). These various theoretical approaches to learning are basically underpinning today’s E-Learning technical implementations and applications which I will review in the next section.

2.4 Constructivist Learning Environments and Learning Management Systems
Comparing and contrasting theoretical approaches becomes critical when it comes to explaining and understanding instructional design strategies in the context of ELearning and the technological affordances of the WWW. Today’s Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are providing the technical tools and platforms to enable web-based (social) constructivist learning. From a theoretical point of view, such a platform is commonly described as a web-based Constructivist Learning Environment (CLE), while the same platform is also referred to as a LMS and sometimes termed a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) from a more commercial point of view. For instance, Jonassen (1999) and Moallem (2001) have proposed a theoretical model for designing a web-based CLE based on the assumption that knowledge is individually and socially co-constructed by the learners. To be effective, a web-based CLE must include a certain number of components and strategies to support the learner’s


performance. While the driving force of the CLE is the case, problem or project, a CLE must also include components and mechanisms to represent the problem context (beliefs, social and cultural values, statistics, background and so forth), the problem representation (stories, scenarios, narratives) and the problem manipulation space (tools to mediate parameters and facts). In order for the learner to “construct” his or her interpretation of the problem with the eventual objective of finding one solution, he or she must be presented with related cases and additional information resources to understand the complexity of the problem and the multiple viewpoints or perspectives. Computer or web-based collaboration and conversation tools also participate in the knowledge construction process (Jonassen, 1999). It is also essential to note that, while the terminology points to a unique pedagogical approach (constructivism), Moallem (2001) has demonstrated that a webbased CLE is bound to provide a mixture of cognitive and constructivist tools. A

traditional (cognitive) design model is best suited to elicit the nine levels of instruction as suggested by Gagné, whereas a constructivist design model is more efficient in terms of supporting a case-based or ill-defined problem. Also, the wealth of new possibilities offered by ICT enables instructional designers to cater for different learning styles (visual/verbal and non-verbal, tactile and auditory) by using various multimedia tools such as interactive graphs, charts and diagrams, animation, audio, video files and so forth (Gagné, 2004). In other words, it is critical to identify the learning context in order to design the adequate content and approach to instruction. Since the late 1990s, these theoretical design principles have been implemented commercially into LMS which can be described as platforms dedicated to the support, management and delivery of online or E-Learning courses. LMS have also been widely adopted by third level institutions to support blended learning (Wilson et al. 2006). LMS are generic templates comprising a series of tools which can be tailored by course designers to cater for a variety of applications and domains. While the specific design may vary across vendors and suppliers, all LMS provide more or less the same set of representative tools. These include web pages to present and structure the course content (text and multimedia), electronic files and links pointing to other resources or synchronous and asynchronous communication tools (chat rooms, discussion forums,


threaded group discussions and messaging) (Nichols, 2008, Wang et al. 2009). These interactive tools are used by the learner and by the instructor. Whether in a blended learning or distance learning situation, interactive collaboration tools become primordial for supporting the students by “modelling, coaching and scaffolding” their individual learning process (Jonassen, 1999). In some cases, LMS are not utilised to their full potential by institutions but they are primarily used for course and module management. LMS are able to facilitate student enrolment, self or formal assessment and testing (online multiple choice questionnaires, quizzes), manage assignment deadlines, grading and content uploading. They also

provide extensive reporting and tracking facilities. In most cases, LMS have become the default repository for resources, course specific announcements and administrative support.

2.5 Proprietary and open-source platforms
There are several LMS platforms available on the market, some of them proprietary and others open source. Institutions and organisations deciding to select a LMS as a learning support tool will evaluate the various options against a set of criteria such as functionality, ease of use, integration with existing standards such as Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), scalability and cost. Blackboard5 for instance is the dominant provider of licensed LMS platforms, while Moodle6 and Sakai7 have proven increasingly popular in the last few years as open source alternatives. It is interesting to note that Moodle was initially developed in 2002 by Martin Dougiamas, an Australian PhD student, with a specific social constructionist approach. While the objective of this section is not to go through the pros and cons of proprietary versus open source software, there is no denying of the fact that a platform like Moodle offers much more flexibility as it is constantly reviewed and improved by a community of educators and researchers. It is also built on existing open source

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standards such as PHP and MySQL and can be installed either on a PC or on a large server. This platform has therefore proven very popular with small to middle-sized organisations that can benefit from a powerful set of tools at minimal cost. Moodle has also been adopted by the Open University in the UK to accommodate in excess of 200,000 users (Moodle, 2009). Also, the wider appeal of institutions for open source software can be explained by their desire to retain autonomy over the instruction process (OECD, 2005).

2.6 Challenges facing E-Learning
While the recent and phenomenal progress of ICT has made a substantial impact on the tertiary education sector, several authors and reports note that the vision of ELearning as a true distance learning tool for entire courses has failed to materialise (OECD, 2005 and Nichols, 2008). Face to face classroom-based teaching remains

dominant, and in a lot of cases, universities are more interested in using E-Learning and blended learning to improve or make their own campus-based programmes more attractive than to expand internationally into new markets and promote complete online undergraduate or postgraduate programmes for instance. At the same time, the

widespread use of LMS in tertiary education has had more of an impact on administrative services than on the actual instructional possibilities (Dalsgaard, 2006). Nichols (2008) notes that what is perceived as a “failure of E-Learning in education tend to be due to a failure in implementation rather than a failure in E-Learning itself”. There also remains a certain number of barriers to the widespread adoption of ELearning such as concerns about intellectual property, the issue of staff development (some older members of the staff are more reluctant to use or promote computer and web-based tools) or a general scepticism about the pedagogic value of E-Learning (OECD, 2005). While OECD’s “E-Learning in Tertiary Education” report (2005) provided a comprehensive and up to date assessment, the years 2004 and 2005 also witnessed the emergence of new technologies and concepts that have radically altered (or that are in the process of altering) traditional approaches to E-learning, namely “Web 2.0” as a new 16

collaborative, social, dynamic, distributed, decentralised and open source approach, “ELearning 2.0” as a new student-centric approach to e-learning using Web 2.0 tools and technology and “Connectivism” as a new learning theory, acknowledging the emergence of networks and connected knowledge. These new concepts are now challenging and exposing the limitations of LMS as centralised, content-centric and administrative tools. This particular context supports the emergence of the PLE as an alternative approach to E-Learning.

2.7 Web 2.0
The expression of “Web 2.0” was popularised in 2004 by Tim O’Reilly, a businessman and co-founder of O’Reilly Media at the O’Reilly Media conference in 2004. His reasoning was subsequently published on his own website8 as the seminal “What is Web 2.0?” article which has been widely referred to since by any author or researcher referring to the term. This article is not so much a technical review of a new type of web, but rather a sort of state of the art of the recent developments in the area of the WWW and how certain clear trends are beginning to emerge. The essential

difference here is that these changes are not technology-driven but business-driven. While the Web 1.0 incarnation of the WWW could be described as a medium (involving browsing, searching and reading static or hyperlinked web pages), Web 2.0 becomes an open platform or a read/write web. O’Reilly argues that one of the main aspects of Web 2.0 is that it signals the end of software as a product such as Microsoft Windows9 for instance (Windows 2000; Windows XP, Windows Vista and so forth.). In other words, we notice a shift to a totally different business model (single proprietary software provider vs open systems using open agreements and standards). A multitude of companies have “embraced the power of the web to harness collective intelligence” to deliver open source software. It is now possible to install for free on any PC or laptop the Open Office10 package running on a

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Linux11 Operating System using Mozilla Firefox12 as a browser and Google13 as a search engine. None of these applications are sold or packaged but are delivered as a service. Web 2.0 applications recognise that users can add value to software delivered as a service, and that “users must be treated as co-developers”. Contrary to traditional

software, these products are in a “perpetual beta” state i.e. they evolve constantly as users add or test new features in a peer to peer fashion. Much of the infrastructure of the web today relies on open source software such as Apache14, MySql15, PHP16 and so forth. Another key feature of Web 2.0 is its participatory nature. Web 2.0 technologies enable users to create, share, modify or tag content. Using wiki software, innovative companies such as Wikipedia17 have unlocked access to knowledge by letting users add or edit entries, as opposed to academic and peer reviewed encyclopaedias. As a result, the participatory nature of Web 2.0 tools has fostered the emergence of social communities. Social networking websites such as Facebook18, LinkedIn19 or Ning20 rely heavily on blogs and RSS feeds, all of which have common dynamic and interactive features. Social bookmarking websites such as Delicious21 and Stumbleupon22 have introduced the notion of “tags” which allow users to freely categorise web pages with their own keywords. Tags can then be connected, searched, associated and shared by users to create what has been coined a new flexible “folksonomy” as opposed to the traditional “taxonomy” or static categorization of data or knowledge. Social media sharing sites such as Flickr23 and YouTube24 allow users to upload, tag and share multimedia content. From a technical point of view, Web 2.0 applications rely on “lightweight programming models” designed for “hackability and remixability” such as AJAX interfaces (Javascript and XML), RSS and Atom protocols (O’Reilly, 2005).
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2.8 E-Learning 2.0
In the context of the social constructivist and constructionist learning theories, the collaborative potential of Web 2.0 technologies for education purposes soon became obvious to many authors and researchers. Once again, it is important to note that the majority of Web 2.0 applications were not designed to support educational activities, yet, an increasing number of educators are using these tools for educational purposes. For instance, Jane Hart, a British social media and learning consultant, maintains a directory of learning tools in a section of her website25. As a result, the wealth of freely available functionalities that are relevant to learning is unparalleled (There are currently over 3,000 tools listed in the directory, and new tools are added on a regular basis26). At the same time, the ease of use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) allows users with little or no programming knowledge to generate complex applications through mashups, thus promoting in no small way technology-enhanced learning activities (Ullrich et al. 2008). Blogs allow educators to organise asynchronous class discussions or group-based reading summaries, and they allow students to communicate or interact with each others, with their mentors and of course with the wider online community (Downes, 2004). From an educational point of view, social bookmarking tools afford collaborative information discovery, allowing users to navigate through tags and users’ accounts with related interests, or enabling the creation of multi-authored accounts for group projects. There is also a serendipitous aspect to this type of activity whereby users might come across relevant resources they might not have found using traditional search strategies (Alexander, 2006). In other words, social software has become the driving force of Web 2.0, allowing learners to connect with other existing networks and communities of experts beyond the current boundaries of third level institutions (Chatti et al. 2008). In a defining article published in 2005, Stephen Downes, a Canadian researcher in the field of Information Technology and E-Learning, described this new approach to E-Learning using Web 2.0
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tools by coining the term “E-Learning 2.0” (Downes, 2005). Learning resources are no longer based uniquely on objects or content, learning is seen as a flow, an experience. In a nutshell, E-Learning 2.0 is user-generated, networked-based, connected and immersive, meaning that learning takes place by doing. Downes (2008) argues that this perspective implies an increased autonomy for the learner, an emphasis on active learning and collaboration with totally different role for the educators and their relationships with learners. This approach is further defined in the next section.

2.9 Connectivism and networked learning
In this current context, there is an increasing trend to recognise that traditional learning theories no longer reflect the new complex reality of Web 2.0 and E-Learning 2.0. A Canadian researcher and director of the Learning Technologies Centre at the University of Manitoba, George Siemens has been articulating a new perspective on learning since 2004 with Connectivism and the concept of learning as a network creation. Connectivism recognises that learning is no longer linear and delivered as content but that knowledge is distributed across several dynamic knowledge entities (or nodes). The aggregation of these nodes becomes a network and learning becomes the active process of forming connections between nodes (as opposed to focusing solely on a node). Forming connections between nodes facilitates the knowledge flow and generates meaning (Siemens, 2005). The metaphor of the network used by Siemens becomes very clear when applied to Web 2.0 supported E-learning activities. Connectivism also integrates existing ideas or principles relating to the exponential growth of technologies over the last few decades. The technical content of what students learn today might no longer be relevant five years later given the pace of innovation and technological progress. As a result, professionals are likely to change jobs several times over their career. In a “chaotic” environment, where new information is generated on a continual basis, recognising patterns, the ability to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas and adjust to them becomes a skill and a key learning task (Siemens, 2004). Siemens summed up his approach into eight principles which I will review in Section 4.5 in the context of the implementation of PLEs: 20

1. Learning and knowledge rests in a diversity of opinions. 2. Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources. 3. Learning may reside in non-human appliances. 4. Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known. 5. Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning. 6. Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, concepts is a core skill. 7. Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities. 8. Decision making itself is a learning process (…) (Siemens, 2004).

From a pedagogical point of view, teaching means modelling, demonstrating, and mentoring while learning involves practising and reflecting. The teacher’s role is also to empower students to find resources and identify different points of views using new technology and therefore becomes more open and transparent. The learner’s role

becomes more active and in both cases, engaging with a wider community of expertise, is a critical requirement (Downes, 2009 and Drexler, 2008)27. While Connectivism is not meant to replace or obliterate existing learning theories but rather build on older theories that no longer reflect the new technological environment, it has also been challenged by several authors. Verhagen (2006) claims that Connectivism might be relevant at a

curricular level (what is learned and why) but not at an instructional level (how learning takes place) and therefore cannot contribute to a brand new reform of learning theories. Kerr (2007, cited in Kop and Hill, 2008) suggests that the ideas developed by Siemens are already present in Papert’s formulation of social constructionism (cf. Section 2.3). In the scaffolding process, the learner must interact with the environment when building
George Siemens and Stephen Downes created a 12 week course (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge) to illustrate the practice of Connectivism. The course was delivered essentially online in September 2008 to an audience of 2,200 participants worldwide (some of them for accreditation) using a wide variety of technologies and social media (Facebook, Wordpress, Twitter, Moodle, Elluminate, UStream, Pageflakes, Google Groups as well as course blogs and wikis). Following very positive feedback for CCK08, the course will run again in September 2009.


artefacts. When this perspective was being formulated by Papert in the 1990s, the WWW was not as ubiquitous as it is today for Siemens’ Connectivist approach. This perspective is nevertheless bound to evolve and mature over the coming years since it was only formulated very recently.

2.10 Limitations of LMS as a dominant design and Emergence of the PLE concept
Coming back to our initial approach to E-learning, it soon becomes obvious that in a Web 2.0 environment where tools and technologies provide new and innovative channels to promote and broadcast knowledge, the current methodologies and strategies appear very limited and constrained. As Siemens (2006) noted: “For an individual used to Skyping, blogging, tagging, creating podcasts, or collaboratively writing an online document, the transition to a learning management system is a step back in time (by several years).” Even though over the last five years, most LMS platforms have

recognised the advantages of social media for instance and adopted Blogging, wiki, instant messaging features to their models, they keep following a “dominant design” pattern (Wilson et al. 2006) which is centrally managed and for the most part disconnected from the wider web-based ecology. If we re-evaluate the role of the learner and the teacher in the light of a Connectivist/E-Learning 2.0 approach, a radical new model emerges in the form of the PLE which contradicts the LMS model in many ways. The following table provides a breakdown of the key differences between an LMS and a PLE and was adapted from Wilson et al. (2006), Chatti et al. (2008) and Schaffert and Hilzenauer (2008). LMS approach Learner ►A predominantly passive consumer of pre-defined learning content. Content ►Predominantly homogenous and centralised, developed by experts. ►No two PLEs are similar. User-centric and distributed. PLE approach ►Active and self directed.


All students access the same content and share the same experience.

Encourages the use of open educational resources such as iTunesU28 or MIT OpenCourseWare29 for instance.

►Top-down approach controlled by educators. ►Knowledge-push. Personalisation ►Limited to pre-defined standards or expert systems such as SCORM. Social aspect ►Limited to module-based group work or to a closed learner group. Social collaboration usually stops at the end of the course/module.

►Bottom-up approach controlled by the learner. ►Knowledge pull. ►Adapted to the learner’s interest and perspective (via tags and RSS). ►Genuine knowledge networking and community building by joining and participating into existing social networks.


►Content is owned by the institution delivering the course.

►Ownership is controlled by the learner using a variety of tools. ►The PLE is personal by definition but can also connect with an unlimited range of external services and organisations.


►The system predominantly manages the information of the institution and doesn’t connect with external organisations.


►Large variety of tools integrated within the constraints of a closed system and a course with a time limit. ►Asymmetric relationship between teachers and learners: the tools are richer for the teacher

►User-centred and open source tools enabling learners to engage in a wide range of contexts.

►Symmetric relationships between teachers and learners: any user can publish, organise

28 29


whereas learners have limited edit access. Standards ►Wide adoption of learning materials standards such as SCORM, but RSS has had a limited impact on LMS, thus discouraging the sharing of external content.

and manage tools and resources.

►RSS or Atom standards are central to a PLE. “Connection is far more critical than compliance” (Wilson et al. 2006).

►Lightweight API (eg. Google Maps30, Facebook, YouTube)


►Login restricted to attendees of the course and for its duration only.

►Open content and sharing of resources. Content can be shared using a Creative Commons31 license. ►Emphasis on collaborative knowledge construction with the use of social bookmarking tools such as Delicious.


►Learning outcomes and grades.


Several remarks can be made regarding this summary table. First of all, the PLE concept is still a fairly new approach that is slowly gaining acceptance. However, the changes it brings about involve a radical paradigm shift in the discourse on E-Learning and Technology Enhanced Learning (Jones, 2008). I will discuss these issues further in the conclusion. Moreover, it soon becomes obvious that, unlike the LMS, the PLE approach is no longer restricted to higher education only, or even formal education. The PLE approach can accommodate: Corporate learning and Knowledge Management whereby the PLE concept becomes very similar to PKM (cf. Section 2.11).

30 31


Informal learning which recognises that the bulk of what we learn today takes place informally through conversation, work experience, trial and error and so forth (cf. Section 2.12). Lifelong learning as students or professionals move across institutions and organisations. Social learning and genuine engagement in CoP, another concept now closely associated with all of the above (cf. Section 2.13). As a new theory focused on networked learning, Connectivism has also acknowledged the impact of all of these concepts on learning in general and the need for a “Personal Network” (Siemens, 2004).

2.11 Knowledge Management and Personal Knowledge Management
The terms knowledge society and knowledge worker date back to the work of Peter Drucker in the late 1960s. A knowledge worker deals primarily with information and data on a daily basis and the main challenge facing knowledge workers is information overload. The adequate manipulation of relevant information helps making the right decisions, solving problems efficiently and identifying the suitable priorities within an organisation. Such activities can be described as Knowledge Management and PKM when applied to an individual. Dorsey (2001) identified seven information skills involved in PKM, namely retrieving information, evaluating information, organizing information, collaborating around information, analysing information, presenting information and securing information. Chatti et al. (2007) have argued that this particular perspective on knowledge acquisition and learning is in fact very similar to a Learning Management perspective in higher education. At the same time, PKM shares a

compatible perspective with informal learning and Communities of Practice.


2.12 Informal Learning
Informal learning can be summed up as “learning resulting from daily activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not organised or structured (in terms of objectives, time or learning support). Informal learning is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective. It typically does not lead to certification.” (Tissot, 2004 cited in Jokisalo and Riu, 2009). For instance, language acquisition for small children can be assimilated to informal learning. Nowadays, in the context of a knowledge society described above, informal learning activities are taking place at all times if we no longer restrict knowledge to facts (formal learning) but include skills, values, attitudes and experience. At the same time, this knowledge acquisition is no longer restricted either to formal institutions but can take place at work, during conversations, through the media, through practising sport or hobbies and so forth. The informal learning perspective has also gathered momentum in the corporate world when it comes to evaluating the benefits of time and capital spending on formal training and education of a company’s workforce. A leading consultant in informal learning, Jay Cross has highlighted the fact that formal classes, training sessions or workshops are only the source of 20% of what people actually learn in the organisation. Informal learning accounts for the other 80%. At the same time, organisations keep investing the bulk of their training budgets on formal training (Cross, 2003). Conversely, from the above definition stems the notions that informal learning is fundamentally a social activity which is of course enhanced by Web 2.0 technologies and which involves interaction, participation and engagement in communities, or more precisely Communities of Practice (CoP).

2.13 Communities of Practice
CoP is another essential concept that has emerged over the last twenty years and that can be strongly linked to the PLE concept. The term was coined in 1991 by Jean Lave, a cognitive anthropologist and Etienne Wenger, an educational theorist to describe the process of learning that occurs in a social context when specialised practitioners meet


and interact to achieve a common goal. “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, undated). This approach forms the basis for Lave and Wenger’s situated learning theory. In other words, the learning process can no longer be evaluated in isolation and out of context but must be viewed in the context in which it is taking place. To distinguish a CoP from a traditional community or group of people, three characteristics are crucial: 1. The domain. The members involved share the same domain of interest. 2. The community. Members engaged share knowledge and participate in joint activities, discussions and meetings, thus forming a specific community. 3. The practice. The members of this specific community can be described as expert practitioners as they share similar backgrounds, tools, stories and experiences (Wenger, undated). The CoP concept has found applications in education, government, social and associative sectors and of course business. Attwell (2007b) notes that over the years, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) had found themselves increasingly isolated from the CoP of larger multinationals for instance who were able to generate a substantial knowledge base for their workforce. Knowledge Management activities, combined with the possibilities offered by Web 2.0 technologies have undoubtedly unlocked the possibilities for CoP to flourish in an increasing number of application domains. The PLE is able to capture all these aspects at the same time.

2.14 The PLE concept: a definition
Emergence is a term that is often associated with the PLE concept. In systems theory and philosophy, “emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions” (Wikipedia, 2009). This is one of the reasons why it was necessary to contextualise the PLE in relation to the use of LMS in higher education, Web 2.0, Connectivism and also concurrent developments such as Informal Learning, Knowledge Management and so forth. In other words, the PLE 27

concept has “emerged” as a consequence of the combined interactions of these phenomena and the growing need on the part of the learner to control their own learning process. The expression of PLE was first recorded at the JISC/CETIS32 conference in the UK in November 2004 (Wikipedia, 2009). From then on, the debate focused on whether a PLE should be a piece of software or simply a collection of web-based tools. Mark Van Harmelen initially described PLEs as “systems that help learners take control and manage their own learning.”33 For instance, such a system was developed at the University of Bolton as the “PLEX”34, or PLE desktop client, which can be downloaded. This system supports students in setting and achieving their own learning goals while managing content and communicating with others. But this approach doesn’t radically move away from a centralised and teacher dominated view (Van Harmelen, 2008). The latter

approach has been also criticised by several authors in their blogs such as Leigh Blackhall (2005): “Why do we need a PLE when we already have the internet?”, or Jay Cross in 2007: “The closest thing I have to a PLE is my work environment on the net”35. Based on the metaphor of Web 2.0 as “small pieces loosely joined”36, the PLE approach “combines the use of discrete but complimentary tools and web services – such as blogs, wikis and other social software – to support the creation of ad-hoc learning communities” (Downes, 2006). Siemens (cited in LCT Wiki, 2008) defines a PLE as “a collection of tools, brought together under the conceptual notion of openness, interoperability, and learner control.” Lubensky (2006) describes a PLE as “a facility for an individual to access, aggregate, and manipulate digital artefacts of their ongoing learning experiences”37. In other words, the PLE is a more a concept than an entity, and “the argument for the use of the Personal Learning Environment is not technical but rather is philosophical, ethical and pedagogic” (Attwell, 2007a).

Joint Information System Committee/ Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards 34 35 36 The expression “Small Pieces Loosely Joined” was coined by David Weinberger as the title of a book he published in 2002. It therefore predates Web 2.0, but has since been widely used to describe the network aspect of the web. 37



The first visual representation of a PLE (or a “future VLE” as it was initially called) was issued by Scott Wilson in January 200538 and has since been extensively commented upon as it served as a basis for further discussions. Since it is essentially user-centric, it implies a multitude of designs, understandings and implementations, all depending on the user’s learning needs. Some authors base their PLEs around a blogging tool such as Wordpress39, others base it on existing social networking platforms such as Elgg40. AJAX-based WebTop applications (also called dashboards) such as iGoogle, PageFlakes41 or Netvibes42 can also act as PLEs. These run on web browsers and aggregate various applications as well as RSS feeds on one or multiple pages. Finally, other writers have explored the suitability of mashups to generate PLEs, either using existing tools such as Yahoo Pipes43 or building an ad-hoc system using existing standards and services (API, RSS, Atom, FOAF etc.) (Weber et al. 2008). To illustrate this definition, I have selected a small sample of radically different examples of existing PLE models published in various blogs (Edtechpost, 2009).

38 39 40 41 42 43


David Delgado44: This is a basic approach based on the Elgg software and linking to an existing LMS (cf. Figure 1).

Figure 1: David Delgado’s PLE model



Jeremy Hiebert45 This is a temporal model which can be assimilated to a PKM plan (cf. Figure 2).

Figure 2: Jeremy Hiebert’s PLE model



Scott Leslie46 This is a more abstract model which places “me” (the user) at the centre of the PLE (cf. Figure 3).

Figure 3: Scott Leslie’s PLE model

Within the context of computer assisted and E-Learning, the PLE is an emerging new concept which moves the focus away from traditional content delivery systems in the form of LMS for instance. Instead, such learning environments are learner centred, can move across institutions and personify flexible learning. Underpinned by Web 2.0 collaborative, dynamic, distributed, and open source tools and technologies, PLEs can accommodate Knowledge Management or Informal Learning activities in the industry sector. PLEs can also foster genuine collaboration and social networking among

practitioners. Building upon existing learning theories, Connectivism emphasises the distributed and dynamic aspects of knowledge acquisition in a WWW environment as opposed to a centralised, knowledge push and top down approach to learning.


The main “personal” and learner-centeredness characteristic of the PLE makes it all the more difficult to visualise or implement. Building a PLE using a systematic approach would actually go against the PLE philosophy since it would eventually lead to generating a standardised model which would not be flexible enough to accommodate every individual learner. The next section will attempt to overcome these difficulties by considering various options and focus on a suitable visualisation technique to implement a generic conceptual model for a PLE.


Chapter 3: Research design
Several approaches were considered when it came to extracting this complex information from various perspectives into a meaningful whole in order to design a clear conceptual model. In this chapter, these approaches are first reviewed, before

concentrating on a specific mind-mapping software application which is suitable for designing a complex generic PLE model. I will then propose a generic toolkit for the PLE model which I will classify using a specific terminology.

3.1 Potential approaches
First of all, the Qualitative Weight and Sum (QWS) approach was considered. This methodology is used to evaluate software products by establishing a list of criteria and weigh them with pre-defined symbols. The results are evaluated by counting all the symbols attributed to the list of criteria which then allows the ranking of the products. This type of approach helps highlight the strengths and limitations of products (Graf and List, 2005). This is not what we are concerned with in this project as such an evaluation implies a stable product such as existing LMS platforms or individual software tools. Such a methodology could however be useful to evaluate elements this conceptual model as future research. The language pattern approach was also considered insofar as it is used to generate structured narratives about software tool usage for instance. This approach helps find recurring “patterns”, i.e. similar problems with similar solutions, thus avoiding duplication of information (CETIS Wiki, 2007). However, this type of approach is mainly used in software design and was actually used by researchers of the University of Bolton to generate the PLEX47 software. The use of concept maps was another approach considered, and more precisely software like CmapTools48. This approach helps users to organise and represent

knowledge with a detailed diagram showing relationships between concepts. This is an
47 48


interesting visualisation technique which becomes very useful in developing a logical thinking and systems approach. This technique is in fact very similar to UML

diagramming. However, attempting to map the PLE concept using this technique proved unsuccessful given the complexity of the model I propose to design. There are basically too many interrelated concepts and ideas at play, and the PLE conceptual model would need to be broken down into several different concept maps. Concepts maps are based on hierarchical classifications which are inappropriate for this project since they would generate too much repetition.

3.2 The PersonalBrain software
In order to synthesise all the various models, interpretations and versions of PLEs into a generic vision using a common language, I used the PersonalBrain49 software. The PersonalBrain is a visualisation and mind-mapping software which features a dynamic Java based graphical interface. It allows users to connect ideas and concepts in a way that goes beyond traditional hierarchies. Traditional concept or mind-mapping tools only allow users to categorise information in one place at a time. The name of the tool is meant to represent how the human brain functions in a metaphorical way, i.e. the software is able to visualise connections or relationships between several concepts at the same time. “The desktop software (…) is designed to create complex connections between widely disparate topics. Each node in the visual map can have connections to numerous other topics, enabling you to display non-hierarchical relationships between pieces of information. As a result, (…) TheBrain can be used to display and manipulate maps consisting of several thousand nodes, while giving a more complete picture of each node’s multitude of relationships.50”

From a Connectivist perspective, it becomes also obvious that such software is ideal to illustrate the complexity of the PLE concept insofar as it generates a model based
49 50


on nodes and connections. It allows for a simple visualisation of the networked learning approach as a “process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources” (Siemens, 2004).

3.3 A generic toolkit
Under each terminal node of the conceptual model, I propose a generic list of Web 2.0 tools and other software applications that could be used by potential users. There are obvious difficulties with coming up with what might look like a subjective list that would be of little scientific value. To overcome this, I propose to refer to Jane Hart’s directory of learning tools51 (cf. Section 2.8). To give an indication of the types of tools listed, the software applications are divided into categories such as social bookmarking tools, blogging and micro-blogging tools, RSS/feed tools, audio/podcasting tools, wiki tools, productivity and presentation tools and so forth. As of September 2009, the list contained in excess of 3,000 references, two thirds of which are open source or free software, which gives an indication of the wealth of resources available. In addition to the directory, a list of the Top 100 E-Learning tools is published on a yearly basis since 200752. This particular list is compiled from the contributions and rankings of learning professionals worldwide. It is reviewed on a monthly basis and will be finalised in November 2009 for the 2009 Top 100 list. Figure 4 provides a snapshot of the Top 10 tools from this September 2009 list.

51 52


Figure 4: Top 10 E-Learning tools from September list 2009 published by Jane Hart from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies. Key: F = Free, £ = Commercial, D = Download, H = Hosted

It is interesting to note that all top 10 tools listed for September 2009 are free, three of them are Google products, none of them are Microsoft products and all of them are related to social networking, communication and sharing. I therefore consider the top 100 list of tools for learning to be valid insofar as it provides a fair reflection of usage by learners and professionals (with reference to O’Reilly’s collective intelligence and wisdom of the crowds). I have referred to 120 E-Learning tools in my generic PLE conceptual model (cf. Appendix I) which includes 97 of the 100 tools listed in Jane Hart’s Top 100 from September 2009. I have not included the following 3 tools:


iPhone53 Flip54 (Digital camcorder) Google Apps55 The first two items are devices. To remain consistent with the proposed approach of the PLE as a concept, “devices are generally not considered to be part of a PLE” (LCT Wiki, 2008). However, this perspective might evolve over time given the wide range of

connections devices like Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), wireless tablet PCs or iPhones can accommodate. Google Apps is a service provided by Google tailored for small businesses or educational structures featuring a combination of Google products such as Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google sites. Since all these tools are individually listed in the proposed model, I have excluded Google Apps to avoid duplication. I added another 23 references to the existing list of 97 tools. All of these are included in Jane Hart’s directory of Learning Tools, and most of these were part of the Top 100 lists for 2007 or 2008. The main reason for inclusion of these tools is either that they are often quoted in the existing PLE models reviewed (Edtechpost, 2009), or that they were required to illustrate certain categories of tools in the generic model. The additional 23 tools include: Amazon S356 (LCT Wiki, 2008) Cmap (Chambers, undated)57 E-Portfolio58 (Delgado, undated; Hands, 2007) Flock59 (Hand, 2007; Leslie, 2008) Gliffy60 (Downes, 2006; Weller, 2007) Google Talk61 (Stewart, 2008; Cross, 2007)

53 54 55
56 57 58 59

To avoid clutter, referencing in italics can be read as “Author, date, cited in Edtechpost, 2009”. 60 61


Technorati62 (Cann, undated; Weller, 2007; Chatti, 2007; Chambers, undated; Leslie, 2008) MIT OCW63 (LCT Wiki, 2009) MySpace64 (Downes, 2006; D’arcy, 2008; Hand, 2007; Wilson, 2007) Sakai (Hand, 2007) StumbleUpon (LCT Wiki, 2009) 43things65 (Tosh, undated; Hiebert, 2006; Hand, 2007; Chatti, 2007; Chambers, 2007) Yahoo Pipes (LCT Wiki, 2008) Yahoo Mail66 (Hand, 2007; Martin, 2007) Finally, I have included: Bing67 as another example of a search engine. Blackboard (cf. Section 2.5). PersonalBrain, used to generate the PLE conceptual model. IBM Lotus Notes68 and Joomla69 as examples of commercial or free CMS respectively. Open Office and Zoho70 as examples of emerging open source office suites competing with Microsoft Office. Safari71 as another example for browsers. Nvivo72 as an example of software for qualitative research.

62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72


3.4 Terminology
The conceptual model contains six top level sections or branches (level 1) which I believe refer to the core learning activities and strategies involved in a PLE (cf. Figure 5). To describe these activities, active verbs (Analysing, Authoring, Collaborating, Organizing, Presenting and Searching) were used as much as possible. “PLE User” (level 0) represents the main thought or concept of this model, and it is always related to the potential users I have identified, namely the informal learner, the knowledge worker, the lifelong learner and the student.

Figure 5: Top level activities

Level 1 activities are as generic as possible, while levels 2 or 3 terminology becomes more specific (cf. Figure 6). The last level associates activities with specific tools (cf. Chapter 4 and Appendix I).


Level 1 2

Analysing ►Note Taking ►Problem Solving ►Reflecting ►Sense Making


►Brainstorming ►Diagramming ►Mind-mapping ►Blogging ►Curriculum & E-Portfolio ►CoP

Authoring ►Course Authoring ►Blogging ►Managing Content ►Media Creation & Editing ►Text Authoring & Editing ►Podcasting ►Video Hosting ►Web Authoring ►Wikis ►Tools

Activities Collaborating ►Synchronous Collaboration ►Asynchronous Collaboration

Organising ►Aggregating Content ►Indexing ►Learning & Knowledge Management ►Planning ►Software Aggregation & Mashups

Presenting ►Presentation ►Presentation Hosting ►Screen casting ►Web meeting ►Curriculum & E-Portfolio

Searching ►Browsing ►Open Courseware ►Researching ►Retrieving Information

►CoP ►Email ►File Sharing ►Groupware ►Instant Messaging ►Video Call ►Voice Call ►Web Meeting ►Photo Sharing ►Social Learning ►Social Networking ►Commenting & Rating ►Tools



►Databases ►Dashboards ►RSS Readers ►Personal Space ►Social Bookmarking ►Tagging ►Filing & Storage ►Calendaring & Scheduling ►Career Devt & Goals ►Project Management ►Tools



Figure 6: Breakdown for each top level activity

Given the quantity, complexity and perspectives of the models reviewed, specific terms were required that remained both generic enough and inclusive of all perspectives. For instance, the child concept of “Sense Making” (from parent “Analysing”) can have many meanings depending on the perspective. “Sense Making” is also synonymous with the concepts of assessing, interpretation, contextualisation or even information literacy. Conversely, the concept of “Reflecting” can be understood as continuous improvement, or “File Sharing” and “Groupware” as cooperation and so forth. Generic terms were used as much as possible to “pin down” concepts which can be understood in a broad sense. Figure 7 provides the source for the specific terminology I used for the present conceptual model. I have also included synonyms or related terms to highlight the subjectivity or learner-centeredness of each model. The terminology used is varied, but from a conceptual point of view, activities are similar.


Level 1 terminology and source
Analyse (Chatti, 200773); Analysing Information (Dorsey, 2001);

Level 2 and 3 terminology and source
Reflection (Sims, 2007); Reflecting (Hiebert, 2006; Sessums, undated); Reflect (Chatti, 2007; Fillip, 2009, Wright, 2007); Sense (Wright, 2007); Reflective Endeavours (Warlick, undated); Sense Making (LCT Wiki, 2009);

Related terms and source
Processing Information (Martin, 2007); Reviewing (Hiebert, 2006); Connecting Concepts (Hiebert, 2006); Synthesising (Hiebert, 2006); Thinkers (Chambers, undated); Informed (Chambers, undated); Answering questions (Sessums, undated); Responding (Sessums, undated); Asking Questions/Probing (Sessums, undated); Rate (Chatti, 2007); Review (Fillip, 2009); Identify & Read (Fillip, 2009); Evaluating Information (Dorsey, 2001); Interpret (Wright, 2007); Envision (Wright, 2007); Context (Wright, 2007); Assess (Wright, 2007); Improve (Wright, 2007); Drawing (Weller, 2007); Writing and drawing (Sims, 2007); Publishing (Hiebert, 2006); Select/Modify/Combine/Attribute/ Target and Publish (Hiebert, 2006); Publish (Chatti, 2007); Read/Write (Chatti, 2007); Remix (Chatti, 2007); Clarifying (Sessums, undated); Generating/Building upon Ideas (Sessums, undated); Free Writing (Sessums, undated); Production (LCT Wiki, 2008) Apply (Wright, 2007); Develop (Wright, 2007); Formal & Informal Writing (Warlick, undated); Expression (LCT Wiki, 2009); Connecting (Hiebert, 2006); Discuss (Chatti, 2007); Linking (Sessums, undated); Bonding (Sessums, undated); Engage One Another (Sessums, undated); Communication (Weller, 2007); Communicative (Chambers, undated); Communicate (Sessums, undated, Wright, 2007); Aggregating People (LCT Wiki, 2008); Meet (Talk to People) (Fillip, 2009); Dialogue (Wright, 2007); Extend (Wright, 2007); Tag (Cross, 2008); Team Blogs (Cross, 2008); Informal Communication (Hand, 2007); Learning Community (Chatti, 2007); Community of Interest (Chatti, 2007); Conversations with Practitioners (Warlick, undated); Photo Sharing (Collareda, 2008); Virtual Worlds (Collareda, 2008); SMS (Collareda, 2008); Interaction (LCT Wiki, 2009);

Authoring Software (Hiebert, 2006);

Journaling and blogging (Hiebert, 2006); Create (Chatti, 2007; Sessums, undated; Wright, 2007); Creative (Chambers, undated); Commenting (Sessums, undated); Wikis (LCT Wiki, 2008, Cross, 2008; Collareda, 2008); Blogs (Weller, 2007; LCT Wiki, 2008; Cross, 2008; Delgado, undated; Collareda, 2008); Podcasts (LCT Wiki, 2008; Cross, 2008) Video (LCT Wiki, 2008); Media (Chatti, 2007); Podcasting (Collareda, 2008); Videocasting (Collareda, 2008); Creation (LCT Wiki, 2009);

Collaborate (Chatti, 2007; Sessums, undated); Collaborating around Information (Dorsey, 2001); Collaborative Software (Cross, 2008);

Peer Networking (Weller, 2007); Sharing Work Files (Weller, 2007); Group Forming (Hiebert, 2006); Shared Goals/Concepts/Visions/Interests/ Values/Tags/Information (Hiebert, 2006); Network (Chatti, 2007); Share (Chatti, 2007); Social (Chambers, undated); Sharing (Chambers, undated; Sessums, undated); Social Bookmarking (LCT Wiki, 2008; Collareda, 2008); Instant Messaging (LCT Wiki, 2008); Share Resources (Fillip, 2009) Close and extended Networks (Wright, 2007); Communities of Practice (Chatti, 2007; Cross, 2008); Instant Messenger (Cross, 2008); Social Network (Delgado, undated); Personal Tagging/Bookmarking Tools (Hand, 2007); Virtual and Physical Conferences (Warlick, undated); Web Conferencing (Collareda, 2008); Email (Collareda, 2008);

See footnote 57. To avoid clutter, referencing in italics can be read as “Author, date, cited in Edtechpost, 2009”.





Organising (Hiebert, 2006); Organize (Chatti, 2007; Wright, 2007); Organised (Chambers, undated); Collect and Organize (Fillip, 2009); Organising Information (Dorsey, 2001);

Presentation (Weller, 2007); Presenting Information (Dorsey, 2001); Planning Presentations (Warlick, undated); Search (Chatti, 2007); Resource Search (Weller, 2007);


Aggregating (Hiebert, 2006); Storing (Hiebert, 2006); Filtering and prioritising (Hiebert, 2006); Manage (Chatti, 2007); Bookmark (Chatti, 2007; Wright, 2007); Aggregate (Chatti, 2007); Aggregating Content (LCT Wiki, 2008); Aggregating Software (LCT Wiki, 2008); RSS (Tosh, undated; Downes, 2006; Cross, 2008); Mashups (Cross, 2008); Aggregator (Delgado, undated; Hand, 2007, Warlick, undated); Personal Space (Hand, 2007); LMS (Delgado, undated; Collareda, 2008); Course-based LMS (Hand, 2007); CMS (Hand, 2007); RSS Aggregators (Collareda, 2008); Communication (Weller, 2007); Communicate (Sessums, undated); Communicative (Chambers, undated); Screencasts (Cross, 2008); E-Portfolio (Delgado, undated; Hand, 2007)

Resource tracking (Weller, 2007); Collecting (Hiebert, 2006); Remembering (Hiebert, 2006); Save (Chatti, 2007); FAQ (Cross, 2008);

Audio and Text (Sims, 2007); Convey Information (Sessums, undated); Storytelling (Cross, 2008);

Research (Sessums, undated); Retrieving Information (Dorsey, 2001); Learning Reference Repository (Collareda, 2008);

Access (Chatti, 2007; LCT Wiki, 2009); Consume (Chatti, 2007); Inquisitive (Chambers, undated); Content Consumers (Chambers, undated); Collect (Sessums, undated); Gathering Information (Martin, 2007); Securing Information (Dorsey, 2001); Source (Wright, 2007); Find (Wright, 2007); Guided Tours (Cross, 2008); Wizards and Help Support (Cross, 2008); Portal and Internet Access (Collareda, 2008);

Figure 7: Terminology and sources used in the proposed PLE model.


Having reviewed a certain number of methodological approaches to generate a generic and conceptual PLE model, I have opted for the PersonalBrain mind-mapping software which allows for a multi dimensional representation of varied and connected activities. With reference to existing models and Jane Hart’s top 100 E-Learning tools, the PLE model references 120 software tools. All tools referred to are listed under several categories, from generic to specific. Chapter 4 will explore the proposed model in more detail.


Chapter 4: Analysis and findings
4.1 Notes on the PersonalBrain software
The PersonalBrain software can be downloaded from: . Once installed, launch the Generic PLE.brain file in the attached CD. The dynamic interface of the PersonalBrain software allows the user to navigate the PLE by expanding each section from generic to specific. I have used this software to drill down through each section of the conceptual model to display inter-relations and connections between concepts and tools. Referencing using the PersonalBrain software overcomes the static taxonomy proposed by Jane Hart. For instance, is listed under Social Bookmarking tools only in the Top 100 list. In reality, it is also a researching, social networking and indexing tool. The PersonalBrain visualisation

software is able to show all connections at the same time as well as related tools corresponding to the related categories. The 120 software tools referenced in the model can all be accessed from this map by clicking on each icon. These references give an indication of the types of tools which can be used for various learning tasks, but this model does not imply that a PLE should include 120 tools.

4.2 Relationships and connections
There is a parent/child relationship between PLE user and the activities listed underneath. If we expand the “Authoring” concept for instance, the following concepts fall under as child concepts, namely “Blogging”, “Course Authoring”, “Managing Content”, Media Creation and Editing”, “Podcasting”, “Text Authoring and Editing”, “Video Hosting”, “Web Authoring”, and “Wikis” (cf. Figure 8).


Figure 8: Expansion of the “Authoring” concept.

If we drill down the “Blogging” concept, we now see clear connections appearing between concepts (cf. Figure 9).

Figure 9: Expansion of the “Blogging” concept.

Straight away, we see that “Blogging” is linked to parent “Authoring” (as per Figure 8), but also to “Reflecting” and “Sense Making”. Going back up one level and clicking on “Reflecting” now situates “Blogging” in relation to parent “Analysing”, a level 1 activity (cf. Figure 10).

Figure 10: Blogging in relation to Analysing


In other words, Blogging tools are both authoring tools, reflecting (and therefore analysing tools) and sense making tools. Appearing as related children underneath “Blogging” are a selection of tools related to blogging. Clicking on each individual tool displays further interesting

connections. Let us take the example of Blogger (cf. Figure 11).

Figure 11: Expansion of the Blogger tool.

Blogger is a blogging tool, but it can also be used as a tagging tool, an RSS Reader or as Personal Space. The list of tools on the right hand side are all related to Blogger, either as tagging or blogging tools, RSS Readers or Personal Space. Clicking on the Blogger icon brings the user to the Blogger website. Going up the network back one level and clicking on “RSS Readers” for instance displays Blogger in relation to other RSS Reader tools only (cf. Figure 12). “RSS Readers” is related to “Aggregating Content” (parent), and the latter is related to “Organizing” (parent).


Figure 12: Blogger tool in relation to RSS readers.

This particular conceptual model is able to relate Blogger in a visual manner to the concepts of Organizing, Authoring, Analysing (three different level 1 activities), as well as Aggregating Content, RSS Readers, Tagging, Blogging, Personal Space, Reflecting and Sense Making. It was also able to relate Blogger to similar tools, thus leading to a clearer understanding of the potential use of Blogs in a learning context.

Another interesting exercise is to find connections between software tools. Relating Blogger with the “Tagging” concept for instance provides a new set of connections with other tagging tools (cf. Figure 13).

Figure 13: Blogger as a Tagging tool.

Clicking on Delicious directly under Blogger displays new relationships (cf. Figure 14).


Figure 14: Expansion of the Delicious tool

In other words, Delicious is not only a tagging tool, but also a tool used for filing and storage, researching, social bookmarking and social networking, it can still be visualised in relation to Blogger on the right hand side column. Navigating this concept map, the same approach can be replicated with every other software tool to highlight connections and relationships with related concepts and tools.


4.3 The importance of Communities of Practice
The “Communities of Practice” concept falls under both “Synchronous Collaboration” (cf. Figure 15) and “Asynchronous Collaboration” (cf. Figure 16) on the map. The latter concepts are both related to level 1 parent “Collaborating”.

Figure 15: Communities of Practice in relation to Collaborating and Asynchronous Collaboration.

Figure 16: Communities of Practice in relation to Collaborating and Synchronous Collaboration.

Then, expanding the “Communities of Practice” displays further connections (cf. Figure 17).


Figure 17: “Communities of Practice”: related concepts and tools.


We have now related “Communities of Practice” with: 19 concepts (Asynchronous Collaboration, Groupware, Problem Solving, Researching, Social Bookmarking, Social Learning, Social Networking and so forth.) 41 potential software tools (43 things, Basecamp,, Cirip, CMap, Delicious and so forth) or 34.17% of the full list of 120 tools. Additional potential learning activities such as Expert Systems, Forums, Message Boards and Organisations. However, the latter can only relate to Communities of Practice if they fulfil the three characteristics inherent to CoP stated in Section 2.13, namely a domain of expertise, a community and practitioners. This particular view of the conceptual model illustrates the fact that a PLE can support active engagement and participation in CoP which are instrumental in fostering access to and acquisition of new knowledge, either in a formal, informal or professional context.

4.4 A Connectivist pespective
Finally, Figure 18 associates some of the concepts and tools reviewed in the proposed PLE conceptual model with the eight principles of Connectivism quoted in Section 2.9:

The eight principles of Connectivism related to: (sample) associated Concepts (sample) associated Tools
1 - Learning and knowledge rests in a diversity of opinions Social Networking, Social Learning, Ning, Facebook, Wikipedia, Blogger, Communities of Practice, Blogging etc. Wordpress, Elgg etc. 2 - Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources Aggregating Content, Dashboards, RSS Pageflakes, Netvibes, iGoogle, Yahoo Readers, Mashups etc. Pipes, Google Reader etc. 3 - Learning may reside in non-human appliances Social Bookmarking, Tagging, Indexing, Delicious, Diigo, StumbleUpon, Amazon Filing and Storage etc. S3 etc. 4 - Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known Problem Solving, Brainstorming, MindCMap, Jing, PersonalBrain, Freemind, MIT Mapping, OpenCourseWare etc. OCW, iTunesU etc. 5 - Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning Communities of Practice, Social LinkdIn, Facebook, 43things, Twitter, Elgg Networking, Blogging etc. etc. 6 - Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill


Problem Solving, Mind-Mapping etc.

CMap, PersonalBrain,, Exploratree etc. 7 - Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all Connectivist learning activities Blogging, RSS Readers, Mashups etc. Edublogs, Google Reader, Wordpress, Yahoo Pipes etc. 8 - Decision making is itself a learning process Indexing, Social Bookmarking, Tagging, Delicious, Diigo, ePortfolio, 43things, Planning, Project Management etc. Basecamp, Zoho etc.
Figure 18: 8 principles of Connectivism and associated concepts & tools.

The suggested PLE conceptual model and associated tools is consistent with a Connectivist perspective, if we consider that learning is no longer a linear process, that knowledge is not static and based uniquely on content but distributed across scattered “nodes” or Communities of Practice, and that “we derive our competences from forming connections” (Siemens, 2004).


Chapter 5: Conclusions and recommendations
Depending on the context of use and on the individual user, the generic PLE conceptual model proposed here meets a range of learning needs from a graduate or postgraduate student’s learning objectives, to a knowledge worker’s information needs, or an informal learner’s business skills requirements. The proposed PLE conceptual model is bound to evolve and alter along with technological developments, innovations and new products. Twitter was unheard of three years ago, yet, it has now become a prominent micro-blogging and social networking tool. Similarly, most Web 2.0 technology is in “perpetual beta” state. The browser-based approach to the proposed model is also likely to gain attention in the near future with the emergence on the market of new versions of existing browsers that are increasingly integrating the functionalities of Web 2.0 tools into their user interfaces. Examples of such browsers are Apple’s Safari 4 released February 2009; Flock 2.5 released May 2009 and Opera Unite released June 2009. At this point in time, PLEs have not gained widespread adoption especially in higher education, even though many students or knowledge workers might be using PLEs or elements of them without realising it. However, the PLE model epitomises a new

approach to learning veering towards Social Learning. Moreover, further evaluations of tools and technologies applied to the learning process are required. However, as we have seen with the proposed generic PLE

conceptual model here, evaluating a piece of software in isolation might not generate relevant findings if the data gathered or the metrics used ignore the many connections and interactions at work in the (networked) learning process. Further research projects could evaluate a combination of software tools in relation to innovation, problem solving or decision making skills for instance. In other words, it would be interesting to evaluate the use of a set of Web 2.0 tools in terms of skills and competence acquisition.


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Appendix I – Websites referenced in the PLE conceptual model
The following table lists in alphabetical order all the software tools used to illustrate the proposed generic PLE conceptual model. It includes 97 tools from Jane Hart’s Top 100 list (from September 2009) as well as 23 other tools (cf. Chapter 3). Note: The tools highlighted in grey are commercial. All the others are free or propose a basic version for free. available.
Name Adobe Acrobat Adobe Captivate Adobe Connect Adobe Premiere Amazon S3 Animoto Articulate Audacity Basecamp Bing Blackboard Blogger Bloglines The Brain Camtasia Cirip Cmap Comic Life Delicious Diigo Dimdim Dreamweaver Dropbox Edublogs Elgg Elluminate Eportfolio Etherpad Evernote eXe Facebook Firefox Address or short description Create Pdf, graphic file format E-learning content authoring and screen capture software Web conference, online meetings Video editing software, digital video editing Simple storage service The end of slideshows Rapid E-Learning software tools Free audio editor and recorder Project management, collaboration and task software Search engine LMS Create your free blog Newsreader Mind-mapping, brainstorming and visual KM software Free web application for brainstorming online Screen recording software Microblogging platform Concept maps Expand what you can do with your photos Social bookmarking Social Bookmarking, web highlighter and sticky notes Web conferencing Web design software Secure backup, sync and sharing made easy Teacher and student blogs Social networking and social publishing platform E-learning and collaboration solutions E-portfolio Real time collaborative text editing Note taking and sharing tool Open source authoring application Social networking Web browser

In some cases, an upgrade to a commercial Pro version is

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33


34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80

Fireworks Flash Flickr Flock Freemind Friendfeed Garageband Gliffy Glogster Gmail GoAnimate Google Google Alerts Google Calendar Google Chrome Google Docs Google Earth Google Maps Google Reader Google Sites Google Talk IBM Lotus Notes iGoogle iMovie iTunesU Jing Joomla Keynote Lectora Linkedin Mind Manager Mind Meister MIT OCW Moodle MySpace Netvibes Ning Notepad++ Nvivo Open Office Outlook Pageflakes Paintshop Pro PbWorks Photopeach Photoshop

US/firefox/personal.html wnload px op/

Graphics editor Animation and multimedia software Photo sharing and hosting tool Social web browser Mind-mapping software Social aggregator Audio editing tool Online diagram software Poster yourself E-mail tool Create your own cartoons and animations easily Search engine Email updates Online and shareable calendar Web browser Collaborative document, spreadsheet and presentation tool The world's geographic information at your fingertips Mapping tool RSS feed aggregator Create simple, secure group websites Instant messaging and video chat KMS Dashboard Make a movie on your Mac Podcasts and mobile learning Screen capture CMS Create captivating presentations easily E-Learning authoring software Social Networking Brainstorming, freeform thinking and visual aid MM software Online mind-mapping Free online course materials Open source LMS Social Networking Dashboard Social networking Free source code editor Software for qualitative research Free and open source office suite Email tool Dashboard, file sharing and groupware Free software for digital photo editing Photo editing tool Free collaboration, intranet, extranet, Project Management, Wikis Free photo slideshows with music Image editing tool


81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120

Picasa Picnik Powerpoint Prezi Quia Quizlet Safari Sakai Schooltube Screenr Screen Toaster Scribd Second Life Sharepoint Skype Slideshare Snagit Stumbleupon Surveymonke y Teachertube Technorati Tweetdeck Twhirl Twitter Udutu Voicethread Webex Wet Paint Wikipedia Wikispaces Word Wordle Wordpress Yahoo Yahoo Pipes Yammer Youtube Zoho 43things

Photo sharing and editing tool Photo editing the easy way, online in your browser Presentation tool Create astonishing presentations live and on the web Create activities, quizzes, surveys, web pages and more Flash cards, vocabulary memorisation, study games Web browser Open source LMS Student video and media sharing Create screencasts and screen recordings the easy way Online screen recorder. Capture screencasts instantly Store and share documents with others Virtual worlds, 3D chats, online meetings Connect people, process and information Instant messaging, voice and video call Upload and share ppt presentations The place you go to learn Screen capture Social bookmarking Web surveys File hosting and sharing tool Blog aggregator Bring your friends closer with Facebook and MySpace The social software client Microblogging Online course authoring Collaboration and presentation tool Web conferencing, web meeting, video conference Free website Collaborative encyclopaedia and researching tool Wiki tool Text editor Presentation tool CMS and blogging tool Email tool Mashup and RSS Reader Enterprise microblogging Video hosting, file sharing and social networking Presentation tool and document management Social networking