Guest Contributor: Nada Dabbagh, George Mason University.

Many of today’s learners are likely to be familiar with, and facile with, today’s technologies. However, it can take some effort and skill to help them use and manage online resources to their fullest advantage within the educational setting. Today, Nada Dabbagh discusses how Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) can help your students learn to best manage their learning spaces and thus take greater charge of their own learning opportunities. Dabbagh, who serves as the professor and director of the Division of Learning Technologies in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University, will be presenting at the Engage 2013 conference (hosted by Cengage Learning in partnership with SXSWedu).

Do you have experience using Personal Learning Environments in your courses? Share your story with us in the comments section.
We all have our learning and work spaces. For some of us, it is a desk with a computer or laptop, papers, notebooks, files, maybe an iPad here, a smartphone there, a tethered phone as well, a whiteboard, you get the idea. But where we probably do most of our learning is through networked technologies. We probably have Google or Bing open as well as Google Docs, digital dropbox, a digital calendar, our email of course, Twitter, LinkedIn, an LMS, a blog site, and Facebook. On our iPads and smartphones, we probably have numerous apps at our fingertips assisting us in learning, organizing, creating, searching, networking, and commenting, among a multitude of other daily activities and tasks. Digital natives don’t even use pencil or paper anymore — they use keyboards more than pens and smartphones and iPads more than textbooks and they want to learn things right away. 

So why not teach them how to manage these new learning spaces effectively?

That’s where Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) or Personal Learning Spaces (PLSs) come into play. PLEs can empower students to take charge of their own learning, prompting them to select tools and resources to create, organize and package learning content to learn effectively and efficiently. PLEs can be perceived as both a technology and a pedagogical approach that is student-designed around each student’s goals. However, not all students know how to design an effective PLE; therefore, students should be encouraged to develop skills and confidence in the selection and application of networked technologies for personalized learning. New pedagogical models and approaches are needed to support students in developing PLEs that help them advance their self-regulated learning skills, such as goal setting, time management, self-monitoring, self-evaluation, help-seeking, and the use of appropriate task strategies.

One approach is to use a three-level framework to scaffold student self-regulated learning while creating PLEs. These levels are: (1) personal information management, (2) social interaction and collaboration, and (3) information aggregation and management. For example, at level 1, instructors can demonstrate to students how to use a wiki as a personal space for content organization and management. At this level social media is used to scaffold the cognitive processes that the learner undertakes prior to initiating a learning task such as goal setting and time management. At level 2, instructors can demonstrate to students how to enable the wiki’s collaborative editing and commenting features to foster participation and feedback from the instructor and peers. This prompts students to incorporate the strategies needed to actually perform the learning task and keep track of their progress. And finally at level 3, instructors can demonstrate to students how to view a wiki’s history to promote self-reflection of their learning across time in order to make adjustments to the PLE.

Learners are constantly seeking information to address a problem at work, school, or to just satisfy a curiosity. To do so, they take advantage of digital and networked technologies not only to seek information, but also to share information. Thus, learners should not be considered as passive information consumers; rather, they are active co-producers of content. There is strong evidence that the deliberate and strategic creation of PLEs can help learners aggregate and share the results of learning achievements, participate in collective knowledge generation, and manage their own meaning making.

Nada Dabbagh is Professor and Director of the Division of Learning Technologies in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. Her research explores the pedagogical ecology of technology mediated learning environments with the goal of understanding the social and cognitive consequences of learning systems design. Specific research interests include case problem generation and representation in problem-based learning environments and supporting student self-regulated learning in online and distributed learning environments. Dr. Dabbagh has an extensive publication record and has presented her research at over 100 scholarly venues participating as keynote and invited speaker at conferences in Bahrain, Oman, Thailand, Iran, and the U.S. She has also facilitated numerous learning technologies design and development projects which led to the award winning Learning Asset Technology Integration Support Tool or LATIST.


Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal Learning Environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: A natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3-8. Available from //

Dabbagh, N., & Reo, R. (2011). Back to the future: Tracing the roots and learning affordances of social software. In M.J.W. Lee and C. McLoughlin (Eds.), Web 2.0-based e-Learning: Applying social informatics for tertiary teaching (pp. 1-20). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI). (2009). The seven things you should know about… Personal Learning Environments. Available from //

Kitsantas, A., & Dabbagh, N. (2010). Learning to Learn with Integrative Learning Technologies (ILT): A Practical Guide for Academic Success. Information Age Publishing.