Yes indeed, I found this first week of the #PLENK2010 MOOC totally overwhelming as this is really my first experience of such an environment. Moodle has taken a life of its own, blog posts are mushrooming left right and centre, the “Dailys” are piling up in my inbox, and then there’s Twitter and a plethora of side discussions I am probably not aware of. I feel swamped because everything is interesting. The expertise and experience of the participants, the quality of the discussions is simply phenomenal.
Up to last week, I would have considered that PLE and PLN were two acronyms defining the same thing, ie “the use of discrete but complimentary tools and web services […] to support the creation of ad-hoc learning communities” (Downes), or a “collection of tools, brought together under the conceptual notion of openness, interoperability, and learner control” (Siemens). I believe that because PLEs have emerged in response to the the perceived limitations of traditional Learning Management Systems, the former tend to be defined in contrast to the latter (user-centric vs. content-centric; open vs. closed; diverse vs. one-size-fits-all etc.). In other words, PLE definitions remain focused on “tools, artefacts, processes” (Couros). The PLN approach tends to focus more on the human side and sees the PLN as a wider “structure that reflects relatedness to other people” (Siemens).The generic PLE model I have developed is a tool-oriented model that links a comprehensive list of web-based tools to specific learning activities. The existence of a network is only hinted at in this model, by way of references to “Communities of Practice”, “Synchronous Collaboration” or “Social Bookmarking tools” for instance. But how long does it take to build up a comprehensive list of useful references on Delicious? How long does it take to develop a network of peers, colleagues, followers, and connections on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook? How long does it take for a blog to grow into a trusted reference that readers will return to? A long time, and this is the critical difference between a PLE and a PLN. One can start a basic PLE in a few hours, but it probably takes years to construct a genuine Personal Learning Network. As Dave Cormier rightly points out, “TIME is very short in most courses, too short, really, to create a ‘network’”. Hence the need to integrate PLEs and PLNs into a lifelong learning framework.