Evaluation & Future Potential

We have established that PLEs are highly individualized and at times chaotic learning environments. Learning is extended across multiple contexts and can not be isolated to a single classroom or online space. Many challenges exist for the traditional educational institution to support such a learning model. Can schools, colleges, and corporate learning departments find a way to tie all the learning modalities together? Let’s consider examples of PLE-supporting initiatives from the open education community and private enterprise.

Mozilla Badges

One of the difficulties of the PLE model is that of assessment and credentialing.  To answer this problem the Mozilla Foundation has proposed a framework to acknowledge lifelong, informal learning through a system of awards called open badges. The Mozilla foundation explains that “a badge is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest. They are able to support networked learning across institutions and communities by recognizing achievement in a particular area” (p.3). The typical diploma or certification may only capture what is learned from a single program  rather than capturing  what is learned informally in a lifetime. Badges, on the other hand, can be awarded potentially to a limitless set of skills regardless of where those skills were obtained.

Grockit Learnist

The test preparation company, Grockit, has been keenly following developments in social media and looking for ways to apply new media to education.  This year, at the top of the social media conversation has been Pinterest. Grockit has borrowed Pinterest’s visual concept of content curation and presentation to build their own application for education called Learnist (still in private beta). The application acts as a platform for a PLE by allowing learners to share web resources of a particular topic organized into a lesson with explanations and annotations. It makes learning a social process and perhaps more troublesome to the education system; it makes everyone a teacher.

Role of the Educator in a PLE

“… there may still be thousands of people employed today with the job title of “teacher” or “educator”, it is misleading to suggest that all, or even most, aspects of providing an education should, or could, be placed into the hands of these individuals.” (Downes, 2010)

This seemingly controversial statement is an observation of how we learn today in a Personal Learning Environment.  The PLE means that no single teacher is responsible for transmitting knowledge to students. This knowledge is obtained from a variety of digital sources in a variety of ways, all personal to the learner. It is an approach that emphasizes open learning and learner autonomy where the learner is central to building and maintaining a network or trusted nodes of knowledge.

How can a teacher support this sort of learning that is so individualized? It is likely that the teacher of the future will need to play several different roles accordingly to assist students in navigating the chaos of a PLE.  Stephen Downes, in fact, identifies 23 roles needed to support learning today.


Downes, S. (2010).  The role of the educator.  The Huffington Post, December 6, 2010. Accessed online at: http://www.downes.ca/post/54312

Peer 2 Peer University & The Mozilla Foundation. (n.d.). An Open Badge System Framework. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xGuyK4h7DLVeOrFPeegB4ORMutblJf9xVRZCizgx_j8/edit?hl=en&authkey=CNarn4UJ

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