PLNs versus PLEs and Goals of Participating

Reviewing the resources from the first week of PLENK10 has been an interesting and more formal introduction to the concepts of what are the similarities and distinction between the personal learning network (PLN) and personal learning environment (PLE).

Prior to this course, the only real distinction I had seen regarding personal learning was differentiating the notion of a networks from communities. Having attended a presentation by Bronwyn Stuckey earlier this summer, however, gave me a much deeper grasp of what qualifies as a community, specifically a community of practice, which has a slightly higher threshold for qualification. In this sense the concept of the personal learning environment (PLE) was a new variation to me.

The material has definitely been informative. Reading the recap of Alec Couros’ 2008 course was a fascinating, in-depth look a course that essentially became a long running event. Having previously failed at participating in the last two connectivism open courses, it was comforting to see a structured reflection on what happened during the run of the course. Since a MOOC can seem so chaotic and overwhelming, especially at first, this document serves as a kind of map of expectations for anyone new to the experience. It also provides a great outline of theoretical underpinnings of the open online course.

As I think of the distinctions of the PLN and PLE, I am reminded of my previous experiences with the connectivism courses, brief though they may have been. A PLN strikes me as being the concrete representation of a connectivist learner in action – not necessarily surprising. In fact, while the “N” in PLN stands for “network” could just as easily stand for the word “nodes,” as it is the array of nodes connected in some way that make a network. The connections are made or, maybe a better word, managed by the person in an organic and emergent fashion. Yet, the person is just one node in the network. Thus, the PLN grows and through the nodes, connections, and generated artifacts almost takes on a life of its own, or at least a kind of alter-ego.

Similarly, the last letter associated with a PLE also could be easily substituted. Instead of “environment” I would substitute “ecology,” which I think of as being a subtle but significant distinction. Ecology denotes the relations between the organisms and the environment. In my thinking the organism is, in fact, the PLN or perhaps even PLNs of connected people that exist within the PLE. I perceive the PLE almost like a landscape that allows the PLN to thrive. it is the “space” where the learning and networking takes place, and the space is also organic, growing, and emergent too. This also seems like the “personal” has arguably less currency in the term PLE.

All of this thinking made me feel a certain affinity for Dave Cormier’s Point 2 from his blogpost “5 Points about PLEs PLNs for PLENK10.” I was already onto this line of thought as I read his post. Despite reading it earlier than some of the other pieces, the other material I have been investigation only continues to strengthen my conceptualization about this.

Of course, when Rita Kop mentioned that the main difference in the terms is cultural in the mid week recording it makes me wonder whether it is necessary to distinguish the two. Still, it is an interesting question to consider. Either way, the distinction that Stephen Downes made, in the same recording, focused more closely on the pairing of “personal” and “learning” seems most important. The terms network or environment prove secondary to the learner being at the heart of the experience. That maybe the most important aspect to me as a teacher and learner interested in investigating this course.

It also fits with my general goals for participating. My interest is in some of the theoretical and pedagogical approaches to constructing an open course and encouraging my own students to participate in learning that is more akin to the kind that a MOOC engenders. I am hoping to glean some bits that I can incorporate into my own practice at the secondary, high school level to empower students with greater autonomy and self-directed learning.

So the adventure has officially begun, again.

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