Revised PLE Images Collection & My Own PLE Illustration 

The exercise to collect as many PLE diagrams as I could was not an end in itself, as interesting as that might have been. In doing that, I was hoping to learn from how people conceived of their PLEs and use this as the basis for an attempt to illustrate my own PLE.
Looking at the collection, what struck me was that there were 3 main ways people oriented their PLE diagrams: by tools, by uses, or by people. I added a table of contents to the top of the wiki page that organized the diagrams around these orientations.

There are a few (interesting to me) outliers there as well, ones that combined a number of these orientations into a single diagram. These appealed to me, because I don’t see a PLE, even my own specific one, as being just a single set of tools; we do choose a specific set of tools, but often replace them with others that fulfill a function better. But in addition to the tools and the functions, an important aspect to me is the different ways we can use these tools based on levels of trust/online identity & reputation. That’s why the slogan “PLE is People” isn’t just a joke, funny though it might be.
So with that in mind I set to using my limited drawing skills to visualize my PLE in a way that captured not just the tools, but the uses and the trust relationships as well. I’m hoping the diagram is self explanatory (otherwise, well, what was the point!) but a few explanations:

My PLE Diagram
  • the circles extending outwards from the centre represent different levels of trust/relationships. They are dotted lines on purpose – these are not fixed; relationships change, you get to know some people better etc.
  • the two headed arrows are meant to express the flow of information and learning – it is not all one way. You *can* just read blogs. You *can* just use without using it socially and following others. But I have always maintained that if we view these as actions (‘blogging’ instead of just ‘blogs’) it helps us understand they as conversations, as the “read/write” particpatory web.

Please have a look. Would love to hear some feedback. Does this help illustrate the practice of a PLE any better? This is another one of my diagrams that percolated in the back (and I really do mean the back) of my brain for a while and then last week the specific way to visualize it just popped into my mind. I am not a great artist, indeed, every time I do a diagram like this it reinforces my need to better master a drawing tool (this was done in powerpoint!!!). And while others have ridiculed the term PLE’s in the past as being “just a bunch of drawings” I think that misses the point. A PLE is clearly not just a set of drawings, but the act of producing such a drawing, such a conceptualization, is an incredibly valuable one, not just for any educational technologist but indeed, I’d argue, for any learner, regardless of whether they conceive of it as a “PLE” or not. Knowing how you learn, and how you conceive of the structures and relationships that support your learning, is an important step to becoming a master learner. – SWL

20 thoughts on “Revised PLE Images Collection & My Own PLE Illustration

  1. Jared Stein

    Scott, first: you’ve raised the bar with this. Having attempted my own PLE diagram, it’s not an easy task. A few points/questions:

    Are the proximal location of the “tools” (the colored bars) arranged consciously? Do adjoining tools share common features or aspects or usage? If not, do you think they could in this sort of 2D modeling, or would that require some 3D representation?

    Could the size of the these tools’ bars correspond to frequency of usage or their overall dominance in your PLE? I’m thinking similar to a pie-chart, but less anal retentive/boring.

    Could size or frequency of 2-way arrows be used to describe frequency/dominance? I.E. when you talk about blogging or as potentially 2-way streets, it’s probably not equal; you could, for instance, have a fat arrow going out from you for but probably slimmer arrow(s) going in to you.

    And finally, would providing extra, more measured information as I’ve suggested even be useful? When using a PLE map as a teaching device, could gauges of frequency or intensity help? Or would they only overcomplicate and distract?

  2. Scott

    Jared, great questions and feedback, thanks! I’ll try to address some of them:

    > Are the proximal location of the “tools” (the colored bars) arranged consciously?

    Well, a tiny bit, but not really methodically. I think this could be done, your diagram actually points the way, so I will ponder this some more.

    > Could the size of the these tools’ bars correspond to frequency of usage or their overall dominance in your PLE?

    They could but they don’t here. The size currently is related to my limited graphics skills ;-) But it’s not a bad idea at all…

    > Could size or frequency of 2-way arrows be used to describe frequency/dominance?

    another good point. I do worry about visual clutter, this is already fairly busy and one of the common characteristics I observe in almost all of the PLE diagrams is that they are cluttered (which doesn’t surprise me; not only is visualization a hard thing to do, there is a lot of subtlety that people, including myself, want to convey, because PLEs are personal, subtle processes.)

    As to your last point, I think I answered it above. I think someone with better graphics skills than mine could introduce some of those variables in a meaningful way. I may try given time. But the danger is loosing the value of visualizing it in the first place.

    In any case, again THANKS! Really appreciate the considered feedback. Cheers, Scott

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  4. cindyu

    Hey Scott,

    Very nice visual collection – fascinating way to look at individual interpretations of PLE’s – thanks! Really liked the circles of trust framework on this. I’m working on a digital identity project (digital tattoo) – and plan to pass this on to the students writing content for the tutorial – concept of trust circles is central to how we manage our online identity (identities) I think.


  5. Alan

    I love your collection and am thinking of wallpapering my bathroom with PLE diagrams so I have something to read while sitting in there ;-)

    At this point, I still fail to see “a” PLE and more of the more proper IMHO notion that each person creates, has, and defines them differently. You’ve obviously given a lot of thought to yours and collapsed the dimension of the “network” in an interesting way with circles of trust, I am curious what is on the outer fringes of your cicrles, and how people move in and out of that circle.

    and as all diagrams are, there are limits to the things you can put on the chord segments around the center– like the social networks that happen around media sharing sites, is that social media?? (likely) what about chat/im/skype? what about good old fashioned web boards which are still active in all nikds of niches? what about RSS aggregation/sharing, etc?

    I go back to one of my early mentors in Geology who described the way people look at classification systems- Doc Thompson used to say, “there are two types of people- lumpers and splitters” and I tedn to be wary about doing a lot of splitting.

    but hey, “me” at the center is right on- is is all about me. Not you. me. Well maybe me and you.

  6. Scott

    Alan, clearly there isn’t “a” PLE, but then I still fail to see the problem with that. Is the problem you have with the word “environment,” that you are looking for something more bounded, concrete, with that word?

    What is interesting to me in looking at the various diagrams is not only the different ways they visualize the person’s tools, uses and networks, but which ones are actually useful in helping people not already consciously cultivating their PLE to start to do so (and this is where we maybe part paths, because while everyone learns, IMO lots are still not learning in a very networked or PLE-styled way).

    Lumpers and splitters – very interesting discussions to be had there. I have a quote on my wall from Tolkien (via Gandalf) “He who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom.” At the same time, look around you – there is not much within eyesight (I would wager) that is there that isn’t the result of ‘splitting.’ For me, it comes back to what it helps you/me do. I totally grant that there are other inputs and outputs that make up my overall learning environment – what I put down here struck me as each being distinct enough from each other to be noteworthy and generally capture the dynamic I was trying to portray without overly cluttering the diagram. Chat/skype is on there as the ‘Presence’ part of ‘Microblogging and Presence.’ They can be different – I use them very similarly. Web-boards? What are those ;-) RSS aggregation/sharing – maybe I could flush out some details in a few of the existing ones but I felt like some of this was there.

    As much as I have an intellectual streak I also deride over-intellectualizing things – is that the objection to PLEs. If I didn’t respect you and your work so much I wouldn’t care about not toally getting what you are on about, but I do respect you, a lot, so if you have the patience I really would like to understand a bit better the objections. If you already have explained this a dozen times let me know and I will re-read deeper this time. Cheers, Scott

  7. Chris L

    For my part, I’ve given up on why Alan is so committed to what appears to me to simply a dislike of the term PLE. And that’s OK, Alan’s heart wants what it wants. But I’m not sure what compels him to go out of his way to comment on others who do see utility and whose efforts are being appreciated by others.

    What I see you, and others, doing is providing examples to learn from. I have yet to hear anyone posit the existence of one true, Platonic PLE or that the diagrams presented are anything more than an admittedly incomplete attempts to represent a complex, non-linear environment or any of the other straw man arguments that are trotted out. What I DO see is a lot of appreciation for these representations– your collection was a major turning point for at least half of our participants in recent faculty workshops, giving them a basic handle to understand a difficult concept *and* a lot of concrete pointers to things to try out.

    One thing I learned being a complete non-techie learning to work in technologically aided and abetted is that the absolute best way for me to learn is by watching over the shoulders of others. Barring that, instructional materials that take that approach have to work. The great thing about the PLE discussion for many people is that it is a chance to learn over the shoulder, as Nancy White puts it, to get at what is– for beginners– an almost complete mystery regarding what people actually do. Maybe Alan prefers other ways of learning, but in my experience he would be in the minority. Maybe that aspect of his preference is mixed up with his strong feelings about philosophical discussions and it causes him to mistake projects like yours with that kind of activity.

    The irony is that creating and sharing PLE diagrams are quite the opposite of intellectualizing! They are, in fact, generally an attempt to bring discussion and teaching out of the philosophical realm and into the practical world, just as workshops and ateliers and apprenticeships are activities that similarly seek to bring real action, connection and material out of abstract discussions.

  8. Scott

    > What I DO see is a lot of appreciation for these representations– your
    > collection was a major turning point for at least half of our participants in
    > recent faculty workshops, giving them a basic handle to understand a
    > difficult concept *and* a lot of concrete pointers to things to try out.

    That is amazingly gratifying to hear. You have no idea how much I needed to hear something like that right now. It sure can get lonely sitting in this basement office… Thanks Chris.

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  13. Tony Searl

    As a classroom teacher trying to learn, I feel PLE’s are an important concept to understand, especially those of us new to “technology”. I am going to use this idea in class tomorrow.
    I have always liked visual learning so I see PLE diagrams as an extension of that. cheers Tony

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