Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Personal Learning Environments: Student Processes and Decisions

We in educational technology are often accused of focusing too much attention on technology and tools rather than cognitive processes. I've struggled with this myself, most often because I enjoy assessing the learning potential of new technologies. John Seeley Brown might call this tinkering. I get a charge out of playing with the tools myself and presenting them to my students to see what happens. As a teacher, I'm all about what is practical in the classroom (even if I sometimes try to push the limits of innovation). My evolution from teacher to researcher has been a long journey. All those prior years of classroom experience influence my perspective. I "know" something works with students because I feel it in my gut. There is never time to sit back and observe what happens before moving on to the next challenge.

Focused research on student construction of personal learning environments has given me the opportunity to sit back and watch learning from a process perspective. What processes do students go through when constructing personal learning environments?

(Click on the diagram to enlarge.)
The model above reflects the research findings. If you compare this version to the older Networked Student diagram, you see the shift from tools to processes.

As with a flowchart, the rectangles represent processes. The diamonds represent decisions. The student (or the student in collaboration with the teacher) decides which tools to use to support the learning processes.

Some processes in the diagram are not supported by tools, especially in the areas of learning and practicing digital literacy and responsibility. If we truly wish to empower learners and provide our students with the skills necessary to become independent networked learners, then direct instruction is critical and necessary in all five categories. I view the holes in this diagram as the teachable moments, as verification that teachers can be the facilitators of personal learning. Through direct instruction, we can teach our children how to fish, then step back and learn as much from them as they learn from us.

To ponder:
  • What do you think about the relationship between direct instruction and personal learning?
  • Do you see areas on the diagram that require teacher intervention?
  • How many of our secondary and post secondary students are equipped to construct effective personal learning environments?
  • What would you add to this diagram?
Meet one of the students who participated in this research project.


Carolyn Foote said...

Interesting model and interesting what we learn when we step into the role of observer!

I'm wondering about the terminology of "learning" in the top quadrant--most of the skills seem to involve research or searching, and wouldn't all the categories listed have to do with learning, whether collaborating, creating, etc>?

Are you familiar with Zones of Intervention? Carol Kuhlthau writes about that quite a bit--might interest you.

Wendy DG said...


You make a really good point. I used that language because I identified it as such when observing. But, I don't think it works on the diagram. I've taken out the word "learning", but left "practicing" because I'm sure it's possible to fully attain digital literacy or responsibility. Attaining those skills is an ongoing process. Thank you so much for your comment and direction to Zones of Intervention. This is really helpful.


Joanna said...

Very interesting research findings indeed! Currently I am working on something very similar but in the area of adult learning. Together with my colleagues we are trying to identify what set of competences and literacies is required by learners to start and maintain a PLE. If you are interested, you can find references to our paper in my blog.

Referring to the first of your questions – I was wondering if “direct instruction” is a good word here. Personally I prefer „scaffolding“ or „scaffolds“ or even „interventions“. To me, the word „instruction“ deprives the student of his/her centrality in the learning process. „Scaffolds“ or „interventions“, on the contrary, leave the learner on the stage and only trigger desired change in the crucial moments.

Referring to the diagram, I especially like the fact that there is place for digital responsibility in it! That’s a very important aspect that tends to be forgotten, at least in the area of adult learning. You ask, what might be missing in your diagram – I think, I miss the “planning” part of learning and tools that support planning for learning.
I also think that “dealing with technology” is rather very vague, especially in contrast to other processes, which are more specific, such as: searching and viewing video, text and audio.

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Wendy DG said...


I agree. Scaffolding is a much better word. I've changed that in my dissertation writing. Thank you so much.


Anonymous said...

Hi Wendy, I'm a teacher from Argentina in South America, I really like your blog, I like the way you give examples on PLE. I´ll try to use your ideas with my students. Thank you.

marry said...

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Pam said...

Hi Wendy. My name is Pam Overstreet and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am currently taking EDM310 and also teaaching at a local residential school. As an returning student I have found myself in a new world with all of the technology available. So at times I probably feel like the 7th graders you mention and I exhibit some of their excitement, only some because at my age I can't nor do I want to go back the 7th grade. I look forward to reading your blog and learning more about the PLE's. We are dong PLN's for class and I am learning new things daily. Thanks for your wonderful blog and informative posts.

SandyM said...

I found your blog through the edfutures course. Lovely!

I find the PLE and your focus on processes fascinating because I've been working with knowledge building (Scardamalia & Bereiter) since the early 1990s and I've recently become interested in the affordances of new web technologies to support knowledge building processes. I do find my self-wondering about the "personal learning" emphasis as I think it may overshadow the social.

Anonymous said...

Hey Wendy,

My brother (@courosa) and I were discussing this video that was made as I wrote a blog post about how the student video inspired something yesterday on twitter. He had shared with me your name and someone else had also shared this blog post with me in my comments.

Here is the link:


Hope you like it!

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