Seven Traits of Personal Learning Environments for Designing Quality Online Learning Programs: A Systems View of Connectedness

Seven Traits of Personal Learning Environments for Designing Quality Online Learning Programs: A Systems View of Connectedness

Jolie Kennedy
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7844-4.ch003
(Individual Chapters)
No Current Special Offers


This chapter reports on research findings that illustrate a system view of connectedness across personal, professional, and academic contexts with implications for designing quality online learning programs. Connected learners organically blur the line between formal and informal learning when they call on their social networks and engage in online learning systems towards goals in their personal, professional, and academic lives. The phenomenological study referenced in this chapter is framed by complexity theory and grounded in research on complex adaptive systems applied to educational contexts. Examples of lived experiences illustrate how being connected in a personal learning environment is experienced as immersion in a complex adaptive system. Implications and recommendations for quality online learning programs are discussed.
Chapter Preview


In a burgeoning area such as online learning, emerging trends continually impact the field. One promising area for quality online programs is the integration of a personal learning environment (PLE) to bridge formal and informal learning. The Horizon Report in higher education identified the integration of formal and informal learning as a solvable challenge and indicated the importance for formal educational programs to realize the dominance of online informal learning opportunities (Adams Becker et al., 2017). PLEs can be used to bring about quality higher education online programs by fostering meaningful learning experiences and supporting the transfer of knowledge to real-world settings through the formal-informal learning bridge (Kennedy, 2018). For managers of online programs, designing for the learner experience has the potential to foster a growing network of successful, connected graduates, which would not only point to a quality online program, but also to a flourishing community of practice. This chapter illustrates learners’ lived experiences of connectedness in PLEs, which are shown to have characteristics of complex adaptive systems.

According to Martindale and Dowdy (2010), the concept of PLEs grew out of the discontent with institutionally-focused learning management systems that tracked learners, the desire for a more learner-centered approach, and the recognition of the importance of lifelong learning. They described how learners worked independently to gather, filter, and organize content to make meaning while also sharing content and their viewpoints through the social web. A PLE implemented alongside a learning management system integrates both social and learning systems, thereby blending both informal and formal learning experiences, and capitalizing on the affordances and benefits of both systems for personalized learning.

In 2015, Dabbagh, Kitsantas, Al-Freih, and Fake researched how students created PLEs using social web technologies with a focus on self-regulated learning skills. They determined that PLEs “are an emerging pedagogical practice that makes it possible for learners to personalize learning based on their needs, interests, and goals, provided they possess the skills to metacognitively orchestrate their learning experience” (p. 179). PLEs are a promising approach for integrating learner-centric, net-native strategies into formal learning.

In student-centered, adult online learning, the Internet provides access to not only online libraries and open journals, but also the social web, breaking news, and media applications that facilitate connections among learners and information, fostering access to a wide range of diverse perspectives. PLEs align with andragogy principles (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005) and harness the affordances of the web for learning, which is a key feature of the net-native pedagogy of connectivism (Siemens, 2005). In his seminal work, Siemens (2005) asked, “what is the impact of networks and complexity theories on learning?” (para. 14). Extending constructivism and situativity learning theories while foregrounding technologies, he described connectivism as “the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories” (para. 22). Complexity theory is the study of complex systems with multiple, moving, and interacting parts, which makes it particularly relevant for studying online programs.

The objectives of this chapter are threefold. First, to provide a foundational background on complexity theory in education. Second, to illustrate a systems view of connectedness that bridges formal and informal learning towards personal growth, academic achievement, and professional success. Third, to discuss implications and recommendations for designing quality online programs that foreground the learner experience through the lens of complex adaptive systems.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Web: Websites and mobile applications that agent’s use to communicate and participate in a digital culture. Agents on the social web often use text, images, and videos as a means of communicating and interacting.

Post-Phenomenological Philosophy of Technology: Philosopher Don Ihde developed post-phenomenological philosophy of technology as a way of thinking about our experiences of, with, and through technologies. Ihde views human-technology relations through the lens of our lifeworld, which is our lived experiences of space, time, body, and relations, with centrality on the variants in our embodied experiences and relations through technologies.

Personal Learning Network: The social component of a personal learning environment, a personal learning network encompasses the people with whom an agent engages to negotiate meaning and socially construct knowledge. Typically, this is through colleagues, teachers, classmates, family, friends, as well as writers and presenters.

Post-Intentional Phenomenology: Conceived by phenomenologist Mark Vagle, post-intentional phenomenology is a philosophy, methodology, and way of being in the world. It is a genre of phenomenology that is influenced by the Deleuzo-Guattarian concept of rhizomes, particularly lines of flight, and foregrounds the multiple and partial ways that fleeting phenomenon tentatively manifest through meaningful interactions in lived experiences.

Personal Learning Environment: A personal learning environment encompasses the technologies, applications, services, organizations, humans, and networks that an agent draws into their world for personally meaningful learning. When implemented in formal learning contexts, it is a net-native pedagogical approach aligned with andragogy principles and situativity theory.

Learning Management System: An institution-focused software application for administering, delivering, facilitating, and managing learning in formal contexts. Often referred to simply by the acronym LMS, it is typically integrated with an institution’s registration and grading systems.

Complex Adaptive System: Grounded in dynamic systems, chaos, and complexity theory, a complex adaptive system consists of the qualities of emergence, self-organization, adaptive coevolution, self-similarity, dynamic non-linearity, and systemic interconnectedness.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: