Personal (or Collaborative) Learning Environments

I’m really intrigued by the PLE concept.  Although I’m interested in the ways I might share work and learn more effectively using internet tools, I’m even more interested in the ways I might use them to allow for more active and collaborative learning in my courses.

My grumpy side, however, reads “personal learning environment” and imagines something self-indulgent and -important.  As a social scientist I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to “personal” and “individual” because our society (and as a result we and our students) takes the individual as the basic unit of life.  This, combined with a certain economic system and anti-intellectualism, provides the basis for the consumer approach to education that educators often lament.  Of course we are dealing with individual students, but to me the real virtue of the web and the tools I’m beginning to learn about — and this is actually clear from the discussion of PLEs — is the degree to which they can facilitate and make visible the “networked” nature of learning and knowledge, their social character.

So, for my own purposes I plan to think of these tools as collaborative learning environments (CLEs).  In addition to facilitating the kind of learning I noted above, I can imagine that one could use these tools — and frame students’ use of them — to encourage not just metacognition, but a stronger appreciation of how knowledge is produced in general.