Blog Pile

Those PLENKing Diagrams

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Lars Plougmann

I’m ready.

Once again, with the best intentions, I have signed up for a George and Stephen (and others more now) Massively Open Online Course, Personal Learning Environments, Networks, and Knowledge 2010 (PLENK2010).

My track record is poor, I easily let this stuff slide off of the radar. I’m a MOOCDO.

But they have done a good job of re-assuring people that they don’t have to try and grapple it all. And all is a lot. I get dizzy when I look at that discussion forum, and by the time I scroll down to the form field at the bottom of a long page, I’m empty of thoughts.

Week 1 is an introduction to PLEs and PLNs and msy be just the first bowl of acronym soup.

Having complained plenty about the meaningless of some of the terminology, I am aiming to keep the mind slightly ajar, if not wide open.

Among the readings I took in on this week’s there and back trip to Boise, was Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems by Scott Wilson, et al, which sets a rather strong contrast between the enterprise learning systems (VLEs in the UK / LMSes here) and the personal learning environment. It was an interesting and worthy notion to make the VLE/LMS as a “dominant design”, which in the end of the reading, is not really a desirable title to carry:

The primary characteristic of a dominant design is that, once it emerges, innovative activity is directed to improving the process by which the dominant design is delivered rather than exploring alternatives.

Or, in other words, once established in dominance, such systems tend to operate in modes that maintain their dominant position. That certainly seems to ring true of a certain large company who’s nick name is comprised of two duplicate letters.

This was thee paper that published The PLE Diagram, which originally was posted in a January 2005 blog post by Scott Wilson. This might be the mother of all PLE Diagrams (as carefully catalogued by Scott Leslie).

I can remember seeing this diagram and being excited, because all of the things in the boxes, and more so, the lines between them, was where I was focused on, all of our Small Pieces Loosely Joined kool-aid. I am sure I used The Diagram in several presentations.

It’s the middle of the diagram that bothers me, the amorphous blob with the PLE label. Perhaps more fitting was the Networked Teacher (or fill in with student) diagram by Alec Couros with the person in the center.

People talk about PLEs like it is a thing, a definable object, but its not. In this paper, it almost sounds like it is defined as being everything the VLE is not (?). It was helpful to re-read this original paper, because the authors make it abundantly clear that the PLE is not a thing:

The critical design flaws inherent in today’s learning systems can be addressed through adopting a new design pattern that shifts emphasis away from the isolated experience of the modular VLE. We characterize this new pattern a Personal Learning Environment, although unlike the VLE this is primarily a pattern concerned with the practices of users in learning with diverse technologies, rather than a category of software.

That makes more sense to me than most other readings– “primarily a pattern concerned with the practices of users in learning with diverse technologies.”

For me, the PLE is everything behind all the floating bubbles and lines, it is the entire space in the bounds of the diagram, the PLE is the entire internet (and things beyond?). Why have just a few bubbles when your learning environment can be the entire enchilada?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by jurvetson

That’s my PLE.

But back to the dominant design paper– what I was hoping for and did not get, were some ideas how dominant designs are overturned. Some are just not budging (their example of the QWERTY keyboard), but others are un-dominant (Betamax losing out to VHS? Neither are viable now).

And I listen with empathy to emails from colleagues of horror stories they deal with their dominantly designed systems- uphill battles just to create content, down times, content lost or mangled by the time it gets to the screen, limits on what it can do– they seem, rather dominated. They seem to spend more time working to fit their needs to the allowances of the system, rather than the system serving them.

Enough of this dominant design! Time for something new!

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so)


  1. “For me, the PLE is everything behind all the floating bubbles and lines, it is the entire space in the bounds of the diagram, the PLE is the entire internet (and things beyond?). Why have just a few bubbles when your learning environment can be the entire enchilada?”

    Bruno Latour, John Law and others struck the same problem when looking at the sociology of professions such as medicine and law. They devised a theory called Actor-Network Theory that they claimed allowed sociologists to look at the spaces in networks rather than the actors, the links or the technologies (broadly-framed) themselves. The theory is interesting but to a foodie like me your enchilada is a lot more generative. Cheers!

    1. I agree that the VLE can be much like an enchilada a.k.a, a mess. But, I think the diagram gives some organization to the functional and education uses for utilizing VLE. Someone, who might not know where to begin, may want to start with this chart and move on from there.

  2. I’d say your quote is wrong. The PLE is NEITHER a pattern or a category of software, anymore than driving is a car or a map or the places one goes.

    I’ve really never understood your vehemence about the PLE thing, nor do I see anything happening with discussions of PLEs I am part of that resembles in any significant way the state or evolution of the LMS. Guess I’m just dense and I’m out of analogies and explanations to try to get my position across.

    The point of this comment isn’t to change your mind, but to point out one of the reasons I’ve dropped out of the game… posts like this one.

        1. And I’m not being sarcastic, so I should clarify: getting out of ed tech is one of the best things I’ve done (or am in the process of doing).

          Posts like this, which remind me of the pointless internal (internal to me) skirmishes and frustration at being constantly misunderstood and subject to a host of forces that ultimately conspire to enforce limits, often in the name of just the opposite, help keep me from getting sucked back in 🙂

          It’s a good thing.

          1. (sarcasm turning off).

            I’m happy for you. I don’t exactly *understand* you, but don’t need to.

            If my posts are pointless to you, than stand in line. I don’t write for you, I write for me. And I don’t write, or pretend to offer definitive answers to anything. I am just trying to flesh things out, this is my think space. I am often wrong (and pointless).

            Go where-ever you go in peace. My connection with you (I thought) was not really about ed-tech, and hope it continues.

            (oh, its my turn to play!)

  3. It’s not your posts that are pointless, Alan, that I *can* say definitively. It’s the philosophical skirmishes in ed tech (I know you hate the idea of the philosophical, but you are squarely in the philosophical tradition here, and often. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and all that) in which there is too often a strident “side” squelching others while wearing the white robes of “there are no sides.” There are many sides, as is proven by the conversation, and many that are seen as mutually exclusive may actually all be right. Until that kind of “truth” can be accommodated, the endeavor just seems pointless. I could live with that, I suppose, and did, but I can’t live with the repeated assumptions of bad faith and lack of generosity and general unwillingness by so many to brook no dissent and not allow for the possibility that there may be more than one productive, if not correct, way.

    You, my friend, are innocent of those charges, and it was probably unfair of me to choose your post to let my eruption of dismay show through. It’s like a war wound, sometimes it hurts, and I start, when I hear a loud sound.

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