Following on from the previous post on PLEs

Here is my PLE attempt

The meme machine

When I started drawing my PLE I put myself in the middle with all the pathways to other people and content around me, but as I progressed I found myself appearing at the edges of the map too. This made me wonder whether I had misinterpreted my importance in my PLE, perhaps the ideas are more important then me.

This reminded me of the theory of ‘memes’ as laid out by Richard Dawkins, in ‘The Selfish Gene’. The concept is as follows; ideas, melodies, images (memes) exhibit similar patterns or behaviour to genes. They make copies of themselves in books, songs, paintings and digital artefacts, and often end up in our heads. While they’re in our heads they get mutated by our experience and other memes. Then when they come out again in the forms of ideas, melody, images etc. they are slightly different. The ones which get copied survive and the ones that don’t, don’t. There are no inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ones and sometimes the proliferation of certain memes can do us more harm than good. So I could see myself as a ‘meme machine’ or a temporary vessel for the memes that I will pass on in my PLE.

The collective PLE

To bring this realisation a bit closer to our everyday reality, I basically use the information I am exposed to as inspiration for creative pursuits, which I then put back into circulation. These creations are digested by other conscious beings and provide fuel for yet more creations that may come back to me. It’s almost as if there is one giant PLE that everybody is connected to facilitating this process. Before the advent of the internet, the number of people who could contribute to the PLE was fairly small, now all you need is a device and an internet connection. This means that memes, like the PLE, are free to develop, evolve and spread like never before.

My role in the PLE

If I see my PLE as being connected to the people I interact with, then I must see myself as a collaborator. By this I mean that I work together with others to develop intellectually by bouncing ideas off each other. We learn together as we receive ideas and contribute to the community of people we are connected to.

My role in my students’ PLEs

Seeing a learner’s PLE as part of their identity, through which they can shape and contribute to in a language community, means that language learners are most definitely not passive receivers of content. Whats more, learners can continue to play an active role in the language community for the rest of their lives, learning is no longer confined to a course or geographical location.

So how do you teach a PLE?

From a teaching perspective my first role would be a as guide, in order to raise awareness of a student’s PLE and how to exploit and expand it. I would get students to reflect on what they learn from and even attempt a mind-map of their PLE. To encourage students in this task we could also consider the fact that interaction using L2 is authentic communication in the real world. After this, I could move on to a more facilitating role, monitoring students as they interact, select content and explore elements of the L2 culture they identify with. As students start to collaborate in their PLEs, I would become a collaborator too. This has interesting implications for teacher-student relationships as your social and professional lives become entwined and reach beyond the confines of a course or an institution.

The end of institutions

Even if PLEs have always existed, giving them a name and reflecting on what they represent is potentially revolutionary for education. The main reason for this is that they have very little to do with our conventional associations between educational institutions and education. Weller in ‘The Digital Scholar’ suggests that we should not ‘confuse function with form’ like we did with the album and track, the newspaper and information, and books and ideas.( Weller. M, 2011)  VLEs have gone some way to separate form from function but they are still walled-gardens, controlled by institutions and often based on linear content delivery.  Perhaps as we embrace the PLE we will no longer need buildings, managers, expensive directors, the government and all the other people and things that cost so much and often get in the way of ‘effective’ education.

I must admit, this ‘revolution’ is unlikely to happen overnight and might be more accurately described as an ‘evolution’. That said, the concept of PLEs is still a powerful evolving meme that I believe will have profound effects on the way we learn and teach.


Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, (Oxford University Press 1989)

Martin Weller, The Digital Scholar, (Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2011)