Ponderances of Steve

October 1, 2010

Why Having a PLE Matters

Filed under: MOOC — Steve LeBlanc @ 5:06 pm

An epiphany is a strange thing. You look at something that’s been around you for weeks or years and you see it as if for the first time. We have been told repeatedly in this #PLENK2010 MOOC * that we will get our largest benefits and leaps in understanding when we participate in the open space, specifically by posting in the forum and on our own blog. I didn’t quite get that until now.

One task I found particularly difficult to do was to post a concept map (CMap or Mind Map) of my PLE (Personal Learning Environment). I hate mind maps. I think better in outlines and I’m already aware of the implicit connections between different items on my lists. The lines don’t help me. I gain no new insights from them. It just feels like extra work to cram something into that form.

I thought I might try to detail my PLE in words, but that seemed counter to the spirit of the task. They wanted a picture. While it was sort of interesting to look at the CMAPs of others PLE, they didn’t seem to help my process. One reason I resisted doing a CMAP of my PLE was that my PLE was so paltry. I use less than a dozen web apps, mostly Twitter surfing, email and google. I have some social bookmarking accounts but I don’t use them. I never check my FaceBook account unless I get some activity on it, which is not often. I rarely go to Q&A sites, even though I love the idea. Heck, I don’t even use my RSS Feed reader (Google Reader) even though I set up a few dozen feeds. In short, my PLE is boring, too simple to make an interesting graphic.

What’s the point? I could not see any benefit to others or to me.

Ironically, while my tools are simple, my process is not. It’s fairly sophisticated, even if little of it is visible online. I use a wonderful a Notepad replacement called Win32pad, a text editor which allows me to click links and launch them in the default browser. I create text files, lots of them, to save links, write reviews and articles and develop projects. I rarely post the reviews, as they lean toward sloppy, snarky and incomplete. I admit to being something of a perfectionist and workaholic, so most of my work is never “good enough”. With effort, some of them would make for strong blog posts. But then, my attention is drawn to the next cool idea. Okay, so I have a little ADD, as well.

I know my current PLE does not fully support the PLN that I want. I even know about most of the tools that other people use, given that most of what I do online is to review web apps for social media. I begrudgingly admit that a mind map of my PLE might expose some of the more blatant weaknesses.

But why draw what is already clear in my mind? Why post what I know to be a sparse PLE? What good would that do others? Oh, I suppose they could give me feedback to improve it. And it might possibly serve someone reading it.

I will admit my PLE is not great. I want a strong PLN. And to get that, I’ll have to improve my PLE. But how? I have researched the heck out of the tools and I’m even in a MOOC that wants to define the PLE over and over again, ad nauseam. I’m choking on all the discussion while not getting my own questions answered. How can I improve my PLE?

Then it occurred to me. Oh, I can’t ask them that question without first showing them the current state of my PLE. I can’t ask them how to improve it until I tell them were it is today. One way to create it would be CMAP, but there are others ways, like bubbl.us. I could even draw them a word picture and then ask my question. Yes, that could work. Even if I just wrote a few paragraphs of my process, it would give them a starting point.

Okay, where to begin?

Tools: email, Skype/Phone, TwitterFall, PLENK, Twitter Surf, w/Chrome, Posterous, MyWPBlog, gCalendar, Memiary


I’m Twitter-centric, which is to say my world revolves around Twitter. After I check my email, I look at Twitter to find interesting links from those few I follow (30). I open a new tab for each intriguing link I find in my Twitter feed. Usually that means 5-15 new tabs. Then as I go from tab to tab, the page has fully loaded. I use both the Twitter homepage and Chromed Bird, a Chrome extension, to read and post tweets. I then look for any @mentions of my name and DM’s.

I don’t get a lot of email, so that takes 5-20 minutes. I use Google Calendar to track recurring meetings and appointments. I use Skype to call into several weekly teleconferences. I check my blog for new comments to recent posts, and reply as needed. And I use TwitterFall to track Twitter Chats, such as #lrnChat, #EdChat and #InnoChat. And occasionally will use TwitterFall to look for things like #PLENK2010 or follow some conference. Then I put a few items of what I did this day into Memiary, a private diary which allows up to five items or insights per day. I use Posterous to post drafts of articles I’m writing on a password protected site that is open to my editor friends. It has too many formatting problems to be used as a real blog.

That’s pretty much it for what I use daily. I do keep lots of tabs open in Chrome, like 30-70, following my current interests, such as PLENK2010 for which I may have 15 open. I have lots of other Web 2.0 accounts, but rarely use them. Playlist.com, Delicio.us, Hulu.com, FaceBook, and some Q&A sites.

As an introverted, self-directed learner, I get most of what I want from my process of search and reading. Most, but not all. I don’t need much social engagement to learn stuff (even if recent research suggests I am not learning it as well as I think I am). But I do need social engagement to feel connected, aligned and a part of something important. And while my need for information is reasonably well satisfied, my need for connection is sorely shorted.

So it seems if I am to map out my PLE more completely, I will first need to better define what I want from it. What kinds of people do I want in my network and how many? What kinds of roles would I like them to play? I need to detail that.

How can I improve my PLE? It is apparent that I could use a dashboard, at least for #PLENK2010. Maybe NetVibes. Using a browser for my dashboard is cumbersome. I’m absolutely open to feedback.



  1. […] posting this I have noticed that Steve LeBlanc is someone else who appears to have a similar take on the issue of what is needed. Reading: myPE(N)L ctdTweet This: Send Page to […]

    Pingback by alQpr » Blog Archive » myPE(N)L ctd — October 9, 2010 @ 4:24 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks, Steve. I got more out of this than any mindmap. I like visuals but they can’t give me the resonance or the logic behind a tool use.

    I’m new to Twitter and never thought I’d find a use for it but I am taking to it like a duck to water — it is giving me the connections I crave. I spend way too much time in a one-way network reading books.

    I’ll definitely check out TwitterFall. I think I already gave a plug for Zotero — http://www.zotero.org for saving links, making notes, and getting citations.

    Comment by criscrissman — October 10, 2010 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  3. @criscrissman,

    I am delighted to have one of my fav peeps enjoy this counter intuitive approach to PLE’s. I agree that Zotero looks good. But I can’t use Zotero with my primary browser Chrome (Chromium actually). I hope to test out EverNote soon, for all browsers. Thanks for commenting.

    Comment by Steve LeBlanc — October 13, 2010 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

  4. I can live with this approach to mindmapping without drowning, eyes crossing or that buzzing in ears. Twitter, although I am using it more, would not be at the center. Google Reader would be center with tabbed, widget packed iGoogle as a private PKN (or just an online work station). That could change, the center could shift… I could even map shifts if I wanted to. Not. I’m going to try Win32Pad… throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.

    Comment by Vanessa Vaile — October 21, 2010 @ 7:23 am | Reply

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