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The Personal Learning Environment Starter Pack--What Would You Include?

I took a look back at my Personal Learning Environment posts the other day and realized how complicated it must all seem to someone who's new to using social media to enhance their learning. Lately I've been consumed with wanting to understand the newbie experience of social media for learning and how to facilitate the process of adopting tools like RSS and blogging to enhance learning. So I started thinking about the need for a "PLE Starter Pack" that I think needs the following characteristics:

  • At a minimum, I think a PLE Starter pack needs tools that help people get good quality information, can serve as a virtual memory for that information and provide some way for people to process what they're learning. Yes, I'd like it to do a lot more, but I see these as the minimal things to look for.
  • Can be effectively integrated into people's daily work lives without a huge change in habits. People resist change. It's human nature. For a PLE Starter Pack to work, it needs to be something that can easily fit into someone's regular work day. Ideally it piggy-backs onto tools and processes already happening.
  • Can serve as gateways or scaffolding for more enhanced tools and learning processes for those people who want that. It's a pain to have to start all over with things, so my ideal tools would be something that people could build upon to expand their PLE if and when it becomes necessary.

With those criteria in mind, here's where I'm at now as far as the fundamental tools:

  • Internet Explorer 7 or My Yahoo for Feed Reading--This builds on tools people are already using and is the simplest possible way for reading feeds. As I mentioned in a previous post, these tools lack a lot of the functionality of more advanced options, but for the vast majority of people, they'll work just fine. I see feeds as absolutely fundamental to a good PLE--without them, there's not a lot happening in terms of content and information to interact with.
  • Tumblr as a Virtual Memory and Reflection/Processing Tool--I've been playing around with Tumblr again after several months of not posting and I can see that it might be a good "gateway" to blogging. It allows you to bookmark things in a way that's less complicated than (at least to a newbie, I think) and it also provides the ability for text-posting. A MAJOR drawback is that you can't comment, so it definitely doesn't provide the same social networking opportunities as a blog or social bookmarking site. But at the beginning, people may be more comfortable with that anyway.

One more that I think is a good "add-on" tool (if you can call it that)--Google Alerts. It adds to the information-gathering process and is pretty simple to set up.

What do you think? Keeping in mind the "next generation" users of Web 2.0 tools, what do you think would be the fundamental, "must have tools for learning"? I'd love to hear more from newbies, too. Feel free to share this with people and then have them either comment or send me an email. I want to know what would engage people in using social media technology for daily learning and what they're looking for in the technology.


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Michele--Funny, I had been thinking I'd do a post along these lines on Mission to Learn at some point in the near future. With that in mind, I've had it bouncing around in the back of my mind and one thing I realized the other day--to my surprise--is that my Amazon shopping list actually plays an important role in my own personal learning environment. I'm continually running across books that I want to read some day, given world enough and time. I may or may not actually buy them from Amazon (though, part of Amazon's genius is that it knows I will surely by some of them!), but the shopping list gives me a good place to catalog them in an environment that also provides a quick links to commentary, reviews, related books, etc. I don't know that this a must have tool for everyone, but obviously a lot of people spend time on Amazon and they may be missing out on how some of the tools there can support learning.


Hmm--that's a really good point, Jeff. I'm on Amazon all the time, too--it was part of my original PLE, but I tend to just buy if it's something I want, rather than putting it on my wish list. It's not the cheapest professional development activity, that's for sure. :-)

I'd love to hear/see more about where you land with this.

Michele, I love the idea of Tumblr as a gateway to blogging! Still, I really would be inclined to add a social bookmarking site to the PLE -- but I'm just not sure which one. They all seem to be adding "features" these days that serve to make the experience a bit confusing and overwhelming for some newbies.

The whole topic of a Starter Pack is fascinating, in fact, and has been much on my mind recently as I've started to coach a senior friend who wanted to "learn email" -- After much confusion and several false starts, we backtracked to the true Step One. This week's homework for her is to get comfortable with turning the computer on and off, and handling the mouse. What a grand reminder of how much we can tend to take for granted!

I wonder if it's more like a starter pack for each main tool? Like a Personal Starter Pack for your PLE. So, if your already using Yahoo homepage, you can easily add ______. If you are using Google mail, try _____.

My first social media tool was I doubt a microblogging tool would have engaged me fully and inspired me to dig deeper. A big part of the drive was the ability to have more control over the visuals. I think any starter pack will need to engage the self interests of the particular user.

Hi Michele
great topic and you really have got me thinking on this one. It's an issue I meet constantly at work (uni) with staff and students. I met the resistance to change last week during a Moodle training session that our faculty are being asked to take before the start of the academic year. I kept hearing "Why do we have to change etc?" even though Moodle is going to be easier and all that. As far as students are concerned, I wonder whether using their mobile phones mightn't be the way to go. We keep hearing about the way these are the tools of choice for Gen-Y. Given the cost of accessing the smart phone add-ons, it's still a problem, but teaching them how to access all the Google apps would be a good place to start, and all of these are available in mobile format.

As for colleagues, I still think getting them to use (say) Blogger is a good start. The idea of journalling is not new to most teachers; online journalling aka blogging with built in social-networking aka commenting, is a painless way to get started.
My 2c worth.

I like Ajax start pages and to get folks into Personal Learning. For a class I created "Personal Learning Starter Pages" (using sharing options on Netvibes, iGoogle, Pageflakes and Protopage) and showed how easy it is to get started in building one's own unique, interactive learning environment. I recommend aggregated topic searching for finding articles and blogs of interest.

I've had several attendees leave feedback that they'd moved quickly to feed readers and full-blown blogging once they got into it!

Marianne and Rebecca--I'm definitely with you on I debated about including that in my list, but ended up keeping it off because I was trying to keep things to a bare minimum. Christine brings up a good point, though, about maybe handling it as a sort of piggy-backing, like "if you use this, then you can extend it with this." I also like Marianne's point about the Ajax start pages as another potential entry point into the media, as well as Kate's thoughts using mobile phones. I can definitely see those becoming much bigger in the next few years, particularly with the i-Phone kind of technology. If it does take off, then video on demand will probably get bigger--it's just gorgeous on that i-Phone screen and you can download pretty quickly.

Hi Michele, although I was taught how to Blog about 3 years ago I only started blogging about 8 months ago. I started with Blogger and am now moving to WordPress. I use igoogle to centre my online activities (calendar, blog feeds, horoscope, news and stuff like that, it's a hub for my activities). I use mediawiki in my work (at a University) and I also teach students how to blog as a professional networking tool. A colleague here at the University uses elgg and swears by it, I however simply swore AT IT as I could not download it and get it working at all! Have you tried elgg? At my previous University they used drupal, however I left as it was being rolled out.

It seems that my present University will try WordPress as both a blogging and e-portfolio tool and maintain the core activities in Blackboard (I think they prefer the protection of that space.) It's still not a complete PLE though, is it.
Cheers, Anita.

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