User Generated Education

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Personal Learning Environment Assignment and Reflections

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I teach a graduate course for the Boise State University’s Educational Technology program called Social Networked Learning.  I discussed it in Educators as Social Networked Learners and Educator as a Social Networked Learner: Presentation Materials.

One of the assignments later in the course is creating a diagram of one’s personal learning environment.  Some previous activities students completed prior to this assignment include: joining Twitter, using Facebook for our class communities, following and contributing to Twitter hashtags and Tweet chats of their choice, attending live webinars of their choice, and joining additional online communities related to their professional interests.

These are the directions provided to the students:

Now that you’ve added more online communities to your PLE, create a diagram to represent them.

  1. Create a PLE diagram of your online communities.  See examples PLE Diagrams at
  2. Represent at least 10 different online communities in your graphic and explicitly show connections between the communities. You can be as creative as you’d like with this depiction.  You can hand draw and take an image, or use any type technology.  Post a link and screenshot of your PLE so you classmates could view it on Facebook.
  3. Complete a Reflection:  Via a blog post answer the following questions:  What did you learn about yourself when looking at your PLE? Visit your classmates’ PLE posts.  How does your PLE compare to other peers in class? Write a self-reflection and a comparative analysis that discusses similarities and differences between yours and your classmates’ diagrams.  This analysis should be in terms of content not the type of creation.

For some students, the image spoke volumes, for others it was their reflections on the process and insights that occurred through reflecting on the process of creating the PLE diagram. Below is a sample of the students’ work.


My personal learning environments have been an eye-opening experience. I have been so empowered by everything I’ve gleaned. My experience with this type of learning has been life changing. My teaching method and the way I instruct my students has taken on a new form of strategy. Learning through my personal learning environments, as well as my contributions, has been awesome. I never thought that I would ever tap into all these resources but what it has done for me, personally, has been very rewarding. I was very apprehensive and wary before, but now I feel very comfortable within these social networks.  Who says that a person 54 years of age cannot learn something in the social network realm? I have.


Creating the PLE diagram was an interesting and informative process. At first my networking participation felt totally chaotic. I decided to group my connections within my core interest areas. This helped me gain a better sense of how my PLE is working to support my goals and further my interests. Since I have been in education a long time, I want have a clear picture of my learning and contributing goals. I see my PLE as a way to extend both. The 3D diagram I created with blocks provided a structure and metaphor for the continued construction of my PLE as I continue to explore and build connections.


To create, present and share my PLE diagram I tapped into my real world community and tools (art paper, scissors, pencil, and a “real” student model) and my on-line community and tools (iPhone apps, Facebook, and blog) too. My graphic representation of the body and the major arteries reflects how my personal learning environment (PLE) has become my lifeline. I placed the learners (and their social media networks and Web 2.0 tools) where the heart is because they are why I do what I do! They motivate me to connect (to make that vital fluid circulate from head to toe). They motivate me to become a better learner and a better teacher. My students and I often “learn and grow” together, and these tools enable us to do that.


Through a long bout of self-reflection, I went to task on creating my diagram. Going against my comfort zone of using technology to create my diagram, I used wood, paint, and a rusty saw. My background for my diagram is a piece of plywood, kona stained, and my icons were painted with their corresponding colors and designs. The creation begins with cloud bubbles, each containing 2 or more PLN icons. Within each cloud, I scripted words or phrases that represent each PLN. This is the part where I acknowledge that a good amount of these PLN blocks do crossover into other clouds. This is the beauty of PLNs, because if used correctly, one can find a way to use that PLN as a multi-faceted resource. (


In my graphic, the educator is represented by the bee. We usually participate in Professional Development as an individual, or as a group. The flowers act as the sources of information an educator collects. When a bee visits a flower, it collects nectar. Given enough time, that nectar breaks down through enzymes and chemical processes within the bee to produce honey. For me, I see the educator attending training, workshops, and finding information on their own, and like the bee, when given enough time to process the information learned, new products are made. The hive can be many things: the school, the classroom, a PLN, etc. The bee/educator takes the new product they have made (or information learned) and comes back to the hive to share. For bees, the hive is a place to store honey. For teachers, however, I think the hive represents ways that information can be shared. Of course, the final product–and ultimate goal– is the creation of honey, or content learned in action. (


The first thing that I learned about myself as I created my diagram of my PLE was that I’ve come a long way since the beginning of this class when it comes to being involved in social media and actually forming a PLE! To be honest, I’m not sure I even knew what a PLE was. Not only do I see myself evolving, I see myself growing as an educator because now more than ever I am inspired by educators from all over the world. I think what makes this new-found knowledge even better is the fact that I am not intimated anymore; I’m having fun, and I’m not “afraid” of making a mistake anymore!


When I think about my PLE I see it as something that is constantly growing and will continue grow for the rest of my life. I embraced the theme of professional growth while creating my Diagram and so I thought the idea to represent it through the shape of a tree. I would note that my PLE is not just a facet of my professional growth or tool for learning however, it is also an outlet for sharing my ideas and facilitating social interactions.


The diagram represents the Internet and my social media connections. The light at the top of the picture is the Internet. It contains the information that is created by on-line users. I don’t mean to overstate the power of the Internet, but it is source for much of what we do in our society. From it come all of the social media sites that we access. They are becoming the pillars for what we learn and what we share. That is the reason that I put them on the cables that hold up the bridge. The city in the background symbolizes the world that accesses the internet and its social media sites. You can vaguely see a person with a smart phone. That represents me. I really liked the picture. I actually discovered it when I was on a Twitter chat one evening. The picture really spoke to me and I knew that I wanted to use if for this project. The picture, to me, shows that social media is a very important aspect of the Internet. My professional learning environment is becoming increasingly dependent on social media.


As evident in the student reflections, they find value in social networking for professional development.  Those of us who are connected educators find value in being as such.  We often discuss how to get educators who aren’t connected to do so.  We encourage them to become active on Twitter.  I have learned that it more difficult than just showing them Twitter.  I don’t know what the magic “it” is that draws some of us to being connected.

I believe the more structured activities helped the educators taking the course see the value of being connected and at least some will continue to be so after the course ends.  In essence, this can be a model of professional development.  Educators within their own professional development would be required (hate that term, but sometimes that is what needs to happen) or expected (better option) to participate in a series of connected activities, i.e., Twitter hashtags and Tweet Chats, other online live chats and webinars, live webinars and online conferences.  This professional development activity would be self-directed in that educators would select their own connected activities based on their professional interests within their own self-selected time frames.  Hopefully, an extrinsic motivation or push would help educators find intrinsic value in being connected and would continue to be connected in the future on their own.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm

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