People frequently ask me what makes a Personal Learning Environment different from a news aggregator or an application such as iGoogle, which also bring information sources together. Similarly to the question that has been asked about the iPad over the past week: In what way is it different from equipment that is already out there? My top choice of articles on the iPad was by Charlie Brooker in the Guardian newspaper. He questions Apple's assertion that the iPad will make our lives more efficient and thinks it should be branded differently: 'Come off it. It's an oblong that lights up. . . I want to hear how it'll amuse and distract me; how it plans to anaesthetise me into a numb, trancelike state. Call it the iDawdler and aggressively market it as the world's first utterly dedicated timewasting device: an electronic sedative to rival diazepam, alcohol or television. If Apple can convince us of that, it's got itself a hit'.
A PLE is not as high profile as a new Apple-device; it is still only researched by a relatively small group of people world wide. But the interest in informal as opposed to formal learning is growing and some interest in the PLE was noticable at the Alt-C conference in the UK last autumn and at the PLE conference that we organised in collaboration with Manitoba university. Stephen Downes highlighted the trends in personal learning in an online presentation to an audience in Australia last night.
The PLE is meant to help learners manage all tools they use for learning. It is expected to not only make life more efficient by aggregating information, but to add to this by using currently available technology that will facilitate intelligent information gathering and recommend information relevant to the person using it. This in combination with communication tools to connect learners to one another and knowledgeable others. The presence of editors, publishers and scaffolds related to learning and education can help a person to make the PLE truly personal, with the learner at the centre, while actively engaging in producing digital artifacts that are based on the original information collected and that can be published online to make them available for discussion with others. It is expected to be a pedagogical platform that can help learners with the management of all tools, activities and components related to their learning journeys.