History of personal learning environments
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Personal learning environments are systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to
- set their own learning goals
- manage their learning; managing both content and process
- communicate with others in the process of learning
and thereby achieve learning goals. A personal learning environment (PLE) involves both formal and informal learning experiences.
A PLE may be composed of one or more subsystems: As such it may be a desktop application, or composed of one or more web-based services."
Important concepts in PLEs include the integration of both formal and informal learning episodes into a single experience, the use of social networks that can cross institutional boundaries, and the use of networking protocols (Peer-to-Peer, web services, syndication) to connect a range of resources and systems within a personally-managed space.
While PLE is a very new term, the concept represents the latest step in an alternative approach to e-learning which can trace its origins to early systems such as Colloquia, the first peer-to-peer learning system, and in more recent phenomena such as the Epsilen Environment developed by Ali Jafari and the Elgg system developed by Ben Werdmuller and Dave Tosh, and PebblePAD developed by UK-based Pebble Learning. This alternative approach developed in parallel to that of Learning Management Systems, which unlike the PLE take an institution-centric (or course-centric) view of learning.
The earliest recorded use (so far) of the concept of a personal learning environment is by Goldstein and Miller in 1976. Though the publication uses PLE without defining it, it can be attributed to classical artificial intelligence (AI) research. From today's viewpoint, it is still interesting to see how the early Papert papers on constructionism are cited and have clearly influenced thinking.
Learning Environments research group of the Media Lab in Helsinki released the first version of FLE (Future Learning Environment – later Fle3) - web-based learning environment designed to support learner and group centered work that concentrates on creating and developing expressions of knowledge. FLE had student "WebTops" that were used to store, organize and share different items (documents, files, links, knowledge building notes) related to the study work. Furthermore FLE contained Knowledge Building tool and Jamming tool for collaborative knowledge building and construction of digital artifacts.
- Oleg Liber publishes Colloquia - a Conversation Manager'. Colloquia provides support for a conversational and activity-based model of learning; maintaining information about people, resources, and tasks. Teachers set up activities and sub-activities at different levels of granularity and allocate people, resources and tasks to those activities. Learners may also create and parameterize sub-activities. Personalisation is only possible in a limited sense in that teachers and learners may add resources for an activity or subactivity. Most importantly, however, the new system incorporates a strong element of social networking - individual users constructed activities and invited friends to participate, rather than subscribing to courses or having courses allocated to them. This was implemented in Colloquia using peer-to-peer networking, however the conceptual foundations for this feature lay in earlier educational literature, such as Ivan Illich's concept of learning exchanges and networks.
- The NIIMLE Project in Northern Ireland begins, implementing a personal space for students integrated from multiple institutional systems. A similar project, SHELL, is initiated at the same time, as part of the UK funding agency Jisc's Managed Learning Environments for Lifelong Learning development programme.
- May 7–11, 2002: "EDUTELLA: A P2P Networking Infrastructure Based on RDF" is presented at the WWW 2002 conference. Edutella uses P2P protocols to enable the construction of a distributed global learning object network based on social networking principles. This enables any learner to publish or search for learning objects to enhance their educational experience.
- 2003: The ROMA project begins at the Open University of the Netherlands, focusing on the use of stigmergic connections within social networks to enhance individual learning experiences through the mining of anonymized information on the pathways chosen by successful learners. This work provided a foundation for the educational use and methods of social network analysis to support learning. (Similar work was also undertaken by INSEAD in France - more details needed)
- September: Pebble Learning developed the Personal Development Planning tool "Profilability" to allow users to audit their skills and create plans to develop these skills with the aid of embedded resources. Users reflect upon their skills and receive feedback and comments from others.
Robot Coop released 43Things, a social networking site based around the concepts of describing and sharing personal goals (in many cases learning goals) and then collaborating towards achieving them with others with similar goals. 43Things distinguishes between 'peers' and 'experts', in the sense of enabling connections of people who want to achieve a goal, and those who report already having achieved it. 43Things proved highly influential to many in the e-learning field, and is notably present in the early architectural models of a PLE (see below).
- February 2004: Working in collaboration with the University of Wolverhampton, Pebble Learning added a Flash-based interface to their ProfilAbility tool to create the first version of PebblePad, originally called PACE (Personal, Academic, Careers and Employability). A key feature of even the earliest version of the system was absolute control by the user both in terms of choices over interface and output designs, and over what was shared with who, with what permissions (view, comment, copy, collaborate) and for how long.
- March 2004: The Elgg personal learning system was developed by Ben Werdmuller and Dave Tosh. Initially described as an e-portfolio system, and as a personal 'learning landscape' (which was, coincidentally, the original name of the Colloquia system), Elgg had from the beginning many of the characteristics that would become the critical features of PLEs, including social networking (based on FOAF), feeds, and a high degree of personalization.
- September 2004: The University of Wolverhampton launches a year-long pilot for PACE with 160 students in four academic subject areas. While originally promoted as an ePortfolio system, with the inclusion of tools such as action planning facilities, meeting recording, sharing and commenting as well as linking to wider tools on the Internet the system began to be recognized as a Personal Learning System.
- November 4, 2004: The first recorded use of the term Personal Learning Environments: The Personal Learning Environments Session at JISC/CETIS Conference 2004 (Summary slides, and very rough session notes).
- November 20, 2004: Elgg opened to its first public users.
- January 25, 2005: Scott Wilson publishes on his weblog a diagram illustrating a future vision for a VLE (and which later became incorporated into the Bolton PLE project). This vision is based around a personal system interacting with a range of Web 2.0 services as well as services offered by institutional systems to create a personal environment to support learning. Wilson's model also explicitly articulates the link between the personal learning environment (and learning process) with the presentation of an electronic portfolio.
- May 25, 2005: Scott Wilson distributes a presentation given at the University of Sydney on the topic of ePortfolios, which incorporates architectural models of what are clearly PLE systems. Again, the link between personal learning and e-portfolios is made clear. The presentation also mentions a model of verification of claims - this was based on detailed work circulated within the UK funding agency JISC and a number of organisations the previous year proposing a method to support the verification by institutions of claims of competence or qualifications made by individuals using digital signatures and web services.
- October 1, 2005: the EC-funded iCamp project starts. This will lead to the development of a Mash-Up Personal Learning Environment (MUPPLE).
- October 17, 2005: Stephen Downes publishes E-Learning 2.0  in elearn magazine, articulating the themes and ongoing changes in education and web technology that together contribute to and combine to form what is now called e-learning 2.0.
- July, 2005: JISC-funded Manchester Framework Project ends, produces a Tomcat-based framework that can be instantiated as a VLE or a PLE, where the PLE is a desktop client that is capable of offline use, and is to inter-work with the VLE that acts as a server for the PLE. A (not completely implemented) protocol, VPTP, is to be used for PLE to VLE communications. A single PLE may be connected to multiple institutional VLEs to support lifelong learning needs.
- November 15 and 16, 2005: Personal Learning Environment Theme, JISC-CETIS Conference 2005 included presentations from several PLE projects and general discussion summarised in this audio transcript (Charles Severance speaking).
- 2005 sees the start of a movement that eschews desktop facilities in favour of browser-based integrations of web server facilities, as for example in Leigh Blackall's post Die LMS die! You too PLE!. While Blackall denies that an aggregation of web-based server facilities in a browser is a PLE, by 2006 PLE is regularly being applied to such highly personal assemblages.
- March 31, 2006: PLEX Beta released by the Personal Learning Environments Project at the University of Bolton. Informed by theory from Heidegger, Winograd & Flores, and Beer, the basic structure of PLEX has echoes of Colloquia: There is a resource manager, a people manager, and activities consisting of resources and people. People and resources are discoverable. PLEX supports the setting and realisation of learner goals with the creation of learning opportunities and their transformation into learning activities. Two versions were produced, a desktop version based on Eclipse, and a web-based version using a LifeRay portal. The Eclipse version is highly pluggable via Eclipse’s plug-in architecture.
- May 16, 2006: Connected Learning Community launched as part of the Australian Flexible Learning Network. The community is expressly interested in the use of browser-accessed Web 2.0 tools to provide PLEs.
- June 6–7, 2006: CETIS PLE Meeting in Manchester, UK. Documents from that meeting are here.
- Scott Leslie publishes the first version of his "Collection of PLE Diagrams" which contained 80 diagrams in 2012 when it is moved to http://www.edtechpost.ca/ple_diagrams/index.php/
- Fridolin Wild, Felix Moedritscher, and Steinn Sigurdarson of the iCamp project publish "Designing for Change: Mash-Up Personal Learning Environments 
- Dokeos released Dokeos 1.8.6 BETA, a PLE that focusses on individual learning through a personal notebook, conditional surveys (go to question 3 if answered B to question 1) and an individualized testing tool with scenario and redirections depending on the student's answers.
- RWTH Aachen University released the Personal Learning Environment framework (PLEF) (http://eiche.informatik.rwth-aachen.de:3333/PLEF/index.jsp), a PLE mashup service that supports learners in aggregating, managing, tagging, commenting, and sharing their favorite resources (e.g. feeds, widgets, and different media) within a personalized space.
- The EU Funded Integrated Research Project TENCompetence released the Personal Competence Manager. This open sources and open standards based system aims to support lifelong learning and provides full control and ownership to the users themselves to manage, create, use and share eportfolios, learning activities, assessments, learning goals, social interaction, etc. The sources can be found in sourceforge. Publications can be found in the dspace repository of the Open University of the Netherlands.
- June 2009, Dapsang.com launhced a PLE project, YPGoGo.com . This approach appears to be much more aligned with theories of instructional design rather than falling within the European paradigm of learning environments which are assembled and customised by the learner individually.
- At the International Plymouth e-learning conference which took place in April, James Carhart, Daniel Houton and Adam Skill, three B.Ed students (supervised by Steve Wheeler at the University of Plymouth) presented a paper on personal learning environments and how they could be implemented in primary schools. These students also created a video to accompany their research which can be accessed here: .
- Wendy Drexler PhD, University of Florida conducted her dissertation research on the construction of personal learning environments in a middle school science course. A student who participated in this project created a video entitled "Welcome to My PLE". 
- The First International Personal Learning Environment Conference was held in Barcelona, Spain, in July 2010. The event was hosted by CitiLab, attracted over 150 physical participants, and many more who contributed to the online discussion. The conference used the hashtag #PLE_BCN which can be used to retrieve artefacts such as Twitter backchannel discussions, YouTube videos, SlideShare records of sessions and Flickr archives. The conference emphasised interactivity and discussion, but there are also online proceedings, and selected papers are being published in the International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments (ISSN 1947-8518).
- Steve Wheeler publishes 'Anatomy of a PLE' and ' Physiology of a PLE ', which respectively describe the components and functionality of PLEs.
- The Second International Conference of Personal Learning Environments will be held at the University of Southampton, UK in July 2011.
- The 25th annual SLOAN-C Conference on Online Learning, hosted by the Sloan Consortium, featured speakers highlighting the benefits and progression of the PLE in the future of education. One such group is trying to set a basic guideline for administrators on how to go about creating PLEs in their curricula at http://www.w3ple.org.
- The Third International Conference of Personal Learning Environments will be jointly held in Berlin, Germany & Melbourne, Australia, 10-12 July 2013.
PLE in images
- Mohamed Amine Chatti
- Stephen Downes
- James Farmer
- Jeremy Hiebert
- Scott Leslie
- Jared Stein
- David Tosh
- Derek Wenmoth
- Steve Wheeler
- Scott Wilson see article: http://blog.core-ed.net/derek/2006/10/ples_and_mles.html
- Personal Learning Networks
- History of virtual learning environments
- Networked learning
- Educational technology
- van Harmelen, Mark (August 2006). "Personal Learning Environments". Retrieved 2006-08-24.
- Goldstein, Ira. P.; Miller, Mark L. (1976). "AI Based Personal Learning Environment". AI Memo. MIT. pp. 1–35. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
- Liber, Oleg (2000). "Colloquia - a Conversation Manager". Campus Wide Information Systems 17(2). pp. 56–62. Retrieved 2006-08-27.
- Downes, Stephen (October 2005). "E-learning 2.0". Retrieved 2006-08-28.
- Fridolin Wild; Felix Moedritscher; Steinn Sigurdarson (2008). "Designing for Change: Mash-Up Personal Learning Environments". eLearning Papers, No. 9. www.elearningpapers.eu. pp. 1–15. Retrieved 2012-03-30.