Personal Learning Environments and the revolution of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

Developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky defined what the person or a student can do — or the problems they can solve — as three different stages:

  1. What a student can do on their own, working independently or without anyone’s help.
  2. What the student can do with the help of someone.
  3. What it is beyond the student’s reach even if helped by someone else.

He called the second stage the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which had, as said, two limits: the lower limit, which was set by the maximum level of independent performance, and the upper limit, the maximum level of additional responsibility the student can accept with the assistance of an able instructor. But Vygotsky believed that learning shouldn’t follow development, but rather should lead it. A student should constantly be reaching slightly beyond their capabilities rather than working within them (Jo Turner-Attwell, 2009).

This reaching beyond one’s capabilities can be pictured as the student entering their Zone of Proximal Development. And this exploration beyond one’s capabilities is not to be made alone, but with an instructor to help in the way. Vygotsky called this instructor the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO), the role of which is to help the student throughout their ZPD by scaffolding the path they have to follow to learn how to solve new problems.

The Personal Learning Environment and the Zone of Proximal Development: a static approach

The Personal Learning Environment could be understood both as the Zone of Proximal Development and the full set of More Knowledgeable Others, understanding by More Knowledgeable Others not only as people of flesh and blood, but any kind of knowledge construct that we can imagine: from the more typical teachers and open educational resources to all sorts of digital content including messages in fora, multimedia files and so on. As Graham Attwell (2010) puts it, the MKO can also be viewed as a learning object or social software which embodies and mediates learning at higher levels of knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner presently possesses.

But if we really believe that the Personal Learning Environment is much more than a tool but a learning philosophy, there is much more than we can say in the crossroads of the PLE and the ZPD. The Personal Learning Environment is transferring some — or most — of the responsibility of somebody’s learning path from the instructor (back) to the learner. And, in doing so, it also implies regaining the control of one’s own learning path and its design. In relationship with the Zone of Proximal Development:

The role of a Personal Learning Environment may be not only that of a tool to provide access to ‘More Knowledgeable Others’ but as part of a system to allow learners to link learning to performance in practice, though work processes. And taking a wider view of artefacts as including information or knowledge accessed through a PLE, reflection on action or performance may in turn generate new artefacts for others to use within a ZPD (Graham Attwell, 2010).

The Personal Learning Environment and the Zone of Proximal Development: a dynamic approach

All these reflections stand for a static approach to the Zone of Proximal Development, that is, at a given time and at a given place. Indeed, in Vygotsky’s time, the boundaries of the ZPD were indeed very physical: the evolution of a wood carver’s craftsmanship was bound by the availability of master craftsmen and the possibility to be an apprentice in a nearby workshop.

But Information and Communication Technologies have capsized the whole previous scenario and, thus, the relationship between Personal Learning Environments and the Zone of Proximal Development should be approached not only within the state-of-things prior to the Internet, but also in how this state-of-things is shifting forward.

Thus, one way to look at the ZPD-PLE relationship is seeing the PLE as a way to build, fill in with or reach out for the tools and people that will help a learner through the ZPD. Another way to look at the ZPD-PLE relationship is how the PLE (re)defines the ZPD itself, continuously, dynamically.

Unlike in a world without digital access to information and communications, in a digital world content and people are available all at once. Maximalistically speaking, a PLE can be conformed by virtually everything that exists out in the cyberspace. If virtually everything is at reach, virtually everything can be understood as the more knowledgeable other. With a full, total, comprehensive access to the more knowledgeable other there virtually is no upper limit of the Zone of Proximal Development, there virtually is no level of problem solving that is unreachable for the student.

The PLE, has then two roles in relationship with the ZPD:

  1. It helps in building the inner structure of the ZPD, its components.
  2. It helps in building the outer structure of the ZPD, its boundaries.

There is a sort of corollary to the previous second statement. In Vygotsky’s time, learning — and hence the ZPD — was sort of linear: woodcarving apprentices would move “up” to a new master craftsman once they had mastered some skills themselves with the help of their previous/actual master. Progress would end when there were no more master craftsmen around whom to learn from. On the other hand, learning face to face with a human more knowledgeable other meant not only that one had to “use them up” but that one could not “consume” any other more knowledgeable others: learning was unidirectional, linear.

When MKOs are conformed by all kind of tacit and explicit knowledge constructs in one’s PLE, there is no way of (a) “using them up” and (b) not being able to move in parallel with more than one more knowledgeable other. We can then think of the PLE both as the biggest ZPD possible, or as the overlapping of different snapshots of a PLE that evolves “fractalically”, multidirectionally, on time, on demand, until it (potentially) covers the whole cyberlandscape.

The future of educators?

One of the conclusions that one might infer from the previous statements that they are proof of the postulates from thinkers like Syemour Papert, Roger Schank or Nicholas Negroponte: in a digital world, all you have to do is build a PLE as big as the biggest imaginable ZPD. Imagine all you need to learn and it already is out there.

I personally do not agree with that thesis. If PLEs can be understood from a dynamic point of view and work well for all your life-long learning and corresponding ZPDs, it is also true that, from a static point of view, they need to be built to scaffold your way through a specific ZPD. And it is in this scaffolding that help is required.

In other words, and summing up, I believe that it is likely that we see a decreasing need of instructors as more knowledgeable others in order to learn something, but an increasing need of instructors as more knowledgeable others in order to learn how to learn something. With Personal Learning Environments to cover the ground of one’s Zone of Personal Development, learning how to learn, how to design one’s own learning process may be more relevant than ever and require more help from third parties. This is, I think, the most promising future of teaching today.

UPDATE: A more elaborated version of this article was published in an academic journal as it appears below. Follow the link for a full-text download:

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Peña-López, I. (2013). Heavy switchers in translearning: From formal teaching to ubiquitous learning. In On the Horizon, 21 (2). Lincoln: NCB University Press.


Personal Learning Environments as conscious learning strategies

Digitalingua, the International Conference on Digital Environments and Language Learning, took place last week and I was interviewed by one of the organizers, Lola Torres on the topic of Personal Learning Environments (PLE).

Below you can find the original text of the interview in Spanish, and a quick translation into English.

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Interview (by Lola Torres):
Peña-López, I. (2012). Personal Learning Environments. Interview for Digitalingua 2012.

What do you mean by PLE?

Although certainly not the best way to define a thing, I like to
think on the Personal Learning Environment as opposed to two aspects of learning, which are, still today, the orthodox and hegemonic form to understand education (and note the change of “learning” to “education” is fully conscious).

When we think of learning we tend to circumscribe it into a formal and institutional environment. Formal in the sense that one “sets” oneself to learn, at a specific time and place, at a stage of life intended for it, and with a more or less defined plan (goals, methodology, schedule). Institutional in the sense that all this is provided in an exogenous way, by an institution (teacher, school, university, academia) that is who determines all aspects of formal learning, which is why we have to move from learning to being taught or educated.

The Personal Learning Environment is rethinking the whole process of learning from the informal and the endogenous or non-institutional, everyone becoming responsible for their own learning plan. And this is largely possible by the digital revolution: the knowledge contained in people and objects is
now available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. So, I understand the PLE as a set of conscious strategies to use technological tools to access the knowledge contained in objects and people and thereby achieve certain learning goals.

Could you explain your PLE as a teacher and as a researcher?

For me it is essential to consider research and teaching as two
sides of the same coin, the coin of knowledge. In this sense, research is but learning, and teaching is but learning
backwards. Thus, there is not a PLE for teaching and another one for research, but there is a PLE that sometimes works in one direction and sometimes in the other one.

And the very same consideration applies, in my opinion, for the PLE of a student. In the same train of thought of considering the PLE as a learning strategy in an open environment enabled by technology, I think is increasingly difficult to argue that the student must always be placed at the end where one only receives knowledge: the PLE puts the person, the learner, in the centre of a mesh whose purpose is that knowledge flows from one node to another one.

In this sense, I do not think there are different PLEs for teachers/researchers or students, but all of them are nodes of the same mesh. It will just happen that in some topics some nodes in that mesh will be denser than others, or that knowledge flows more fluently in some directions than others, but it will be a matter of
flows (thus temporary) rather than of architectures (or structural).

That said, my PLE responds to a simple conceptual framework:

  • What sources of knowledge do I feed from.
  • Who do I say that I am, although the sources that one feed from also make up much of the public person that sits in the centre of my PLE.
  • What I create, which is merely the result of certain knowledge sources transiting through me, producing a new point of view, a gathering of knowledges previously isolated or, at best, a small addition to the original set of knowledges.

What challenge is education-teachers, universities, institutions
education, compared to PLE?

From the moment that we are talking about teachers vs. students, about institutions vs. individuals, about learning vs. leisure, we are creating a series of dichotomies which necessarily place those terms in opposition. But the PLE, if we stick to its definition as a mesh of people and objects oriented towards learning, cannot be conceived as a set of dichotomies or elements placed in opposition.

To consider that the PLE is a good learning tool is to assume,
implicitly, that there has been a radical change in the sociocultural and economic context and that this makes the PLE possible. So, the biggest challenge of Education is to carry on an extraordinary reflection about many things that we now take for granted and, if we end up assuming that the context has changed, it is also possible that the very same foundations of that we call education may also have changed.

Thus, PLEs do not present a challenge in themselves: I believe that PLEs are a symptom of a deep systemic change that goes beyond education. And that systemic change is the real challenge. Digitization challenges basic concepts in Education. Digital content — reproducible, storable and transferable at lowest cost — make irrelevant many of the functions of documentation centres as silos of books. Telecommunications — fast, cheap and ubiquitous — make also irrelevant schools as hubs of talent. And the concentration of content and talent is the foundation of schools, universities, research centres and libraries.

PLEs are proof that some features of the current institutions can be carried on ??by other “institutions”, and that there is a need to rethink what new role in society should have the former ones.

What advice would you give to a language teacher to start your PLE?

Although this reflection is ex-post, it has helped me — and still does — to identify four stages in the use of a methodology or a technology in setting up my own PLE.

In a first stage, appropriation, one has to know what methods or what technologies exist, what skills should be apprehended to get the best of them, and what are their pros and cons. In this respect, staying up to date of what exists and how people use it is to me a first elemental approach. All in all, it is about initiating the learning process beginning with methods and tools, the same way we know how to locate the nearest library or instruct ourselves in the use of files for our working notes.

The second step is to adapt the methodology or the technology. This step consists in replacing a methodology or technology in a task that we already performed, with the only purpose of replacement of one technology by another one. Even if it might seem absurd to have invested resources to end up remaining in the same place, this phase will help us in answering the following question: to identify “why” or “what for” will I use the PLE, a crucial question that cannot have a void answer. Some people will then begin to manage the sources of information with an RSS feed reader, something that one quickly gets used to by the utility that
it provides. Others will start to sort their bibliographic resources. Others will replace paper notes with a blog or a wiki, always handy, sorted and enabling queries. Others will publish digital files that they had already produced, in various Internet services to increase their outreach.

Once the first the phases of appropriation and adaptation are over, it is then time to improve our learning processes, to make it more effective and/or more efficient. This is often the most rewarding part, as it is when the investment we made in time and effort starts to make sense. If we start with something
easy and something where the impact will be greater, the relative returns will be higher. Following the previous examples, reading information sources can be accompanied by storing what may seem more relevant to us or sharing it on social networking sites to enrich the debate and help in building a network. Or if we publish our notes in a blog we can try and embed our slides, using the most relevant tags, accompanying the slides in our blog with references that we retrieved from our bibliographic manager.

Finally, beyond the improvement of processes, the last phase consists in radically transform these processes. A transformation — if notthe transformation — is to “think digital”. That is, for instance, other than taking notes and copying them to the blog, taking instead the laptop to a talk and liveblog the talk while, at the same time, tweeting the event. What once was an individual and private act becomes now a collective and public act.

And it is in this transformation of the private sphere where we transform the whole system, breaking the personal dichotomies to be able to rethink education as a whole.


Native Latin teacher wanted. Linking personal teaching and learning strategies on the Net

I have been invited to participate in the II Jornades d’Aprenentatge de Llengües: Entorns, Eines i Recursos Didàctics (II Conference on Language Teaching: Environments, Tools and Learning Resources). I was asked to explain (a) how my own Personal Learning Environment (PLE) was created and managed and (b) how could PLEs help in bridging formal and informal education or how could they bridge the institutional with the personal.

The story begins in 2001, when I began working in the department of development cooperation in my university, developing ICT4D projects based on e-learning for development, online volunteering, free software and open content… when very few people spoke about that and in these terms.

The need to learn led me to explore outside of my closest environment, read blogs (which were then the most up-to-date resource available) and, finally, start my own blog in 2003. Then it came the wiki, then the bibliographic manager, then I turned a PhD student and I finally became a lecturer at university, where I try to apply the way I learnt to learn to the way I teach and help others to learn.

If you cannot see the slides, please visit <a href=""></a>



  • Read a lot. If you’re a knowledge worker, you have to read. If you don’t, the problem is not that the PLE is time-demanding: the problem is that you’re not doing your work.
  • Read thoroughly: analysis, synthesis, abstraction are a requisite for juicing a reading. Quite often reading requires writing to fix the main ideas and your own reflections triggered by them.
  • The best way to learn is to teach something. Writing (a blog) is partly about this: you are writing for the future you that will be reading your own words later on.
  • A PLE is not built out of the blue: do it little by little, device after device. You’d rarely use an all-tools PLE, as you’ll rarely get a definitive one.
  • Building a PLE should be done according to the needs it will cover. A PLE should be working for you, not the other way round.
  • Your digital identity is very important and it will become more important with time. Be proactive in building it. And your own domain is a good place to start with.
  • Your portfolio speaks about you better than your words. And it does it 24×7. It is very likely that, for most knowledge-based jobs, your e-portfolio will be worth much more than your resume.
  • Your network of people is as important as the objects you surround yourself with. Birds of the same feathers flock together: your network is your flesh & bones e-portfolio.
  • In a digital world, everything is connected.
  • Thus, inside/outside is a false dichotomy, artificially created to raise walls were there were none. Ask yourself why someone would try and build such walls.


NOTE: My gratitude to Enric Serra and the organization for a most enjoyable time at the conference.


Heavy switchers in translearning: From formal learning to an effective use of the PLE

During the 2010 edition of the Open EdTech Summit, the people that attended the meeting we debated around Campus Life! Rethinking the Online Campus Life of the 21st Century and ended up drafting a call to action with ten strategies for change. These ten strategies dealt with personalization (flexibility, personal tools, decentralization), connections amongst people (real-life connections, relationships between one’s different social spheres and acquaintances) and platform considerations (portfolios, pathways, portability and open source solutions).

Underlying beneath many of these concepts was the ever-present concept of multitasking, most of the times understood in a negative way: too distracting, shallow in its use of information, etc. While I agree that multitasking can definitely be a problem, I am not sure that we are talking here about multitasking or task-switching. And, if this about task-switching, whether we are talking about beginning everything and not finishing anything, or about yet another thing.

I believe that there is an increasing set of learners that are heavy switchers that do not actually hop from task to task, but that understand the process of learning as a trip through different learning objects, and not as staying bound to a single learning space. As some industries do by having some piece of work done in a succession of countries, same happens with some learners learning through a succession of learning objects and, by doing so, going in and out formal education.

What is informal learning?

Mark K. Smith has collected an interesting bibliography around the topic for his Informal Learning article at The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education, but I’d rather choose the short, straightforward and clear definitions by Jenny Hughes in Defining Learning.

Nevertheless, it is my opinion that most definitions are too much focussed on the context (how) and not on the nature (what) of formal, informal or non-formal learning. Following the idea that Jenny Hughes points at about structured vs. unstructured learning, I suggest to speak about planned vs. just-in-time learning, and goal-set vs. serendipitous learning. The relationship, concepts and examples are pictured in the following image:

According to the planned/just-in-time and goal-set/serendipitous axes, we find four categories of learning:

  • Formal: Planned and curriculum-based learning, like the one that usually happens at school.
  • Non-formal: Planned but less structured learning than formal learning. It will usually take place in formal spaces, but with a less tight framework.
  • Informal: Like non-formal, it has no structured goals, but it happens outside of formal institutions, like the workspace.
  • Self-taught/autodidactic: Also focussed at achieving some specific goals, but more short-term- and competence-aimed instead of long-term- or generic-knowledge-aimed.

Of course this categories have blurry edges and they are more a guide, a conceptual framework rather than a faithful depiction of what takes place in reality.

But what is interesting about this categorization is not its definition in itself, but how the different categories “interact” with concepts like the syllabus, the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and the different kinds of existing “learning objects”, which we group into formal (e.g. the usual textbook), open (e.g. a piece of formal opencourseware) and informal (e.g. a blog post).

The following image presents five types of learning (the preceding four plus open formal learning, which is formal learning that uses open content). Blue pieces indicate formal learning objects, green ones open and red ones informal.

We can see that there is a normal transition from formal content through open content to informal content as long as we move from formal education to informal education. This is how things have always been.

The existence of open (formal) content brings in a new scenario, where this content can be both used inside the classroom (formal education) and outside of it (informal learning).

I would like to witness, in a not-very-far future, two more scenarios.


The first one, here labelled as translearning, would include not only open content in the classroom, but also acknowledging that informal learning is possible on a formal environment. Credit recognition is a first way to do so, but being those credits not from e.g. other universities but from informal learning such as work experience.

The rational behind the “trans-” part of the name is that Information and Communication Technologies have made possible what trucks, trains, planes and ships made possible in an industrial society. Still in many industrial sectors, multinational corporations are but performing transnational commerce: cotton is collected in one country, weaved in another one, cut and sewed in a third one and sold in a last fourth one.

Translearning is just about that: the learner begins in the classroom, at their handbook table of contents, then shifts to an informal environment, then to some open content and at last back to their classroom for final assessment (the scheme and its order can grow as complex as you’d like).

The good thing about translearning is its openness beyond the classroom’s and the syllabus’s boundaries. The bad thing about it is, still, structure, planning.

The PLE in translearning is a heavily monitored, piloted, top-down driven one, even a Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE).

Open Social Learning

A next step towards a more un-structured scenario is shifting from translearning to (fully) open social learning. In this scenario, a sort of syllabus can be agreed, but the inner structure is totally free. The learner can actually choose from a wide range of resources that will make up their PLE. Accreditation of what’s learnt can requite — as we saw in translearning — a first and last formal module. But the rest is totally free.

As said, this is where the Personal Learning Environment can really develop its full potential, as it is the learner, self-positioned in their own environment, that has full responsibility of their own learning path.

Now, coming back to where we started. One of the increasingly common complaints from educators is that their students continuously switch tasks, that they attention time-spans are narrowing, that they are bored, that they’d rather work in what they want or, especially, the way they like. On the other hand, learners are increasingly aware — this is even truer in adult learners and/or in informal learners — of the many possibilities they have to reach knowledge, to acquire it, to share it and to improve it by feeding back rich conversations with peers onto their own learning process.

Heavy switching is definitely an issue. And in many cases, an issue that might be solved but directly fighting against it.

Notwithstanding, heavy switching — call it, even, multitasking — might be leveraged to enrich one’s learning process by diversifying or opening up one’s learning path.

More information

An evolution of these reflections has been published as an academic paper. Please see Heavy switchers in translearning: From formal teaching to ubiquitous learning for more information.


Personal Learning Environments: blurring the edges of formal and informal learning. An experiment with Anthologize.

After Deconstructing the Book: The Drumbeat series as a Pliego, here comes another experiment on open content and self-publishing.

I am preparing a support material for a conference on Personal Learning Environments due in Barcelona next February 2011. The material is going to be based on a series of writings I recently made on the topic of the Personal Learning Environment and, more specifically, on the Hybrid Institutional Personal Learning Environment as a bridge between educational institutions and online informal/social learning.

That was the perfect excuse to test the possibilities of Anthologize with a practical exercise.

At first sight, Anthologize just saves you some of the old copy-and-paste by making it easier to merge several (WordPress) blog posts into one. After working with it, what it really does is making really easy to engage in a simple but real editorial process, which includes selecting the appropriate articles, make changes in them (without altering the originals!), and seeing how they best fit together by selecting their order or grouping them into sections or chapters. If you’re not happy with the result, the output can be exported to an RTF file which you can afterwords thoroughly edit in any text editor. Simple as it sounds, it’s an awesome and very useful tool for quickly making deliverables out of your blog.

Here’s what came out of my experiment:

This final version was deeply edited after the Anthologize process was over. It was, nevertheless, a very personal decision and there was actually not a real need for it but a matter of taste.


The Workings of a Personal Learning Environment (III): the institutional fit

This is a three-part article whose aim is to serve as an update to my work on the personal research portal, as long as to explain yet another practical example of a PLE, something that many found useful at the PLE Conference as a means to embody theoretical ramblings.

The first part deals with infrastructures and how my PLE is built in the sense of which applications shape it. The second one deals with the information management workflow. The third one puts the personal learning environment in relationship with the university.

If in the two previous parts we have seen what can the infrastructure of a PLE be like and what can the workflow be, we here will see how the personal fits into the institutional. I agree that PLEs are not just tools but ways to understand learning on the Net, hence the debate around institutional or non-institutional PLEs may seem void. Still, I think this question is indeed relevant because, beyond their learning specificities, I believe in PLEs as a driver of change in formal learning en educational institutions, as a wedge that breaks through the interstices that have opened in the education system.

An introduction to the (new) UOC Campus, a virtual open campus

In the last years, my colleagues at the Office of Learning Technologies (OLT) at the Open University of Catalonia have been doing a terrific job in preparing our virtual campus for openness.

Being part of the faculty and not part of the OLT team, I’m not fully knowledgeable of all the work that has been done there, but I can speak of perceptions, which is most of the times what in the end matters. And the perceptions are that our campus has undergone (at least) two drastic transformations in the recent years from the standpoint of view of the user:

  • The Campus project, a multi-stakeholder initiative, changed our virtual campus from a closed legacy system into a service-oriented architecture that now can interact or incorporate most services and applications existing around, from modules from other LMSs (e.g. a Moodle classroom) to the most common web 2.0 applications (e.g. a WordPress blog). These services can be selected (with the required profile permissions) and set up into a classroom at will. New services and apps take from one to two semesters to be added to the current pool of options, depending on complexity.
  • The MyUOC project provided each and every university member with an “i-Homepage” inside the Campus, the flavour of Netvibes or iGoogle thus allowing for a brand new path towards personalization and external information self-integration (i.e. DIY integration of external information, not top-down led).

Fitting the personal into the institutional

So, what have these changes meant? And, especially, how is that new virtual campus coping with my own PLE?

The following image re-visits the infrastructure of a Personal Learning Environment, simplifies it and puts it in relationship with the infrastructure of UOC’s virtual campus (also greatly simplified).

Of the virtual campus (painted in green), I listed several web 2.0 applications currently in use. These are the usual suspects: on-site installations of blogs, wikis, fora, repositories, question tools, etc. Of course you do not always (for several reasons) can or want to install something in the campus. Then, you always have the option to install it in your own web server (i.e. your own personal learning environment or, in this case, your personal teaching environment) and either call it with a link from the virtual classroom. But there are better ways to cross the line that separates the walled garden of the virtual campus from the rest of the cyberworld:

  • The MyUOC i-homepage, which now can hold information from third parties. Some of this information is retrieved by using widgets especially adapted to the campus. But potentially all kinds of information, apps and services can be embedded by means of iframes. Simple (and not elegant) as this solution may be, it definitely works and lets any user (i.e. me) to add information without bothering or requiring anyone to code anything. I’m currently using this page to collect in there my academic schedule on a Google Calendar, the dropbox account I use(d) to share huge MSc thesis documents and datasets with an student of mine living in Panama, Google Docs with a collectively edited and authored ongoing book, or the teaching blogs that I installed in my own site but for teaching purposes and to be used by campus students..
  • The Wikispaces wiki: unlike your typical Mediawiki or PmWiki installation, which resides in your LMS (we use these too), you can now use a wikispace which lives outside the campus (i.e. at Wikispaces), though it has been wired to the campus so that the user is automatically kept logged in so they do not have to bother whether they are in or outside. Again, simple as this might sound, it does not only enables installing external applications to your campus, but use external services that may not be available for custom install.
  • Third, the nanoblogging project (being implemented in the next two semesters in different phases) will bring StatusNet to the classroom in a first phase. So long, no big news: there is, of course, technical stuff to be done, but it is “only” a matter of installing and wiring tools and classrooms. I’m not trivializing this part, but “conceptually”, there’s no big difference with setting up the first blog. Hopefully, though, in a second and third phase, the idea is to bring the nanoblogging timeline to the MyUOC i-homepage and to make possible an interaction with Twitter. If everything goes well (time, resources, etc.), it should very much look like what was described in The Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE) into practice: an example with Twitter , where the boundaries of the virtual campus are totally overridden.

Back to the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment

At this point, it is necessary to pay back a visit to the concept of the The Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE). Even if still at a very low level and with a lot of effort invested, the LMS I’ve been mainly using for almost 11 years and the PLE I started almost 7 years ago now speak one to each other. They sometimes speak in smoke signals, they sometimes speak like Italians and Spaniards do (each one in their own language, but more or less understanding each other), but speak they do.

Why is this so important?

It took years to journalists and, especially, to news businessmen to understand that the monopoly of news distribution was over, and that there were news streams outside mass media. Part of the crisis media are living today comes from the late understanding (and negation) of that fact, with consequences in job losses, decreased quantity of quality information, negative effects on democracy… you name it.

While journalism is important, I believe that education is even more important… and much more complex. As it happened with news, learning is increasingly happening “out there”. And if blogs were the main tools of “citizen journalism”, PLEs are becoming the tools of out-there-education.

It is my opinion that all the forecasts about the emergence of life-long-learning, informal learning, social learning, etc. are coming true, but are taking place outside of formal education and its walled institutions. And while educational institutions — and their components, including assessment, accreditation and educators — definitely need a dire transformation, they still play a core role in our society.

And it is precisely here, in bridging what is happening in out-there-education with the important socioeconomic role of educational institutions that PLEs can come to the rescue. As we have just shown, PLEs can permeate the waterproof membranes of educational institutions, the brick walls of classrooms. PLEs as personal research portals (PRP) can turn the academic ivory towers into crystal, enabling peeping the inside… and bringing some external light to its dark matters too.

That is why, in my opinion, PLEs are not only learning tools, not only ways to understand learning on the Net or to understand informal learning. In my opinion, PLEs are transforming drivers with an extraordinary potential for change.