What Does Your Personal Learning Environment Look Like?

And moreover, what do you want it to look like?

On my Masters, we have recently been looking at the arguments for and against Personal Learning Environments (PLE). Some argue they are already here and that learners are forming their own hub of resources to carry out formal and informal learning. Others view the idea of a PLE as being a more precise item, a software or online resource yet to be perfected whereby a learner can centralise all their learning wants and needs, docking into ‘mother ships’ of Virtual Learning Environments(VLE)/Learning Management Systems (LMS).

Of course, this is all before we bring in another acronym. the LEP (Learning Experience Platform) which aims to go beyond the often rigid constraints of an LMS to provide a more personalised learner experience not handcuffed to linear and indiscriminate courses. Now you may say isn’t an LEP a PLE and will there still be a place for the VLE/LMS. You might say that, if you want to give yourself a headache or just really, really like acronyms. LOL.

In this blog post I am not providing or even suggesting answers but am thinking out loud and wondering what do I want my learning experience to look like? What do I dream it could be?

One blog post we read, now 11 years old yet seemingly as relevant today, was Martin Weller’s My personal Work/Leisure/Learning Environment in which he laid out all the resources he then used in his life of learning. I decided to jump on a MindMapper (I used the free Coggle.it website) and set about putting down all the learning resources I draw on and, I gave myself the challenge not to labour over it but to put down everything I could think of in the course of 10-15mins. This is what came out:

A Mindmap of learning resources

I really suggest you give this a go, it is very enlightening. And if you do, please share!

What I noticed compared to Weller’s of a decade earlier was how we have our main stayers (your Googles, Facebook etc) but also, I needed a lot of dotted lines – I just couldn’t express it without them. When I write this blog, it populates my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. My social media use includes informal learning and often sends me in resource directions for my formal studies. The overlap of informal, formal and workplace learning is probably even more ingrained than I would have first imagined.

So flipping back to the idea of a PLE, with the advancement of machine learning and AI, the interconnectivity  of such a wide range of resources and tools plus the human component of collaborative work and community, yes perhaps I do fantasise of a centralised space where I, the learner, can connect all these dots. Where I can with ease marry the scheduling of my study tutorials, with informal community networking and informal leisure learning and interests. What if by doing that, machine learning and AI were able to show me links and dotted lines I had not considered and could not have found in this overloaded world of material and artefacts? What if I had a central place that recorded and drew in my achievements of formal study next to my career studies, and in turn share those achievements as I wished with colleagues, peers etc. What if achievements weren’t recorded just in terms of exam results but if experience and our real world progress was captured alongside. Would such a PLE help me see learning as a lifelong activity and make the capturing of such easier and pleasanter? But then who becomes the arbitrar of quality? Will I always want the formal and informal recorded together? Will a ‘fail’ permeate through, no longer hidden out of sight, but there to suck your drive and confidence.

With all these questions running around my head I began to think of Jane McGonigal‘s keynote at DevLearn 2017 How To Think Like A Futurist and the part of her excellent talk that discussed imagining learning and credentialing being decentralised and continuous. She also demonstrated such a system in her ‘future artefacts’ imagining of Edublocks.

These ideas are rightly challenging and will be argued and debated for many years…decades…to come but one thing I have come away knowing is that I am blessed to live in a society where I have these resources and a level of autonomy over my learning. This is far from the case for so many today and therefore, for those of us in education and training it is vital we recognise how very precious that is. If the debate of how learning is delivered and dispersed takes us down a road of a cult of personality, the measure of success being monetary profit, a monopolised, privately held system we have, to put it bluntly, cocked up,

Monday Meme July 2nd – Studying Is Hot

So for a meme to kick the week off I thought I would address the current heatwave we are experiencing in the UK. Studying in the heat, over a laptop which identifies as a radiator, is not a lot of fun and very, very sticky!

My heart always goes out to those have to sit exams at this time. I don’t think the US National Bureau of Economic Research study which showed exam results worsen with increased heat shocked anyone who has sat an exam in a sweltering gym hall.  More feedback and commentary on that paper is available on the BBC News website article “Hotter years ‘mean lower exam results'”.

So joking aside, I really do hope everyone is able to keep well, hydrated and confident. There’s some good tips here from the Association of Accounting technicians on keeping cool when studying in hot weather – if you have any others to share, please do!

However, if you look for ‘exams when hot memes’ the algorithms of the search engines appear to think we are looking for encouraging words to study from Ryans Reynolds and Gosling, or equally as attractive men not named Ryan. Well who am I to argue with the search algorithms?!

How to be a bad (and therefore, totally normal) mature, distance student

When you sign up to be a mature, distance student, you do so knowing it will not be an easy path. Whether your 15-20 hours of study per week are going to run alongside a 40-50 hour work week, family life, a social life; there is no illusion it will be plain sailing.

That said, I think we all sign up with the best of intentions of how well organised and dedicated we will be.

We read up on study tips, endless top ten lists of how to study well and efficiently. We promise ourselves we will rise at 5am to study and then study into the small hours. We will study on the train, in the garden. in the goddamn bathroom. We will take part in all tutorials, post like demons on forums and initiate student chats and meet ups.

And then we don’t because….life. Work piles up, you get ill, your loved one gets ill, you get sucked into a six season boxset on Netflix. Instead of turning in assignments a week before the deadline, you hit submit five minutes before that deadline is up. You may even wonder why you signed up in the first place.

Another issue with being a distance student is it is very easy to let your imagination run wild, believing everyone else on your course is fully up-to-date, sailing through and scoring in the 90s.

And I am here to say that is okay.

These things can and will happen (please feel free to add your own in the comments):

  • Using read aloud on papers because you can’t face reading another piece of text
  • Skimming over parts, or missing them out entirely, whist you play catch up
  • Using what you had put aside as study time to have a nap….which lasts six hours
  • Doodling rude things on papers you have printed out
  • Thinking about your studies whilst at work
  • Thinking about work whilst studying
  • Multitasking during online online tutorials, whilst dressed in pyjamas
  • Using your ‘must study excuse’ to get out of an event, but not actually using that time to study
  • Buying vast amounts of stationary and list books to make yourself feel better
  • Reward one paragraph of study with two gin and tonics
  • Taking your study with you on a journey and never looking at it
  • Write blog posts and not bother editing or spellchecking them

And finally, asking for help from your tutor and fellow students. Ah, I suckered you in but this is my most important lesson to date – do not isolate yourself. Students of distance study can be connected in so many ways with technology – be it the formal course forum, or a less formal Facebook group. Do not let time and tasks pile up on you with the belief ‘if I could have one clear day/weekend/week I can catch up’ – let your tutor know and let them advise you, they will have seen this all before.

None of us are a studying superhero, but just by showing up and persevering we are one step closer to just as important cape.

Blogging as a Learning Tool

A quiet time on my blog lately, but good news that I my second assignment went very well – huzzah!

One subject on that assignment was how my understanding of blogging as a learning tool. So, here’s some of my thoughts on that subject.

Glogoff (2005) refers to instructional blogging as…

“a knowledge-centered instructional tool. In this model the instructor involves students in research activities, engages them in discussions with practitioners, and leads them through developmental concepts of the discipline’s knowledge domain”

The blog is used as an outlet for the learner’s research findings, considerations and questioning, with the medium of the public blog extending the learner’s virtual classroom setting, offering interaction which can aide develop a learning community.

This may seem no different to an online forum, but the blog has several advantages over the forum model.


  • Offer learner centred feedback
  • Introduce the learner to a wider learning community both within their facility but wider, offering networking opportunities when the blog is public.
  • Offer a sense of ownership to the learner, it is ‘theirs’. Learners make an investment in their blog
  • Blogs are chronological and can capture the evolution of the learner’s research, stance and thought
  • Offer a technology and format that make embedding and sharing of information easy (hyperlinks, video etc)
  • Can offer greater accessibility opportunities to those with disabilities with text, video and audio being common functions.

Of these factors, learner centred feedback is an important feature. An active blog, with input from several areas can both further discussion, lead to debate and act as a growing repository of common knowledge. I have represented this in my diagram (Fig 1) which shows the many directions in which information and participation may flow. A learner may populate a blog with unrestricted (self-driven) or restricted (instructed by a tutor/course) posts (Deed and Edwards, 2011) which will elicit feedback from tutors, fellow students and/or the wider community which may in turn influence the direction of the discussion, provide alternative information sources or views. Not only is the interaction between the visitors and the blog author noteworthy, but the interactions between the commentators themselves. This ecosystem of information will in turn be reflected in the blogs of other students, so the diagram could be built out further to show the network effect.

Figure 1 The Input and Feedback Cycle of a Student Blog

Bennett et Al’s (2012) did both quantitative and qualitative research into the experience of journalism students using blogging as a publishing exercise. This study saw 42 students surveyed and 31 taking part in focus groups:

  • 79% had little or no previous blogging experience
  • 76% felt it improved their understanding
  • 92% felt it improved their technology skills for use in study
  • 79% felt it improved their thinking and writing skills
  • 92% felt it increased their research skills
  • 91% felt it was an activity that helped their studies

This shows a favourable learner experience of using blogging as a learning tool. However, as noted in Bennett et Al’s paper, given the subject matter, and prevalence of digital journalism, these results must be considered in terms of the alignment of the tool (blogging) and subject (Journalism) as a demonstration of situated/participation learning. As they noted:

“introducing students to blogging as a contemporary journalistic practice is arguably the most well-aligned and the most ‘authentic’ because developing Web 2.0 skills and knowledge is inherent in the activity…positive feedback suggests that students saw relevance in the skills and knowledge they developed.”

Practitioner’s must consider if blogging as a tool is inline with their learning objectives and, how the blogging is embedded into their wider studies and scaffolded.

Negative or ambivalent experience of using blogs often comes from the lack of structure and support for the learner. This highlights how practitioners must recognise the importance of participation on both theirs and the learners part.

Glogoff (2005) shares the results of a survey he completed with his students on their previous use of blogging:

“in a different course taken the previous semester, the professor had asked them to blog but did not require them to post entries. Nor did he comment on student entries. Because of this lack of attention, the students abandoned their blogs after the first week.”

Obtaining feedback and recognition, is a driving force for learners. Studies by Pena-Shaff et al (2005) and Kim (2008) showed that 94% of students check for feedback on their blog posts. This demonstrates that students are driven towards and hope for engagement.

When implementing blogging as a learning tool the practitioner must consider where on the scale the blog will be from unrestricted (students given minimal instruction, free reign to post and no tutor oversight) to restricted (students will be instructed on what to post, given mandatory posting and commenting goals).

Deed and Edwards (2011) reported that unrestricted blogging saw lack of cohesive structure between posts, a tendency to not thoroughly evaluate ideas, repeat or perpetuate misconceptions, use very informal language, and use posting more for arrangement making and emotive statements.

An interesting take from their paper:

“it is not enough to assume that because students currently are part of what is often referred to as the digital generation they will immediately be able to engage in blogs for academic ends.”

This lies at the crux of using blogging as a learning tool. To ensure a positive learning experience for both tutor and learners I agree with Brescia et Als (2004) summation that whilst the informal blog encourages exploration, practitioners must encourage students to actively question and discuss information.

I second Deed and Edwards (2011) conclusion:

“Educators need to provide support and scaffolding… Students must be allowed to explore different strategies and construct their own meaning. They must have scope for making choices. Further research needs to focus on online learning environments where there is a balance between providing scaffolding for co-construction of knowledge and providing students with a space to interact by building on their non-academic virtual experience.”


Bennett, S., Bishop, A., Dalgarno, B., Waycott, J. and Kennedy, G. (2012). Implementing Web 2.0 technologies in higher education: A collective case study. Computers & Education, 59(2), pp.524-534.

Deed, C. and Edwards, A. (2011). Unrestricted student blogging: Implications for active learning in a virtual text-based environment. Active Learning in Higher Education, 12(1), pp.11-21.

Glogoff, S. (2005). Instructional Blogging: Promoting Interactivity, Student-Centered Learning, and Peer Input. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 1(5), Retrieved May 27, 2018 from https://www.learntechlib.org/p/107281/.

Kim, H. (2008). The phenomenon of blogs and theoretical model of blog use in educational contexts. Computers and Education, 51(3), 1342–1352.

Pena-Shaff, J., Altman, W., Stephenson, H. (2005). Asynchronous online discussions as a tool for learning: Students’ attitudes, expectations, and perceptions. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(4), 409.

Monday Meme June 18th – Kittens in E-Learning

 As anyone who knows me even the slightest will tell you – I am a firm believer in kittens being a vital part of e-learning! I will also deviate to puppies at times.


Monday Meme June 4th – To All Those With Exams and Assignments

No Monday Meme last week, or posts, as last week was all about finishing my latest Masters assignment. As we enter June it is the hotbed of exams, assignments and proposals. So today’s meme goes out to all my ladies out there who are currently facing the books (guys I wish you all the best too but…..it’s Ryan time!)


Monday Meme – Learning Styles (Royal Wedding Edition)

What an amazing weekend we have just had here in the UK with the Royal Wedding, which brought tears and laughter in my house.

So for Monday meme this week I decided I had to create my own gif! Given some great discussions recently on learning styles I couldn’t resist putting this together! Have a great week everyone!!


#ID6WC – Amp Quiz: How-To

Very glad people liked the Amp Quiz example for #ID6WC and thank you so much Girly Geek for asking about how I created it. Le me walk you though and also here’s the story file so you can play with it too 🙂

This is a simple Storyline 360 one slide piece that uses dials, states and layers.

First, under slide master I created the background and tried to emulate an Amp. Using the content library I found the speaker front look and for the top panel used shapes.

Back in creation and again from the content library I found a switch and a voltage dial to add to the upper panel. A small grey circle shape next to the switch, and the dial itself (Insert >Dial) which can be formatted. Then to using a free online logo creator I created Fenshall (Fender/Marshall – geddit!) which I changed to grey tones in paint.net

There is a great Dial tutorial on Articulate here 

I chose a start value of 0 and end value of 5 with each step value 1. The dial auto lays out the points (joy!) so just put in the numbers using text.

I found 5 pieces of royalty free classical music from http://www.freemusicpublicdomain.com/

When the dial turns it is a variable and in this slide each variable would relate to showing a layer. So I created 5 layers, inserting one piece of music per layer. Then it is simply a case of setting your triggers on the base layer

Show layer (insert layer name) > When the dial turns  > If the dial equals (position). (For Dial = 0, I made it show slide so it always returns to the base layer). And remember to hider other layers!

Now time to play with states – lots!

Remember the grey circle – I created a new state for it (called new state because I am that inventive!) where it was coloured green with a big edge glow. Then add a trigger so if the power switch is click it shows the new state – powerlight is on!

For the voltage dial, I took it to paint.net and move the needle, added this ontop of the volt picture already there. Set the normal state to the one with the dial on zero and the one with the needle ‘up’ to new state. Set a trigger that shows new state if the dial is not equal to 0 – in others words when you turn the dial, it looks like the needle has moved!

Likewise for the instruction caption and text – set a new state where it is not shown and a trigger to show that state if the dial is not equal to 0.

Back on the layers, I placed 3 buttons across the amp and more states fun. Under states change the colour of the button to green or red depending on whether it is the correct or incorrect answer when the button is ‘down’ and ‘visited’. This really simple state change gives an immediate visual feedback on whether you’ve clicked the correct button or not. Of course you could add more triggers and show feedback etc but i didn’t want that – I wanted this is be a really quick, obvious do you know the name or not.

I think dials are a great change and especially if you are looking to create a simulation or setting where dials would naturally appear like an amp or cooker. One word of warning though – if users are going to access through a mobile phone/small touch screen it does work but can be fiddly for them so may not be the best choice in that scenario.




For the Instructional Design 6 Week Challenge this week I went back into Articulate Storyline 360.

I realised I had never used a dial so that got me to thinking on dials and where you find them usually. So this week I created an amp effect slide master to create a quiz audio quiz.

Using the dial you can hear 5 different classical pieces, and you can see if you recognise the composer with a very simple set of buttons using states to show correct/incorrect. You could build this out further to give feedback and more information but I just wanted this to be very simple, immediate and visual.

Just for a little extra effect, click the on switch to turn the light green and the voltage needle will go up when you turn to a tune 🙂

Click here to view

Monday Meme – Assignments Looming

And so the second assignment of my first module in the Masters in Online and Distance Education looms like a massive ball of fiery terror on the horizon.

I know many of my module-mates are going through the same thing – trying to fit in study whenever and what happens…

We could also include in the orange segment:

  • play Mahjong on your phone
  • rearrange your wardrobe
  • watch 6 episodes of Judge Judy in a row

So happy Monday everyone, but an extra special Monday internet hug to all those juggling work and study at the same time! We will look back and laugh one day I promise!