Thursday, June 02, 2011

Personal Learning Ecology

I was prompted by a very interesting tweet the other day. Nancy White asked the question "What was the difference between a Personal Leaning Network (PLN) and a Personal Learning Ecology (PLE)". This question got me thinking and I have reflected upon it often in the last few days. One thing that jumped out from this reflection is to add the Personal Learning Environment to this question.
This is how I define these three related ideas;
  • Personal Learning Network is global and includes wherever your network reach extends, all resources are available (these resources can be; filtered or unfiltered, human, digital, printed, or otherwise). It is important to consider everything in your network that can contain or process knowledge and provide skills acquisition or understanding as a part of this network. Your PLN is very broad.
  • Personal Learning Ecology is more geographically related... the learning objects are what is available in the "local area" or within easy reach (digitally or otherwise). Items in the learning ecology are what come available as the learner goes through their day and are the items in which the learner has built their knowledge. These objects have the ability to be viewed through multiple intelligences and consumed using multiple tools. They are the things that are on the current learning path and not too far out in the persons network. What is in the ecology is a subset of your PLN and these items are very easily accessible through multiple modalities at the right time. Often it is the objects that are right in front of you during your learning that are most important, its the "when the student is ready the teacher will come" idea. And with PLEcologies the teacher can come in many forms. Depth and breadth is also important, therefore when the learning opportunity presents itself it needs to be explored in its entirety.
  • Personal Learning Environment is the full extent of the tools used to gather knowledge and deepen understanding. This PLE is more technology based and includes all your devices, approaches and collaborative technologies.
An example:
I have taken it upon myself to develop an expert understanding of the Morris dancing and related folk music tradition with focus on learning to play the pipe and tabor. I've committed myself to this journey and for me its about getting to mastery, not the rate in which I get to mastery. I purposefully put myself in positions to learn more. I have been documenting my process in learning the pipe and tabor and regularly seek out opportunities to deepen my understanding of Morris dancing and playing these traditional musical instruments. I have felt this is slowing due to not getting the correct mentorship and feedback as I try to learn, and not knowing what is my next step toward deliberate practice is difficult. I continue to read books on the subject and attend festivals and face-to-face workshops to learn more. Recently two things have occurred that I consider show the difference between a learning ecology and a learning network.
  1. A while back I was searching for books in these subject areas. My emerging learning network on this subject pointed me toward a couple of books which I have begun to read. One of the books describes when learning the pipe and tabor it is good to do this by ear, and it is a good idea to practice while sitting at a piano so you can listen correctly to the notes as playing on the piano then play them on the pipe. This back and forth between piano and pipe will greatly assist in learning the tones that occur when over-blowing the pipe. Training the ear is important to learning the pipe. Even though the book(s) came via my network, it is the presence of these books close at hand that put them into my ecology.
  2. I have also been focused on learning a jig called "I'll go and enlist for a sailor". Some of the steps were eluding me. Over this last weekend I attended the Marlboro Morris Ale and was fortunate enough to meet John Dexter, who could teach me the jig. I was shown the steps in detail by a master of the dance, much of the mystery of the steps were demonstrated, they are no longer a mystery. All my reading of the dance, watching videos had prepared me well for this master / apprentice type session. I was ready to learn and the correct situation presented itself as I was on my learning journey. The Morris Ale became a part of my learning ecology.
These are both examples of how what was right in front of me from within my PLEcology is what I needed best. How this is different from the PLN is that I focused my learning on what was directly in front of me as resources instead of searching my broader network. Most often it is important to hold the faith that the right learning is available at the right time.