Tag Archives: personal learning environments

Critical Connections: Personal Learning Environments and Information Literacy

The core research question of the article, “Critical Connections: Personal Learning Environments and Information Literacy” that the authors are attempting to answer is: How can the implementation of personal learning environments and critical information literacies in the traditional research assignment facilitate and improve student learning and literacy? Personal learning environments (PLE) and critical information literacies (CIL) were developed by dissatisfied librarians in response to the inadequate filling of the needs of student learners (Hicks & Sinkinson, 2015, p. 3).

According to Atwell, personal learning environments are made up of “a collection of loosely coupled tools, including Web 2.0 technologies, used for working, learning, reflection and collaboration with others” (as cited in, Hicks & Sinkinson, 2015, p.3). PLEs are structured spaces that engage learners with the wider world of information, a space where they are free to communicate, create, and explore information alone or with a community of like-minded individuals. Luke and Kapitzke define critical information literacies as “a complex set of behaviors, attitudes and interactions that a learner adopts to engage critically in information landscapes” (as cited in, Hicks & Sinkinson, 2015, p.4). When used properly, CILs encourage learners to question and analyze information, specifically the sources of this information and the importance it could have on the global community of information seekers and learners.

The traditional research assignment fails to incorporate tools that actively engage learners with the information they are presented with or inquiring about. “Research assignments founded on PLEs and CILs encourage learners to examine entire systems of information from production through to distribution and dissemination” (Hicks & Sinkinson, 2015, p.10). Through this encouragement, learners become more active participants with the materials they are studying. Additionally, incorporating these concepts into the inquiry process allows students to reflect on the material after completing the assignment and evaluate what they have learned.

The new information landscapes, PLEs and CILs, must now be taken out of theoretical context and become practically applied in formal education. The effects of incorporating PLEs and CILs in student learning and research can range from altering student engagement with research methods to shifting the model of education toward new technologies and modalities not yet incorporated in formal education. Benefits to learners in this new environment are an increase of access to open resources, critical participation in actual content creation, practice in analyzing and interacting with material instead of merely consuming it, and a deeper understanding of the different meanings of knowledge.

Open resources go beyond traditional text, therefore learners in this environment will interact in an innovative and more engaging way with information. Openness allows for new pathways of learning connections (social media, information exchange, inquiry, dialogue) to be made that are not an innate aspect of text-only based learning. When tasked with creating content through the research process, students learn to analyze and interpret—and ideally question—information rather than accept authority as categorically valid.

Taking the theory of PLE and CIL and applying it to the classroom will pose challenges to both educators and learners. Educators must recognize new forms of knowledge, be willing to use them, modify their instruction model to incorporate them, teach learners how to access them, and embrace the idea that “Traditional research assignments fail to capture these broad and lived experiences of inquiry within modern information landscapes” (Hicks & Sinkinson, 2015, p. 5). Both educators and learners can find more satisfaction in the learning process by broadening the information landscape. In turn, scholarship will be transformed from a one-way information highway into a sea of flowing information of active participants. This transformation may include social discussion boards, blogs, wikis, and micropublishing; the challenge for both educators and learners is to perceive these new tools as valid for gaining knowledge. As some resources may be questionable, learners’ practiced skills of evaluation and the analytic process gained from this innovative model of learning will give them the ability to think critically and make appropriate choices.

Aside from any budget or physical limitations, the biggest barrier to inhibit successful exploration will happen at the staff level. In libraries many of the PLE and CIL learning take place in Makerspaces or Learning Labs that can be produced at a small or large scale through grant funding. Staff are at the heart of the function and success of these spaces. They are key to facilitating a fun and adequate learning environment in accordance with students’ changing needs. The rate at which technology advances and the changes that teaching roles will experience require staff who “must be learners themselves, who are flexible and able to adapt to the changing environment and technologies. They must facilitate learning for diverse users and be knowledgeable about theories of teaching and learning as well as user needs and behaviors” (Koh & Abbas, 2015, p. 114). Without proper staffing these spaces will be unsustainable and unsuccessful.

As learning systems continue to change and develop, it is important to step back and consider what components of the traditional approach should be protected and maintained. Traditional approaches now fall short of satisfying student needs because of its “inability to engage students authentically in conversation with other thinkers and writers…students fail to understand their own voice in inquiry as a conversation they can enter” (Hicks & Sinkinson, 2015, p.3). The components of information literacy to identify, locate and evaluate information are still important to maintain as the nature of information continues to change and mold itself into new forms. PLE and CIL learning is not abandoning traditional learning systems altogether, but rather creatively addressing shortcomings of traditional approaches. The biggest criticisms were based on how inquiry was taught. PLE and CIL move inquiry to the forefront and at a much earlier age when children are engaged authentically in a way relevant to their lives and realities.


Attwell, G. (2010). Personal learning environments and Vygotsky. Retrieved from: http://www.pontydysgu.org/2010/04/personal-learning-environments-and-vygotsky

Hicks, A. & Sinkinson, C. (2015). Critical connections: Personal learning environments and information literacy. Research in Learning Technology, 23, p. 1-12. Retrieved from: http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/

Koh, K. & Abbas, J. (2015). Competencies for information professionals in learning labs and makerspaces. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 56(2), p. 114-129. Retrieved from: http://www.alise.org/

Luke, A. & Kapitzke, C. (1999). Literacies and libraries: Archives and cybraries. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 7(3), p. 467-491. Retrieved from: http://www.tandfonline.com/