Personal learning environment

Are you familiar with the X-men films? Marvel’s characters with special powers who expand their senses and abilities are simply fascinating. In a certain sense, we also have the opportunity to gain our own little X’s (i.e. eXtensions) and we have them on hand all the time – our mobile phone and computer with certain tools and applications can help us improve by learning and developing. 

You probably have Instagram, an e-mail address, a mobile phone, some books, apps, notepads and other similar items. We can look at all of them separately, but they have greater power together – as parts that form the interconnected whole of our personal learning environment. We can rearrange this according to what we need at the moment – to shapeshift, start a fire with our eyes alone, speak another language, learn how to take photos, write a diary, or create electronic music.  

Schéma osobního vzdělávacího prostředí s použitím různých aplikací. Zdroj: Personal Learning Environment: Janson Hews

A personal learning environment is created from tools that we can use to achieve something – in the present context, this means working with information and learning independently. That’s why we can also map our learning environment in terms of phases of working with information and the learning process. 

What we do or don’t do in one phase will affect another. Imagine, for example, that you leave a phase out of searching for information because you don’t know how to search with Google or in a library catalogue – you’ll make decisions based on your impressions. If you have a bad system of saving sources, it will be hard to come back to them when you need to. When you don’t know what tools to use for sharing, no one will see your beautiful artistic photos. If you don’t have the tools to create something, no one will know that you have a skill. And so on and so on.   

The phases for which it’s suitable to acquire tools will be discussed in the following. However, you can also divide them up into smaller sections. We’ll deal with them in more detail in independent modules.  

Setting goals and managing time and tasks is a pivotal phase if we want to take systematic steps towards something and achieve it. Let’s now imagine that, for example, you want to photograph portraits. This won’t happen on its own, and therefore you’ll need to plan out your tasks, for example in Google Keep. This might include studying technique and reading reviews about applications and selecting them, training your photography skills, and practicing editing. At the same time, it’s necessary to establish when you do what, for example in Google calendar.  

Information acquisition is the phase that allows us to think about something, decide, make progress, and know how to do it. You can subscribe to regular news from your favorite photography website or its Facebook profile. You can also search on Google, in a library, or take a MOOC course.  

Evaluation and sorting means organizing and saving what you see to be relevant and useable into bookmarks or Pocket, or writing down everything that comes to your mind in a thought map in XMindEvernote, or your laptop.  

Creation can mean everything from blogging (for example on Wordpress) to taking photos and writing book reviews on Goodreads. Everything stems from what you’re doing – and for this you’ll need to search for the proper tool. A basic tool that almost everyone needs is a text editor.  

Communication and sharing are a part of creation. People can do very little alone from the ground up. You can discuss photography, and share your work on Instagram or Behance. You can start a shared photo project with your friends and make work easier by sharing a folder on Google Drive or by planning in Trello. Then you can make a nice presentation for your classmates in Powerpoint or Prezi and share it on a platform like Slideshare.  

Feedback is the end phase and the beginning phase at the same time. When we finish a certain activity or milestone, we need to find out where we stand. A test or examination is usually used to do this – for example in Quizlet or with the help of a chatbot, but also feedback in comments on social networks, an app for mutual evaluation among classmates, or a self-evaluation in a learning journal in Wordpress. 

To organize your personal learning environment, you can use a thought map and draw your tools into it. By using reflection questions and the list of tools, you can find the ones that need completing. The easiest way to imagine how tools are interconnected is to use a specific learning plan.  

Basic reflection questions:  

  • Where am I writing my goals down? 
  • Where do I take down my plans, meetings and important dates?  
  • Where and how do I write down my tasks? 
  • Where do I keep track of the fulfillment of my goals, plans and tasks? 
  • What do I want to have a regular overview of? 
  • Where can I look for information on my field and interests? 
  • What helps me read books? 
  • Where am I saving my sources? 
  • Where am I writing linear notes? 
  • Where am I writing non-linear notes? 
  • Where am I writing texts? 
  • What helps me see things in contexts? 
  • What tools are necessary for my specific work? 
  • How and where can I record what I’m doing? 
  • What helps me to gain feedback and reflection? 
  • Where can I present my tasks? 
  • Where can I present myself? 
  • Am I leaving out an important point? Am I avoiding something? 

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