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PLE, VLE, MLE, FLE, LMS . . . aren’t there enough TLA’s? November 8, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in TELIC.
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From Moggs Oceanlane on Flickr

Learning Platform, Personalised Learning Environment, Managed Learning Environment, Virtual Learning Environment, Learning Gateway, Learning Management System. So many terms have evolved for describing the mechanisms or spaces we provide for learning online. Why is this? Do they all mean the roughly the same thing or do they all provide different affordances? When we think of the real learning spaces we associate with schools, we think classroom, gymnasium, science lab, workshop, and we all have a reasonable mental picture of what those spaces are, how they’re used and what we do in them, possibly because as younger people, we’ve all experienced learning in those spaces. But VLE? What mental image does that conjure up . . . if any?

For me there was a chronology to my understanding of these terms which began around 2001(ish!) with VLE. As I understood it, a VLE was a way for teachers to provide access to learning resources for their students and those resources could be marshalled into sequences of activities which provided a learning journey (shudders as thinks about current overuse of term ‘journey’). VLE then developed into Managed Learning Environment and I saw this as an integration with schools’ information management systems which therefore expanded what was possible. Learning Platforms and Gateways bubbled into view next, offering additional functionalities like collaborative features, assessment tools and Web 2.0 technologies. With the current focus on Personalised learning, it’s hardly surprising that the latest incarnation would be the Personal Learning Environment in which the learner is better able to enlist features, tools and learning activities they feel are appropriate to their needs. But they’re just my observations and others will doubtless think differently.

There is a common theme though . . .the word learning occurs in each term. An accident? I hope not. VLE’s felt more like a teacher tool, where information was pushed in the students’ direction in the order chosen by the teacher; perhaps they should have been called Virtual Teaching Environments. In a sense they mirrored what took (and takes) place in many classrooms. Appending the term ‘Managed’ to learning environment did nothing to alter that; indeed the term has even greater connotations of control – was it the organisation doing the managing? Similarly Learning Management Systems. With Learning Platforms and Gateways, we’re hopefully getting closer to the ‘learning,’ though platform implies at least some measure of pre-ordained structure, whereas gateway suggests an access route, maybe a looking glass to wonders beyond! Until finally we arrive at Personalised systems in which some degree of control is given over to the learner. However, as George Siemens observed, ‘PLEs aren’t an entity, structural object or software program in the sense of a learning management system.’ So they might include a VLE as element, but may also include social networking sites, media storage and distribution sites, blogs and RSS feeds. They might also include the local library, newspapers handed out in the street, periodicals delivered to our door, friends we hang out with in the pub and the TV we might slump in front of at the end of a long day. It’s likely then that the truly personalised learning environment has incredibly fuzzy edges which blend together both online and offline worlds. George Siemens would rather have ‘ecology’ than environment. I think I prefer ‘ecosystem’ – it’s more to do with ‘community’ and ‘interactions;’ surely they’re at the very heart of learning? PLE – Personal Learning Ecosystem . . . wonder if it’ll catch on?

Gretchen Frage's PLE

From Gretchen Frage on Flickr

Next post has to be – visualising my personal learning ecosystem.


1. ianinsheffield - November 9, 2009

Wouldn’t ya know it!
Searching for a suitable image on Flickr and found that @dajbelshaw has already coined the ‘ecosystem’ term in the context of their Academy’s E-Learning developments. Hope you don’t mind me poaching it Doug 😉

2. Reflections on Topic 1 … Newton’s First Law. « In the pICTure - January 27, 2013

[…] raised by “What does my PLE/PLN look like? How can I share it?” began a while ago. Here I settled on the term Personal Learning Ecosystem to describe the network I had assembled from […]

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