Personal learning: network or environment?

social media, social networking... by daniel_iverson via flickr CC

Last week, @acrystelle tweeted the following question:

PLN & PLE – Same thing? Or different? What do you believe to be definitions for these terms? Any opinions or thoughts?

I had to ask what exactly a PLE is, but now that I have an answer (it’s a personal learning environment, as opposed to a PLN which is a personal learning network) I thought I’d respond to the question here, as I have a bit more than 140 characters to say.

My initial reaction was that of course they are different – one’s a network and one’s an environment.  Then I started worrying that I had oversimplified it, which led me on to giving the question considerably more thought.  After tying myself up in knots about this several times over the weekend I can say I think I ended up overanalysing it and that my initial response was, in fact, what I wanted to say.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me explain.

The term PLN is fairly new to me, I didn’t come across it until I started to be active on twitter and joined in the conversation between many like-minded LIS professionals.  On reflection though, I realise I have been developing and engaging in PLN’s my entire life. They just weren’t called that.  They were called mothers groups, or running partners or fellow committee members, or book clubbers. Each of these networks has contributed to my knowledge and has enabled me to share my experiences and knowledge as well.  Each of these networks is part of my PLE – a subset if you like.

So, how do I define them? My PLN’s are issue specific (although with considerable crossover between some) and comprised of individuals whereas my PLE is broader than that.  My PLE encompasses both private and professional connections and importantly, it includes place.  The classic example of course is that the local library is part of my PLE but not my PLN.  When faced with a question, a difficulty or a need to share some news, I consider which part of my PLE is the most appropriate vehicle and select one or more PLN’s based on that assessment.

A long answer to a simple question.


5 thoughts on “Personal learning: network or environment?

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  5. Wow! Thank you very much for your thoughts. I’d wondered what other people’s definitions were between the two terms, because I’ve come across confusion in their use in literature (mainly in blog posts & presentations). I do think PLNs are a subset of a PLE, the human component. Differentiating between the two terms is important for any professional looking to establish & build one (or both).

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