A personal learning environment refers to the tools, technologies, resources etc. that a person uses at the individual level to build on his knowledge base. Imagine a boy called John, who is in his early 20s in the year 1997. He reads books, accesses the Britannica Encyclopedia CD on his PC, participates in group discussions at his university, reads journals, magazines and newspapers in the library, logs on to the (slowly working) internet once in a while, watches TV, listens to the radio, and so on. By and large, this constitutes John’s Personal Learning Environment (PLE).
Forward to the year 2014.
The coming of technology has naturally exposed us to more entertainment, and at the same time, to more learning. Much of our learning is informal and happens online. We look for solutions on YouTube, Wikipedia, blogs and such online resources when we encounter a problem. Discussions happen over social media websites, online webinars and lectures are a common thing and mobiles keep us connected all the time.
PLEs have certainly evolved with the coming of the digital age. Instead of learners going to information, the situation is now the opposite. A lot of learning comes to the people even without them explicitly searching for it. In the form of RSS or news feed or social media interactions, people are exposed to information more than ever before. Learning is now beyond the boundaries of educational institutions and is much more dynamic in nature.
The evolution of PLEs also necessitates a radical shift in the role of teachers, educators and training instructors. From being providers of knowledge, they must now act as facilitators of information. Creation of social learning portals which allow learning to be shared and collaborative is an important step towards this. Trainers must focus on providing fast access to accurate information and building upon the knowledge base of learners by actively sharing and discussing ideas, rather than just being uni-directional transmitters of information. Corporate Learning Management Systems must be empowered with features that enable such social learning, and thus add another dimension to employees’ PLEs.