Understanding Personal Learning Environments: Literature review and synthesis through the Activity Theory lens Ilona Buchem

, Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin, Germany – buchem@beuth-hochschule.de Graham Attwell, Pontydysgu, UK – graham10@mac.com Ricardo Torres, Citilab, Spain – ricardo.torres.kompen@gmail.com

Abstract This paper represents a scientific analysis of a broad range of publications surrounding the field of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). Personal Learning Environments can be viewed as a concept related to the use of technology for learning focusing on the appropriation of tools and resources by the learner. Capturing the individual activity, or how the learner uses technology to support learning, lies at the heart of the PLE concept. The central research question guiding this review was: What are the characteristic, distinguishing features of Personal Learning Environments? This paper argues that PLEs can be viewed as complex activity systems and analysed using the Activity Theory framework to describe their key elements and the relationships between them. Activity Theory provides a framework of six interrelated components: subject, object, tools, rules, community and division of labour. In referencing over 100 publications, encompassing conference papers, reports, reviews, and blog articles, this paper takes an activitytheory perspective to deconstruct the way central aspects related to PLEs are addressed in different publications. The aim of this study is to create a better understanding of PLEs and to develop a knowledge base to inform further research and effective practice. The literature review presented in this paper takes a broader view on PLEs recognising that research in this field stems from different scientific communities and follows different perspectives. Keywords: Personal Learning Environments, literature review, Activity Theory, Grounded Theory 1. Introduction 1.1. Personal Learning Environments The concept of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) emerged from discussions about Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and gained considerable attention through the publication of a diagram illustrating a future vision of VLEs by Scott Wilson.1 Since that time, a multitude of different conceptualisations and visualisations of Personal Learning Environments have been published in journals, books, wikis and blogs. A collection of different PLE diagrams can be viewed on the edtechpost wiki.2 The Wikipedia entry on the history of Personal Learning Environments dates the earliest recorded use of the concept of a Personal Learning Environment as far back as artificial intelligence (AI) research in 1976. While this reference cannot be clearly linked to the current conceptualisations of PLE, we can assume that the beginnings
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http://www.flickr.com/photos/elifishtacos/90944650/ http://edtechpost.wikispaces.com/PLE+Diagrams

of PLE lie in the early years of the 21st century, inspired by the work of Oleg Liber, Dave Tosh, Scott Wilson, Graham Attwell and Stephen Downes. It is claimed that the first recorded mention of PLE as a concept is to be found in a paper by Olivier and Liber (2001). Since the PLE Session at the JISC/CETIS Conference in 2004, the pioneering architectural models by Scott Wilson in 2005 and the seminal publication on ELearning 2.0 by Stephen Downes (2005), the effects of ongoing changes in web technologies on education have been articulated in a number of visionary papers and blog posts, including Harmelen (2006), Attwell (2007), Wilson, 2007, Johnson (2008), Wild (2008), Chatti (2010), Drexler (2010) and Downes (2010). Bloggers on PLEs include George Siemens3, Stephen Downes4, Dave Cormier5, Graham Attwell6, Scott Wilson7, Mohamed Amine Chatti8, Rita Kop9, Ismael PeñaLopez10, Tony Karrer11, Steve Wheeler12, Michele Martin13, Terry Anderson14, Martin Ebner15 and many more. There have been a number of initiatives related to PLEs, in different formats, including: ● ● ● ● ● ● Courses, e.g. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), such as PLENK201016 Conferences, e.g. The PLE Conference17 Scientific workshops, e.g. MUPPLE workshops18 Online symposia, e.g. PLE and PLN Online Symposium19 Podcasts, e.g. MUPPLE lecture series20 and Mediacasts, e.g. the PLE Vimeo Group21

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http://www.elearnspace.org http://www.downes.ca/ 5 http://davecormier.com/edblog/ 6 http://www.pontydysgu.org 7 http://scottbw.wordpress.com/ 8 http://mohamedaminechatti.blogspot.com 9 http://ritakop.blogspot.com 10 http://ictlogy.net 11 http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/ 12 http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/ 13 http://www.michelemmartin.com/ 14 http://terrya.edublogs.org/ 15 http://elearningblog.tugraz.at/ 16 http://connect.downes.ca/ 17 http://pleconference.citilab.eu, http://www.pleconf.com 18 http://sites.google.com/site/muppleworkshop/ 19 http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/blogs/ples 20 http://www.stellarnet.eu/index.php/tools/create_xml.php?pID=53 21 http://vimeo.com/groups/ple2011

There are also special issues of scientific journals devoted to PLE, such as a special issue in Digital Education Review22, International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments (IJVPLE)23, Interactive Learning Environments (ILE)24. There have been a number of research projects on PLEs. Some of the most prominent EU research projects include Responsive Open Learning Environments (ROLE)25, Personal E-Learning In Communities And Networking Spaces (PELICANS)26, Mature IP (Womble)27 and PLEbaum28. Distinctive national projects within the EU include among others the PLE projects at TU Graz29, Sapo Campus30, and the University of Southampton31. Some of the current projects on PLEs outside of the EU include the project by the NRC Institute for Information Technology (Canada)32 and the Mahara project in New Zeleand33. There are different research strands on PLEs including a more technologicallyoriented research strand (e.g. Chatti et al., 2010a, 2010b; Harmelen, 2006; Milligan et al. 2006; Wild et al. 2008a, 2008b) and a more pedagogically-oriented research strand (e.g. Attwell, 2007a, 2007b; Castañeda & Soto, 2010; Downes, 2007; Drexler, 2010). A more detailed discussion on the different views and discourses on PLEs can be found by among others by Johnson et al. (2007) and Fiedler & Väljataga (2010). Furthermore there are concepts closely related to PLEs such as personal knowledge management and e-portfolios (see Ravet, 2007 and Attwell, 2007b for a detailed discussion on the differences between these concepts). The ideas of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) and Personal Knowledge Networks (PKN) are also strongly associated with PLEs, reflecting on the one hand the personal online networks utilized for learning (with the connotation that such a network spreads beyond the class or course cohort) and on the other hand both tacit and explicit knowledge (see Couros, 2010 on PLN and PLE; Chatti et al. 2010 on PKN and PLE). The different conceptualisations of PLEs are reflected in the myriad of acronyms and terms to describe Personal Learning Environments, among others “aPLE” (adaptable PLE)34, “mPLE” (mobile PLEs)35, “iPLEs” (institutional PLEs)36, “PWLE” (Personal Work and Learning Environment)37, PRP” (Personal Research Portal)38. 1.2
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The purpose of this review

http://greav.ub.edu/der/index.php/der http://www.igi-global.com/bookstore/titledetails.aspx?titleid=1134 24 http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/10494820.asp 25 http://www.role-project.eu/ 26 http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/beyond-distance-research-alliance/projects/pelicans 27 http://mature-ip.eu/ 28 http://ple-baum.eu/ 29 http://ple.tugraz.at 30 http://campus.ua.sapo.pt/ 31 http://www.soton.ac.uk/ 32 http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/projects/iit/personal-learning-environment.html 33 http://mahara.org/ 34 http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland09/procs/pearson.pdf 35 http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/16158/1/InformalMobileLearning_modification_final_0718.pdf 36 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10494820.2010.500553 37 http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/2007/06/personal-work-and-learning-environments.html 38 http://journal.km4dev.org/index.php/km4dj/article/view/92

The variety of terms, perspectives and conceptualizations as outlined above is challenging for anyone wishing to design, develop, implement and evaluate PLEs. The aim of this review is to improve the understanding of PLEs by providing an overview of key issues addressed in selected publications. The authors systematically explore the different conceptualizations of PLEs by looking at what PLE aspects are addressed and how. By comparing the findings from different publications, this paper synthesises the different conceptualizations into a more holistic view based on the Activity Theory framework. The additional value of this research is the creation of a comprehensive and publicly available repository of publications on PLEs which can be accessed and supplemented by anyone interested in this topic39. 1.3 Research question The research team defined the following central question to guide this review: What characterises PLE, i.e. what are the core categories and their properties addressed in literature? How can these be mapped into from the activity theory framework? By asking this question we are not only investigating the different conceptualisations of PLEs and their constituting elements but also discuss the potential of the activity theory as an integrative methodological framework for examining PLE and their interactions with other activity systems. 2. Research background and framework This research is motivated by different conceptualisations of PLEs in current publications. The authors of this report are members of the organising committee of the PLE Conference40 and have been involved in a number of research projects related to PLEs, such as Mature-IP (FP7/TEL)41, Mediencommunity (BMBF/ESF)42 and the PELICANS project (University of Leicester and Citilab-Spain)43. 2.1 Research background As with any emerging paradigm, PLEs has been a hotly debated topic. Some of the ongoing discussions include: ● ● ● ● ● Is PLE a technological or pedagogical concept or both? Can Personal Learning Environments be institutionalised? Are VLEs and PLEs opposed or complementary environments? What are the central distinguishing features of PLEs? What are the basic (if any) components of a PLE?

The myriad of open questions makes clear that the PLE concept necessitates examination of some common assumptions and practices. This report expands upon previous literature reviews by Johnson, et al. (2006), Schaffert & Kalz (2009), Fiedler & Väljataga (2010). We assume that this is the first systematic analysis of PLEs based on the Activity Theory model. As such it is intended to serve as a starting point for further exploration of PLEs. Owing to the rapidly increasing number of

http://plep.pbworks.com http://pleconference.citilab.eu/, http://www.pleconf.com/ 41 http://mature-ip.eu/ 42 http://www.mediencommunity.de/ 43 http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/beyond-distance-research-alliance/projects/pelicans

publications on PLEs as well as constraints of time and resources faced by the authors, this review cannot be exhaustive. The results of our analysis merely reflect some prominent issues raised in the current discourse.

2.2 The original research framework This review uses an Activity Theory framework to analyse and categorise different conceptualizations of PLEs. The selection of the Activity Theory framework emerged during the first literature review phase which was based on grounded theory. The original framework for this paper was composed of the following three tiers of analytic categories (Figure 2.1): ● Top tier with the three dimensions: “Personal”, “Learning” and “Environment”; ● Middle tier with two domain perspectives: “Pedagogy” and “Technology”; ● Bottom tier with a set of core concepts and a scale from “high” to “low”.

Figure 2.1 The preliminary research framework. However, the first reading and analysis of selected literature led us to the conclusion that focusing only on the three dimensions at the top tier level as described above leaves out other central aspects related to PLEs. At the same time the three original categories are too broad and encompass different notions that need further disaggregation. 2.3 Activity Theory as an integrated framework The PLE concept places the focus on the appropriation of different tools and resources by an individual learner and there is a general agreement on viewing learners as being situated within a social context which influences the way in which they use media, participate in activities and engage in communities. Learning outcomes are considered to be created in the process of tackling the problems and challenges learners meet in different contexts by using tools and resources leading to outcomes. The perspective on learning as tool-mediated, situated, object-directed

and collective activity is the basic tenet of Activity Theory (Engeström 1999; Engeström, 2001). Activity Theory (AT) has been used as a framework to explore educational innovations and innovative learning spaces (Trish & Du Toit, 2010) and as a conceptual framework to analyse and design computer-supported collaborative learning (Redmiles, 2002; Collins & Margaryan, 2004; Zurita & Nussbaum, 2006), software development (Barthelmess & Anderson, 2002), mobile learning (Sharples et al. 2005) and the evaluation of learning technologies (Scanlon & Issroff, 2005). AT is a theoretical framework advanced by Engeström (1999, 2001) and is historically rooted in semiotics and the construction of meaning by Ogden and Richards (1923), the cultural-historical psychology of Vygotsky (1978) and the general activity theory by Leontiev (1981). It conceptualises both individual and collective practices as developmental processes of the context in which human activities normally takes place (Engeström, 1987; Engeström, 1999). The concept of learning activity proposed by Engeström (1987) is defined as “expansive learning”: “The motive of this activity is to learn how to acquire skills and knowledge and solve problems by expanding the tasks into objectively novel activity systems, resulting eventually not just in acquiring and solving the given, but in creating tasks and problems out of the larger activity context.” According to Leontiev (1978), the concept of activity entails a complete system of human practices. Engeström (1987) conceptualised a representational model to portray the various elements of an activity system. The activity triangle model representing an activity system combines the various components into a unified whole (Figure 2.2). The primary actors in an activity system are subjects interacting with objects to achieve desired outcomes. Human interactions with each other and with objects are mediated through the use of tools, rules and division of labour. Mediators represent the nature of relationships that exist within and between participants of an activity in a given context.

Figure 2.2 Key components of an activity system. From this perspective, focusing on the three aspects - personal, learning and environment - means disregarding other key elements of the activity system, i.e.

rules, community and division of labour. These make up what Engeström (1999) calls the “social basis” of the activity system. The social basis situates human activities in a broader context. All elements of the triangle can be viewed as elements of the context, in which an activity system is operating. Based on the results of our analysis we can conclude that the social basis tends to be disregarded in a number of conceptualisations and implementations of PLEs, thus not considering all key aspects of the activity system. Translated into the activity theory model presented above, the original framework represents the top triangle related to subject, object and tools (Figure 2.3).

Figure 2.3 The original framework as top triangle. Based on the ATR we propose an extended framework for examining PLEs, considering the six central aspects of the activity system, i.e. (1) subject, (2) object (3) tools, (4) community, (5) rules and (6) division of labour (Figure 2.4).

Figure 2.4 Extended research framework

This conceptual change may be seen as parallel to the expansion of the basic Vygotskian triangle (subject - object - tools) by Engeström (1987), aiming to represent the social elements in an activity system. We operationalise the constituting elements of PLEs as activity systems as follows: (1) The Subject of a PLE is the person (or persons defined by Engeström, 1987, as a “collective subject”), i.e. a primary actor/agent, who is source of an activity and the starting point for the analysis. The relationship between the subject and object is mediated by tools. (2) The Object of an activity is a physical or symbolic object towards which a subject moves with the purpose of attaining certain outcomes. We consider objects, in the sense of an “objective'', as needs or a desires followed by the subject that motivates the activity, giving it a specific direction. (3) Tools mediate an activity. Subjects employ tools to interact with objects in order to achieve desired outcomes. We distinguish between external tools comprising of digital (e.g. social media, digital resources) and non-digital tools (e.g. printed books) and internal tools (e.g. learning plans, strategies). Any activity is motivated by the possibility of transforming objects into outcomes while using tools to mediate this transformation (e.g. using blogging software as a tool to create an article to reflect on learning). (4) Community is a larger group including the subject as a part of the community. Learning is situated in a community. Communities share the same objects, are governed by rules and divide tasks among their participants. (5) Rules are norms, conventions and values and represent a way of minimising conflicts in an activity system. Rules affect how the subjects move towards the object and how they interact within a community. (6) Division of Labour is related to the organisation of the community and comprises roles, tasks and power relationships in an activity system. The Division of Labour mediates between the objects and the community. Activity Theory, as a theory of learning and change, provides an integrative framework for examining PLEs as activity systems, with the subject as the starting point for the analysis. 3. Research methodology Below we outline which publications we used for the analysis, the criteria we used for their selection and the methods we used for analysis. 3.1 Literature sources and selection criteria This paper presents and discusses findings from a review of a wide range of publications related to PLEs published between 2006 and 2011. The publications taken into consideration derive from:
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Scientific journals (e.g. International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments, Interactive Learning Environments), Conference and workshop proceedings (e.g. The PLE Conference 2010, MUPPLE Workshops):

• • •

Course materials (e.g. Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge 2010), Project Reports (e.g. EU ROLE project, SAPO CAMPUS); Expert blog articles (e.g. Graham Attwell, Mohamed Chatti, George Coursos, Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Steve Wheeler).

We based our selection on Internet searches using a number of different search strings related to PLEs, focusing on scientific studies (including journals, web publications, conference papers) and blog articles written in English, German and Spanish languages. We also tapped into the repository of relevant publications from the PLE Conference 2011 including full44 and short papers45. We cannot claim to be comprehensive but hope that the involvement of three different language groups has at least allowed a broad coverage of the available literature. The selection of publications for the review was based on the key words “personal learning environment”, “PLE” and an additional set of criteria for academic/research papers. These include:
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Structural coherence (e.g. a central claim or an idea that guides the structure; a clear focus; a conclusion) and Thematic coherence (e.g. demonstrating knowledge of a subject, conclusions and reflections following from the topic, ideas supported with evidence, etc.).

The list of publications used for this review can be found in the PLEP wiki.46 3.2 Methodological approach The methodological approach to analysing publications selected for this review is based on the Grounded Theory (GT) as a systematic methodology focusing on the generation of theory from data in the process of conducting research: “[...] a set of rigorous research procedures leading to the emergence of conceptual categories. These concepts/categories are related to each other as a theoretical explanation of the action(s) that continually resolves the main concern of the participants in a substantive area.”47 One of the central aims of the application of the GT methodology is to discover emerging categories and identify the core categories. Core categories emerge through iterative analysis and coding and sampling of further data in order to develop conceptual leads (Holton, 2007). Core categories reoccur frequently in the data and conceptually explain stable, latent patterns (Holton, 2007). 3.3 The review process This literature review was conducted iteratively in three stages: The first stage was based on the preliminary model (Figure 2.1). With the aim of allowing the emergence of concepts from the data, the authors focused on abstract conceptualizations as opposed to descriptive interpretations. The method of constant comparison was applied to discover patterns in the data. We applied coding as the
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http://pleconference.citilab.eu/?page_id=230 http://pleconference.citilab.eu/?page_id=232 46 http://plep.pbworks.com 47 http://www.groundedtheory.com/what-is-gt.aspx

core process in the GT methodology (Holton, 2007). The initial attempt was to conduct a dimensional analysis. We marked texts with codes related to three dimensions, i.e. “P” for “personal”, “L” for “learning” and “E” for “environment”. This tentative framework guided the discovery of core issues. While remaining open to the emergence of concepts, we avoided forcing this preconceived model upon the data and discovered such missing aspects as “context” and “social network”. Arriving at this insight was possible due to abstraction of conceptual ideas from empirical data as part of GT. The abstraction from a descriptive to a conceptual level raised the maturity level of our analysis. At the second stage of the analysis we applied the Activity Theory perspective to guide exploration of emergent concepts (Figure 2.4). Publications were coded for the six categories: subject, object, tools, rules, community and division of labour, with descriptive codes serving as indicators. The indicators are used to saturate48 the different categories and detect categories that do not fit and may call for a new conceptualisation. A category is saturated when it is rich in detail (properties) and stable in the face of new data. The third stage of analysis aimed at identifying the relationships between the emergent core categories and other elements of the activity system. While striving for a higher level of abstraction in the naming of codes, the aim of this analysis was to generate statements about the relationships between concepts (Holton, 2007). Based on this iterative process of generating conceptual codes within the GT paradigm, we attempted to apply the principles of “subsequent, sequential, simultaneous, serendipitous, and scheduled” methodology (Holton, 2007). The summary of key findings is presented below. 4. Findings Below we present the core categories and their properties for each of the six elements of the activity theory triangle. These elements are “subject” (4.1), “object” (4.2), “tools” (4.3), “community” (4.4), “rules” (4.5) and “division of labour (4.6). Additionally, we discuss “context” (4.7) as encompassing all six elements. 4.1 Subject The element “subject” is the primary actor, the source of an activity and the starting point for the analysis of PLEs. The systemic relationships of the subject are visualised in Figure 4.1.


In grounded theory, saturation describes the richness of an emerging category in terms of its properties. A category is saturated when its significant characteristics account for most of the variation in the data thus rendering the theory dense.

Figure 4.1 Relationships of “subject” The core dimensions related to the subject are presented in the table below: A. SUBJECT Dimensions A.1 Ownership Properties A.1.1 Ownership of objects The subject can: • Design learning based on own preferences • Determine own learning needs and goals • Break down learning goals to preferred granularity • Decide about own learning outcomes • Produce own learning materials and content A.1.2 Ownership of tools The subject can: • Create a learning environment autonomously • Orchestrate tools and services individually • Morph and adapt the environment to own needs • Select, aggregate, modify tools, resources, content • Exploit and organize common services A1.3 Ownership of rules The subject: • Operates according to an internal set of principles and values • Is independent in planning and assessing learning • Legally owns data, services, resources, content • Is responsible for managing learning tools, materials, services, content • Can establish rules for storing information and content (e.g. privately, publicly) • Decides about copyright and reuse A 1.4 Ownership of community

The subject can: • Create own groups and establish own communities • Decide which group to join and to leave • Get information/ content from multiple communities A 1.4 Ownership of Division of Labour The subject can: • Decide and plan own learning activities • Design and produce own content • Design an own personal development plan • Engage in collaboration and social networking • Build a Personal Learning Network A.2 Control A.2.1 Control over objects: The subject can • Negotiate learning goals and outcomes • Personalise information sources and services • Manage and organise own learning • Manage data, services, resources, content • Use technologically-mediated scaffolding and guidance • Use scaffolding and guidance from teachers A.2.2 Control over tools: The subject can: • Select and use tools and resources for learning according to own needs • Select potential sources of information • Reuse and remix content • Configure design and customize the learning environment based on user preferences • Rationalise the learning instruments A.2.3 Control over rules: The subject can: • Configure the environment according to own preferences • Negotiate rules of communication and collaboration with teachers, peers, communities • Negotiate intellectual property rights A.2.4 Control over community: The subject can: • Choose with whom to communicate • Choose who can communicate with them • Initiate discussions A.2.5 Control over Division of Labour: The subject can: • Self-monitor own progress • Engage in collaborative development of educational

• •

resources Adjust performance based on feedback to meet disciplinary standards Specify own needs (e.g. user profile) so that the system can recommend resources, coordinate connections etc.

A.3 Literacy

A.3.1 Literacy related to objects: The subject is able to: • Plan, organise and monitor, reflect and critically analyse own learning • Develop own learning environment to suit and enable own style of learning • Design own learning strategy, structure and organise own learning steps • Externalise individual learning intentions (describe objectives, explicate the design and formation of learning experience, strategies and evaluation criteria) • Adapt to new environments and situations A.3.2 Literacy related to tools: The subject is able to: ● Select and apply tools to support learning and personal knowledge management ● Aggregate resources, content and tools from multiple contexts, sources and communities ● Choose own sources of information and content and make own judgements about their quality ● Personalise the environment, e.g. profile, avatar, widgets ● Present own competencies and select evidence A.3.3 Literacy related to rules: The subject is able to: ● Establish own criteria for obtaining learning outcomes ● Establish own criteria for assessing the quality of different sources of information and content ● Act according to the principles of autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness, A.3.4 Literacy related to community: The subject is able to: ● Use social networks to support learning ● Collaborate and participate in communities as part of the new learning culture ● Apply communicative skills to interact with different communities ● Decide who and what to trust A.3.5 Literacy related to Division of Labour: The subject is able to: ● Build and configure own learning environment

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Apply the “do-it-yourself” principle to digital issues Integrate different individual contexts Create and share digital content

Table 4.1: Core dimensions and properties of “subject” In relation to “subject” we found “ownership”, “control” and “literacy” to be the core dimensions of the “subject”. These dimensions are closely related to the notions of “personal” and “personalised” and to the notions of “autonomy” and “empowerment”. These concepts are discussed below. 4.1.1 Ownership and control “Ownership” and “control” are related yet different concepts, both linked to the notion of “agency” in terms of the human capacity to make choices and to impose those choices on the world. The subject can “own” the learning environment in a technical sense (e.g. subject is technically responsible for aggregating and configuring services), in a legal sense (e.g. the data/content legally belongs to the subject) and in a psychological sense (e.g. the subject has a sense of ownership). The subject can also “control” the environment (e.g. the subject can select potential resources/sources of information, reuse and remix content), i.e. manage the environment without actually owning it or its constituting parts. From this perspective control can be associated with personalisation, adaptation or negotiation rather than with personal ownership, autonomy and independence. The varying degrees of control and ownership are seldom differentiated in the publications reviewed, leaving much room for interpretation. There also seems to be little clarity about what type of ownership and control (e.g. technical, legal, psychological, social) and over which elements (e.g. information, resources, data, services, etc.) can and should be exercised by the subject. 4.1.2 Personal and personalisation There is a remarkable degree of agreement in definitions of “personal” in the literature with both “ownership” and “control” discussed as indicators of “personal”. Central to most is the idea of “personal” as changing the nexus of power from institutions and teachers to learners. This comprises not only the possibility to specify learning needs, decide about own goals, process and outcomes, but also the ownership of data, including control and management of this data, ownership of instrumentalisation, with users being able to define their own instrumentation while accessing common services, and ownership of orchestration, with users being able to orchestrate the different services, tools, resources and content. By constantly comparing data, we found that there is an important duality in the literature between the notions of “personal” and “personalised”, both addressing different aspect related to the “subject”. The term “personal” is used to mean “tailored by the user” while the term “personalized” indicated “tailored by an external entity, for example an organisation”. Whilst sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, the term personalisation can also be used to describe functionalities for developing bespoke pathways through course modules or elements within a Virtual Learning Environment or even just the ability for more limited personalisation of the (widget based) features being displayed by a VLE or other Learning Management System in sense of customisation, such as possibility to change screen display, colour schemes and layouts, adjust profiles, choose tools for communication, entertainment, socialization and learning.

We would like to point out that whilst in most cases the term “personal” implies more fundamental control for the learner in both conceptual and technical terms (especially as related to actively selecting and combining functions of the environment), there are cases when the term “personal” is used to describe different approaches to personalization, such as adaptive or dynamic customisation. 4.1.3 Literacy Furthermore, a considerable number of publications address the need for the subject to develop abilities, skills or competencies as prerequisites to developing a PLE. These include metacognitive skills, including planning, organising, self-monitoring, self-teaching, self-organisation and self-evaluation, general literacy, including information literacy, computer literacy, language skills, as well as digital literacy, including abilities to engage in online communication, participating in online social networking, creating and sharing digital content. A number of authors state, both from a normative and empirical perspective, that designing and managing a PLE requires competencies necessary for complex and integrative approaches, such as creativity, flexibility, and the ability to adapt to new situations and to solve problems. Only a few publications discuss what skills, abilities or competencies are necessary for developing and using a PLE (e.g. Wild et al. 2009). 4.1.4 Autonomy, empowerment and identity A number of publications address learner autonomy and empowerment. The ideal of autonomous learning, however, is tempered by concerns over whether learners have the skills and competence, let alone the motivation, to manage their own learning. These issues also underpin a concern with empowerment, of how to enable learners to manage their own learning on one side and how to change the existing power relationships between learners and institutions on the other. In this respect it is interesting that the majority of publications come from Higher Education. In this regard, researchers have drawn attention to the need for a changing role for teachers and trainers, from purveyors of information and knowledge, to one of supporting and scaffolding learning. More discussion on changing teacher roles follows in Section 4.6. Autonomy seems to be closely associated with ownership and the ability to create a self-made, learner-driven learning environment, including creating content (learners as active and self-directed creators of content) and taking charge of selfsupported and self-regulated learning. Empowerment also seems to be linked to taking an active role in managing and configuring the system, using different tools to support different learning tasks and phases and engaging in personal development planning. Both autonomy and empowerment are mentioned only as concepts, without any substantial definition or reference to relevant theories or models. Only a few publications on PLEs are concerned with the issues of identity, in most cases addressing the necessary ability to develop and manage learners’ own digital identities. 4.2 Object The object of an activity is a physical or symbolic object towards which a subject moves with the purpose of attaining particular outcomes.

Figure 4.2 Relationships of “object” The following dimensions and properties of an “object” were coded in relation to PLEs:

B. OBJECT Dimensions B.1 Interest Properties B.1.1 Related to subject ● Learning something new ● Producing something one can be proud of ● Personal interest in problems to be solved ● Motivated through inquiry and exploration ● Personal development: self-directed, autonomous development of competencies, skills, knowledge ● Knowledge management, maturing, development ● Reflective practice (as in ePortfolios) ● Identity development B.1.2 Related to tools ● Understanding changing technology ● Finding out how to choose and use a suite of different tools to support own learning B.1.3 Related to community ● Linking of learning to work practices ● Contextualising knowledge ● Developing Personal Learning Networks

B.1.4 Related to rules ● Learning how to engage in online social networks and community building ● Learning how to manage intellectual property B.1.5 Related to Division of Labour ● Giving and receiving feedback and recommendations ● Collaborating and networking in areas of interest B.2 Participation B.2.1 Related to subject ● Maintaining the flow of learning activities and events ● Developing capabilities to become effective knowledge users and learners through participation ● Achieving self-reliance through critical action across the boundaries of networks B.2.2 Related to tools ● Possibilities of customization and adaptation ● Possibilities of individual tool aggregation ● Using tools to produce own content and resources ● Using community management tools B.2.3 Related to community ● Life-stream of a person - publishing and sharing with one’s own Personal Learning Network (PLN) ● Engagement in online communication and collaboration ● Participating in groups according to interests B.2.4 Related to rules ● Possibilities to initiate communication ● Possibilities of active engagement B.2.5 Related to Division of Labour ● Supporting others in use of technology and learning ● Receiving recommendations and feedback from others ● Receiving “intelligent” guidance through noninvasive adaptation mechanisms B.3 Control B.3.1 Related to subject ● Learners expect more control of their own learning ● Learners want to determine own learning goals and outcomes ● Learners want to keep track of personal progress B.3.2 Related to tools ● Learners expect more control of their learning resources

Learners want to select tools and structure an own learning environment

B.3.3 Related to community ● Students’ leadership in organisations ● Requirement of using the technology at work B.3.4 Related to rules ● Having access to own resources/content after leaving an educational institution ● Understanding the new learning culture ● Understanding the paradigm shift in the society B.3.5 Related to Division of Labour ● Understanding changing roles and practices ● Supporting transitions from education to work Table 4.2 Dimensions and properties of the “object” As far as motivation is concerned, most publications name intrinsic motivation and motivation by interest as the guiding motives for a PLE. This interest can be directed towards a particular topic, towards becoming a competent person or using tools for knowledge development. Other objectives include participation motivation directed towards initiating and continuing an activity (e.g. initiating group communication, continuing learning as lifelong learners), and also related to social support (e.g. receiving feedback, guidance). It is often rather assumed or recommended that the subject is or should be intrinsically motivated to reflect, interact and share with others as well as develop the ability to mobilise a set of strategies and processes for selfdirected learning. We could identify only one publication providing empirical evidence as to what motivates learners to develop a PLE (Fournier & Kop, 2010), although a number of publications emphasize the requirement of intrinsic motivation to use a PLE. They do this however at the level of expectations, recommendations or normative assumptions. 4.3 Tools Tools mediate the activity of a subject and help the subject move towards the object to achieve intended outcomes. Subjects employ tools to interact with objects in order to achieve desired outcomes.

Figure 4.3 Relationships of “tools” The following dimensions and properties of “tools” were coded in relation to PLE: C. TOOLS Dimensions C.1 Customisation Properties C.1.1 Related to subject ● Customisation in line with personal preferences ● Adaptation to own needs and learning style ● Personalisation of services based on the personal profile ● Adapting look and feel to own aesthetic preferences ● Self-adapting interfaces for mobile devices C.1.2 Related to object ● Getting information about content from different contexts ● Selecting sources of information for specific goals ● Developing and sharing reusable and customisable Open Educational Resources (OER) ● Designing mash-up spaces ● Combining available functionalities and data to match particular needs or be able to perform specific tasks C.1.3 Related to community ● Tools allowing the sharing of information and knowledge ● Tools for accessing artefacts from different communities C.1.4 Related to rules ● Mixing, re-purposing, re-using tools, content, resources ● Personalised aggregation of tools, materials and content from a range of formal and informal places ● Aggregation of loosely coupled tools, including Web 2.0, not provided by a single provider ● The environment has to be easy to install and to o configure so as to adapt to user needs

Choosing an open licence like Creative Commons (CC)

C.1.5 Customisation related to Division of Labour ● Self-archiving, self-publishing research results ● Public and private repositories of personal and collaborative production ● Distributed, peer-to-peer learning environments C.2 Facilitation C.2.1 Related to subject ● Tools and channels for developing capacity to manage own learning ● Tools supporting documentation and reflection of own learning and practice ● Tools supporting development of digital literacy ● Tools for developing understanding, knowledge and meaning ● Tools supporting inclusion and learning for all (e.g. symbol-supported text and speech output, adjustable user interfaces, adapting content and functions to the needs and preferences of users) C.2.2 Related to object ● Templates for scaffolding learning processes ● Tools for adaptable assessment ● Learning strategies ● Learning contracts ● Tools for structuring learning activities ● Tools for managing resources and content ● Tools for access to resources ● Tools facilitating cognitive presence C.2.3 Related to community ● Tools supporting social networking and collaboration (e.g. Web 2.0, mobile learning tools) ● Tools for creating social presence and community awareness ● Tools for utilizing wisdom of crowds ● Service based environment for knowledge sharing C.2.4 Related to rules ● Intelligent systems supporting learning, such as recommender, expert systems, Artificial Intelligence, semantic tools and applications (ontologies etc.) ● Service Oriented Architecture (SOA): Separation of services and instruments as architectural feature ● Semantic mash-ups for a scalable and flexible mash-up environment ● Personal learning tool-kits integrating a diversity of different services ● Open APIs and integration of Web 2.0 tools within a VLE ● Syndication mechanisms, such as RSS, ATOM

C.2.5 Related to Division of Labour ● Ecology of resources and content ● Bazaar of learning content, open content, books, learning materials, multimedia ● Interconnected technologies and applications enabling proactive and personalised actions ● User-generated content ● Freely available resources ● Open Educational Resources ● Tools for aggregating networks and content from a range of formal and informal places ● Tools to annotate and share resources ● Tools for providing applications and learning resources based on context Table 4.3 Dimensions and properties of “tools” The publications on PLEs that we reviewed devote much attention to tools, both to external, digital tools such as Web 2.0 or mobile learning tools as the current underpinning of the PLE technology, but also to internal tools, such as learning strategies, learning contracts and human or machine guidance. Whilst earlier studies tended to view PLEs as a new technology, perhaps inherited from research in VLEs, the later literature has focused on constructivism as an overarching approach to learning through PLEs and has become more diversified and far richer in exploring this dimension. Many publications address the issues of cognitive tools (such as learning strategies) from the perspective of the skills required. One strand of publications seems to place a stronger focus on “internal tools”, advocating that PLE users design their learning environments through the application of their skills in combining functionalities and data available on the Web. Another strand focuses more on “external tools”, devising sophisticated technologies aimed at providing guidance, feedback, creating presence, managing resources, adapting to user preferences etc. Some publications combine both approaches. Frequently addressed concepts related to tools include mash-ups based on aggregation of tools and Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) as opposed to closed, monolithic systems. Further aspects include intelligent systems, such as personalised and contextualised recommendation services or expert systems based on semantic technologies and/or artificial intelligence. The increasing development of Open Educational Resources (OER) are seen as important, in not only providing rich and accessible resources but also in assisting learners in developing their own critical literacies through remixing and commenting on such resources. 4.4 Community Community is a larger group with the subject as participant. Communities share the same objects, are governed by rules and divide tasks among participants who belong to a particular activity system.

Figure 4.4 Relationships of “community” The following dimensions and properties of “community” were coded in relation to PLE: D. COMMUNITY Dimensions D.1 Social Support Properties D.1.1 Related to subject ● Communities providing resources and support for learning ● Providing a personal hub for networked connections ● Learning in social contexts through Personal Learning Networks (PLN) D.1.2 Related to object ● Supporting the development of social networks for learning ● Learning through participation and interaction within Communities of Practice ● Teachers scaffold students’ PLNs for collaborative and sustained learning D.1.3 Related to tools ● Social networking technologies ● Technological space in which learners can situate their technological practices within a broader conception of their personal and social existence D.1.4 Related to rules ● Legitimate peripheral participation ● Engagement and interchange with peers and other learners D.1.5 Related to Division of Labour ● Learning with and from others

Supporting others in their learning

D.2 Boundary crossing

D.2.1 Related to subject ● Individual participation in different, dispersed Communities of Practice ● Learners participate in Communities of Practice, actively creating and sharing activities, learning plans, resources and experiences with peers and institutions ● Learners engage in activities within different milieus which facilitates inclusion D.2.1 Related to object ● Learning through interactions and practice in extended communities according to personal interests ● Participation in Communities of Interest and Learning Communities ● Collaboration in projects with people having different prior knowledge ● Interaction between domains of learning and practices of that learning ● Aggregating content from different communities D.2.1 Related to tools ● Tools for collaborative shared activities and development in shared workspaces ● Tools for extending beyond the domain of the course ● Boundary objects such as Open Educational Resources ● Technological space in which learners can situate their technological practices within a broader conception of their personal and social existence D.2.1 Related to rules ● Boundary crossing between different learning domains, discourses, processes, methodologies and structures ● Inter-relate learning from life with learning from school ● Inter-relate institutional learning and learning in the wider world ● Enable access to learning in different contexts D.2.1 Related to Division of Labour ● Getting information about learning opportunities from different communities ● Collaboration between different actors and enterprises ● Blurring boundaries between different practices, information, knowledge and technologies ● Blurring of boundaries between teachers and learners

Table 4.4 Dimensions and properties of “community” 4.4.1 Social support and boundary crossing Learning is seen as taking place in wide contexts including the workplace and distributed on and off line communities. The extended communities and the social

networks provide a much broader social context than has been envisaged in the previous discourse related to technology-enhanced learning. The characteristic features of communities within the PLE discourse seem to be providing social support and enabling boundary crossing. The community with its networked connections provides opportunities for collaborative and sustained learning. Boundary crossing through engaging in activities across different communities and/or having access to resources and content from various communities provides wider opportunities for learning and integration of different contexts in which people learn. 4.4.2 Communities of Practice and Personal Learning Networks In reference to social contexts in and through which learning takes place, Communities of Practice (CoP) and Personal Learning Network (PLN) are most frequently addressed concepts in the literature reviewed. While the CoP is inspired by Lave and Wenger (1991), the PLN concept is often based on connectivism (Siemens, 2005). CoPs are often seen not as domain-specific communities but rather as linked, dispersed and extended communities collaborating on common tasks. This collaboration is based on artefacts carrying the knowledge and the culture of a specific community and acting as boundary objects which can be used across different communities. Learning can take place through bringing together knowledge with practice and through critical reflection on that practice, facilitated by social applications such as blogs, wikis and micro blogging tools. Involvement and active engagement in such communities provides not only support but motivation for learning through processes of inquiry and collaboration. PLN, a relatively new concept, seems to be closely linked to the idea of “Communities of Practice” to refer to dispersed and extended communities. Couros (2010) defines PLN as “all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a PLE”. The role of PLNs, through providing authentic, dynamic and fluid social interactions, is seen in the collaborative development of educational resources, participation in digital projects, the development of personal portfolios, sharing and reviewing, and producing and consuming through the shared development of learning networks. Some current discussions around PLN and PLEs revolve around such issues as whether PLEs are a subset of PLN or vice versa, or whether a PLN results in a PLE or vice versa (Ivanova 2009; Couros, 2010). 4.5 Rules Rules are norms, conventions and values and they represent a way of minimising conflicts in an activity system.

Figure 4.5 Relationships of “rules” The following dimensions and properties of “rules” were coded in relation to PLEs: E. RULES Dimensions E.1 Openness Properties E.1.1 Related to subject ● Open to new challenges, ideas, perspectives ● Open and inclusive to others ● Open to a wide variety of different contexts for learning including time and place ● Open to using different sources of information, contents and materials E.1.2 Related to object ● Combining different contexts for learning ● Fostering boundary crossing ● Facilitating wider social learning E.1.3 Related to tools ● Technological permeability ● Integrating loosely coupled tools ● Tools for creating and sharing open education resources ● Use of open APIs for social networking ● Technologies which provide applications and learning resources based on context ● Use of Open Source software E.1.4 Related to community ● Communities open to all learners and other communities E.1.5 Related to Division of Labour ● Open to new roles and tasks E.2 Distribution F.2.1 Related to subject ● Distribution of power in a social network

Distribution of knowledge

F.2.2 Related to object ● Distribution of learning resources ● Distribution of content F.2.3 Related to tools ● Resources, content, materials, tools and networks are distributed ● Services are decentralized in different faculties, institutions, serves etc. ● Storage of personal data in the cloud (cloud computing, could-based services) ● Federation infrastructure with widgets ● Tools connecting the learner with a wide range of distributed users and services ● Aggregation of small services with simple interfaces that cover single needs ● Tools to annotate and share learning resources E.2.4 Related to community ● Distributing knowledge through different communities of practice ● Shared workspaces E 2.5 Related to Division of Labour ● Facilitating sharing of ideas, resources, content, materials etc. ● Facilitating bottom-up development of ideas about effective practice ● Facilitating collaboration between different enterprises, institutions, communities etc E.3 Connecting E.3.1 Related to subject ● Active engagement, participation, collaboration ● Engagement and interchange with peers and other learners ● Integrating academic and work-related learning contexts ● Linking different disciplines and domains E.3.1 Related to object ● Complex, authentic tasks and problem-based learning drawing on different contexts E.3.1 Related to tools ● Tools to support collaboration on different learning tasks ● Tools for collaborative content production and collaborative writing ● Tools to support aggregation of resources, content and services

E.3.1 Related to community ● Developing Personal Learning Networks ● Participation in Communities of Practice ● Learners participate, actively creating and sharing activities, learning plans, resources and experiences with peers and institutions. E.3.1 Related to Division of Labour ● Producing and sharing content through collaboration ● Connecting people and resources across domains, institutions and contexts Table 4.5 Dimensions and properties of “rules” As far as rules are concerned we identified openness, distribution and connecting as three central guiding principles of PLEs. These three principles are closely related to the idea of E-learning 2.0 as described by Downes (2005) in his seminal paper. The publications reviewed address openness, distribution and creating connections from a psychological (e.g. openness to new ideas and different perspectives, distribution of knowledge, connecting different areas of knowledge), sociological (e.g. openness to all learners, distribution of power, connecting people from different milieus), pedagogical (e.g. openness to changing roles, distribution of learning resources, connecting learners, supporting development of PLNs) and technological (e.g. open APIs, cloud-based services, aggregation tools) perspectives. 4.6 Division of labour Division of Labour is related to the organisation of the activity system, linked to roles, tasks and power relationships in an activity system.

Figure 4.6 Relationships of “division of labour” in the activity system For division of labour we distinguished between the different roles of learners, teachers, peers and institutions (including IT services). The following dimensions and properties were coded in relation to PLEs:

F. DIVISION OF LABOUR Dimensions F.1 Learners Properties F.1.2 Roles of learners: ● Learners as agents of their own process of change ● Learners as designers of own learning environment Responsibility, ownership and control of learning ● Ownership and responsibility for own data ● Leadership in the organisation ● Drawing on support from peer networks ● Developing and managing of own on-line identity ● Reflective learning through linking of learning to work practices ● Participating in dispersed social networks and communities F. 2.1 Roles of teachers ● Teachers role changes to provide support, scaffolding and guidance ● Support for developing capacity to manage own learning ● Encouragement and support for learners in critical engagement and evaluation of resources and ideas ● Monitoring individual and group activities ● Supporting the development of social networks for learning/personal learning networks (PLN) ● Facilitating wider social learning in various contexts F.3.1 Roles of peers ● Providing support as “more knowledgeable others” ● Facilitating learning as micro-mentors ● Interaction and exchange with peer network F.4.1 Roles of institutions ● Providing access to expertise and to structured bodies of knowledge ● Providing access to institutional services and resources ● Providing qualifications ● Not claiming monopoly on knowledge ● Connecting in- and off-campus, members and nonmembers of the learning community

F.2. Teachers

F.3 Peers

F.4 Institutions

Table 4.6 Dimensions and properties of “Division of Labour” The Division of Labour in traditional learning environments is relatively simple encompassing teachers, learners and school administrations. However not only is this division changing through the use of Personal Learning Environments, but it is also becoming more complex. As learning take place in wider contexts this brings new actors into play. This can include peers, workplace managers, providers of Open Education Resources and open online courses, technology developers. Furthermore, the Division of Labour becomes more dynamic. Individuals may act as both teachers and learners, depending on context, sometimes assuming both roles at the same time.

Through the use of PLEs learners are seen as agents of their own process of change and designers of their own learning environment. The key roles of learners include taking ownership of own learning goals, processes and outcomes, taking responsibility for their own data and managing their online identity, taking leadership in learning settings and educational institutions and participating in social networks and communities. Teachers and trainers are seen as having a key role in scaffolding learning and building on previous attainment and knowledge to accomplish new learning and competence through involvement in engaging and doable tasks that are not a simple answer to a question but involve problem solving, judgement, analysis, or synthesis (Starr, 2000). At the same time peer support is seen as increasingly important, through engagement with those who Vygotsky (1978) called More Knowledgeable Others (MKO). Peers as MKOs may have a better understanding or a higher competency with respect to a particular task or concept. Engaging in social networking and the development of a Personal Learning Network are seen as significant support for the learning process supported by MKOs. While “ownership” and “control” can be allocated to the concept “subject” they also relate to the Division of Labour. There is perhaps less consensus of how aspects of control over learning expressed through PLEs interact with institutional programmes. Whilst some researchers see PLEs as broadening learning domains to include both the institutional and wider social domains, others focus more on how institutional resources might be ‘consumed’ within a PLE. The role of the institution is seen as providing access to expertise, structured bodies of knowledge and services, without claiming the monopoly on knowledge. Some authors advocate that educational institutions tear down the walls of in- and off-campus communities in order to enable university members and non-members to interact with each other and share educational resources with tools of their choice. However, some commentators argue that students wish to keep a sharp distinction between off-campus and on-campus social networks and applications. The role of the institution in PLEs has been especially debated under the headings of “institutional PLEs” or “hybrid PLEs”. First, the issue of “ownership” is addressed from a number of perspectives depending on whether “ownership” refers to the content as such (i.e. materials, resources) or the container (i.e. platform, application, software). The ownership of a PLE may be claimed by the individual or by the institution, or some combination of both. In case of SAPO Campus project49 for example, the initiative, supported by the university, takes advantage of an enterprise-owned platform, through which learners create, distribute and share content. Since such complex scenarios cannot be categorised using a simple dichotomy of “personal” and “institutional”, the concept of the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE) has been introduced by Peña-López (2010). Second, there is the issue of level of aggregation of institutional assets into PLEs. In some cases, the institution provides a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), through which materials are distributed and some learning processes take place. The learners can then take these content sand materials and reuse them or manipulate them through a selection of tools of their choice. In this case, there is no direct


connection between the institution-provided assets and the learners’ PLE. At the other end of the spectrum, we have examples such as the SAPO Campus project again, an initiative supported by the university, which takes advantage of an enterprise-owned platform, through which learners create, distribute and share content. 4.7 Context Activity theory defines context as the activity itself and comprises all the elements of the activity system: subject, object, tools, rules, community and division of labour. Context is thus not an external container but it is rather constituted through the enactment of an activity (Nardi, 1996). Context is not simply there but it is generated in the activity system through transformations of relationships between the elements in the triangle. The idea of context is central to PLEs, both at pedagogical and technological levels. Yet within the literature there is only limited exploration of the different dimensions of context. Context often tends to be reduced to either the sector of education in which students are engaged or the physical space in which learning takes place. Our analysis shows that the most common contexts addressed in publications reviewed are Higher Education (31%) and Lifelong Learning (15%), followed by enterprise, organisations and workplace (9% each). Some authors, however, view context from the perspective of a learning space, involving examination of relations, context, actions and learning discourses mediated by the socio-cultural milieu (Attwell & Hughes, 2010). Within the context, different relationships can be distinguished, most notably between teachers and learners, among learners themselves, between learners and the wider community and between learners and technology (Attwell & Hughes, 2010). This conception bears close links to Activity Theory. Since much learning may take place in the absence of a formal teacher or trainer, it may be more appropriate to talk in Vygotskian terms of a More Knowledgeable Others (MKO) in relation to teachers and peers. The wider community includes formal education institutions, communities of practice or local or extended personal learning networks. The most obvious aspect of context is where the learning takes place. The PLE literature acknowledges the fact that learning takes place in wider physical and online communities as well as at home and in the workplace. This relates to the issue of physical domains. Learning can take place in training workshops, through online communities or through watching a television programme. A further aspect of context within the PLE discourse is the wider social political, cultural and socio-cultural environment. This in itself contains a raft of issues including factors such as the time and cost of learning and rewards for learning. Another critical issue is the nature of different learning discourses. The proponents of PLN in particular point out that the learning discourse depends on social relations in networks and communities. Learning discourses viewed in terms of processes, methodologies and structures may be more or less structured and formalised and the degree of interaction of learning processes with work or social processes may vary. Learning discourses are also seen as taking place through the exploration of boundary objects which serve as a point of mediation and negotiation and comprise a space for shared work.

In general, context is seen as fluid and relational. It is the fluid and dynamic nature of context which provides the central challenge to the design of a PLE, particularly in a non-institutional setting. 6. Conclusions and Recommendations In our view the Activity Theory model is a powerful descriptive and analytical tool for understanding the interpretations and conceptualisations of PLEs. Using the AT model enabled us to discover and define relationships between the central elements in the activity theory triangle. The application of Grounded Theory for the discovery of emergent concepts and their indicators allowed us to identify the core concepts related to subject, object, tools, rules, community and division of labour. We visualise the central dimensions in Figure 6.1.

Figure 6.1: Summary of PLE elements and their core dimensions On the whole, we observed that the core concepts such as ownership, control, literacy, autonomy or empowerment are often mentioned but seldom defined, theoretically grounded or differentiated. This obscures the overall picture and understanding of PLEs. Only in a few cases (e.g. Attwell, 2007a; Couros, 2010) is there a reference to a theoretical background such as social constructivism or andragogy. We conclude by quoting Fournier & Kop (2010) that “research related to PLEs is only in its infancy”. Our major recommendations for future research relate to a more indepth, both theoretical and empirical discovery of the core concepts related to the elements constituting PLEs as activity systems identified in this review. Further research should test whether the categories we identified are saturated and stable enough to encompass new data or whether new categories are needed to reflect the relevant aspects. The open research questions include: • What types of ownership and control are relevant to PLEs?

• • • • •

What motivates and demotivates learners to establish own PLEs? Which norms and values guide the development of PLEs in different contexts? What roles are played by different actors in a PLE? What is the relationship between ownership and collaboration in a PLE? How do PLEs contribute to identity development? How to balance power between different participants in a PLE? How to support the development of literacies necessary to establish a PLE?

As far as Activity Theory is concerned, further studies should be undertaken to apply and evaluate Activity Theory as a research framework for examining and designing Personal Learning Environments. Appendix A list of all publications included in the review is available here: http://plep.pbworks.com References Attwell, G. (2007a). Personal Learning Environments-the future of eLearning? eLearning papers, 2(1), 1–7. Attwell, G. (2007b). e-Portfolios – the DNA of the Personal Learning Environment? Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 3/2. Attwell G. & Hughes J. (2010). Pragmatics in Education, presentation to open online course on Critical Literacies, Retrieved June 25, 2011 from http://www.slideshare.net/GrahamAttwell/pragmatics-in-education, Barthelmess, P., & Anderson, K. M. (2002). A View of Software Development Environments Based on Activity Theory. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 11(1), 13-37. Springer. Chatti, M. A., Agustiawan, M. R., Jarke, M., & Specht, M. (2010a). Toward a Personal Learning Environment Framework. International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments, 1(4), 66-85. Chatti, M. A., Jarke, M., & Specht, M. (2010b). The 3P Learning Model. Educational Technology & Society, 13 (4), 74–85. Collis, B., & Margaryan, A. (2004). Applying activity theory to computer-supported collaborative learning and work-based activities in corporate settings. Educational Technology Research & Development, 52(4), 38-52. Springer. Couros, A. (2010). Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open & Social Learning. In Veletsianos, G. (Ed). Emerging Technologies in Distance Education. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press. Drexler, W. (2010). The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments : Balancing teacher control and student autonomy. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(3), 369-385. Downes, S. (2005). E-learning 2.0. ACM eLearn Magazine. Downes, S. (2010). New Technology Supporting Informal Learning. Journal of Emerging Technologies in Web Intelligence, 2(1), 27-33. Engeström, Y. (1987) Learning by Expanding: An Activity Theoretical Approach to Developmental Research. Helsinki: Orienta Konsultit.

Engeström, Y. (1999). Activity theory and individual and social transformation. In Y. Engeström, R. Miettinen & R. Punamäki (Eds.), Perspectives on activity theory (pp.19-38). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Engeström,Y. (2001). Expansive Learning at Work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, Vol. 14, No. 1. Fiedler, S. & Väljataga, T. (2010) Personal Learning Environments_ concept or technology? PLE Conference Barcelona 6-8 July 2010. Fournier, H. and Kop, R. (2010) Researching the design and development of a Personal Learning Environment, PLE Conference Barcelona 6-8 July 2010. Harmelen, M. van. (2006). Personal Learning Environments. Sixth IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT06) (pp. 815-816). Harmelen, M. van (2008) Design trajectories: four experiments in PLE implementation', Interactive Learning Environments,16:1,35 - 46 Holton, J. (2007) The coding process and its challenges. In A. Bryant & K. Charmaz (Eds.), The Sage handbook of grounded theory (pp. 237-262). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Ivanova, M. (2009). From personal learning environment building to professional learning network forming. Paper presented at the 5th International Scientific Conference E-learning and Software for Education. JISC (2007). A report on the JISC CETIS PLE project. Retrieved February 28, 2010, from http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/Ple/Report. Johnson, M., & Liber, O. (2008). The Personal Learning Environment and the human condition: from theory to teaching practice. Interactive Learning Environments, 16(1), 3-15. Johnson, M., Hollins, P., Wilson, S.. & Liber, O. (2007). Towards a Reference Model for the Personal Learning Environment. Ascilite Conference, Sydney, Australia 2007 Jones, D. (2008) Proceedings of the Lifelong Learning Conference 2008, Central Queensland University, Australia. Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: legitimate peripheral participation Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Leontev A.N. (1978). Activity Consciousness and Personality. Retrieved June 2, 2010 from http://marxists.org/archive/leontev/works/1978/index.htm Milligan, C., Johnson, M., Sharples, P., Wilson, S., & Liber, O. (2006). Developing a reference model to describe the personal learning environment. In W. Nejdl & K. Tochtermann (Eds.), Innovative Approaches for Learning and Knowledge Sharing - First European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, ECTEL 2006 (pp. 506-511). Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer. Nardi, B. A. (1996). Studying context: A comparison of activity theory, situated action models, and distributed cognition. Context and consciousness Activity theory and humancomputer interaction (pp. 69-102). MIT Press. Peña-López, I. (2009). The personal research portal: web 2.0 driven individual commitment with open access. In Hatzipanagos,S. & Warburton, S. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies, Chapter 26, 400-414. Hershey: IGI Global.

Peña-López, I. (2010) Introducing the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE), In ICTlogy, #81, June 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy. Retrieved June 5, 2011 from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=3389 Ravet, S. (2007). For an ePortfolio enabled architecture. Position Paper, V 1.1 Trish, A. & Du Toit , L. (2010) Utilising Activity theory and Illuminative Evaluation as a Theoretical Framework for ACTS Learning Space. Redmiles, D. (2002) CSCW computer supported cooperative work: Special issue on activity theory and the practice of design (Vol. 11): Kluwer. Scanlon, E., & Issroff, K. (2005). Activity Theory and Higher Education: evaluating learning technologies. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 21(6), 430-439. Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2005). Towards a Theory of Mobile Learning. Proceedings of mLearn 2005, 1(1), 1-9. University of Birmingham. Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. 2(1). Vygotsky L.(1978) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press. Wild, F., Mödritscher, F. & Sigurdarson, S. (2008) Designing for Change: Mash-Up Personal Learning Environments. eLearning Papers, 9/July 2008. Wild, F., Kalz, M. & Palmer, M. (eds.) (2008) Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Mashup Personal Learning Environments (MUPPLE08), CEUR-WS Proceedings. Wilson, S., Liber, O., Johnson, M., Beauvoir, P., Sharples, P., & Milligan, C. (2007). Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 2(3). Zurita, G., & Nussbaum, M. (2007). A conceptual framework based on Activity Theory for mobile CSCL. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(2), 211235. ingentaconnect.com.

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