About CSCL and PLE

During the last weeks we have been reading and discussing about CSCL (Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning), and also have worked in dyads in exploring and designing a PLE (Personal Learning Environment) -project. Again, having no prior studies in pedagogics and only little experience in using learning technology, there was a lot to digest.

What is PLE

On our ICT-workshop, related in Introduction to Learning and Educational Technology -course, we started to explore in groups what is PLE (Personal Learning Environment). After doing some research on the subject, me and my partner concluded that there is no single definition for PLE. PLE can be seen, for example, as a unique interface to the owners digital environment, as systems for the learners to manage and take control of their own learning, as not only a personal space but also a social landscape that offers a means to connect to other personal spaces. Most importantly I think, PLE is a not a mere software or a collection of softwares, but a new approach to using technologies for learning. It seems that PLE is a potentially promising pedagogical approach for both integrating formal and informal learning using social media and supporting student self-regulated learning in higher education contexts.

In our PLE -project we first made a short project plan with my partner: what is our aim and how are we going to reach that. Our aim was to understand what PLE is and how that is used in learning, and we decided to first start searching information about it and also to set up a PLE of our own to understand how it’s used.

In search for information about PLE and trying to understand what PLE is all about, we used for example the following tools:

  • Google Docs and Google Sites in which we gather information about PLE, like the definitions above, and comment on each others findings about PLE
  • Peartrees and Pinterest where we gather interesting links about PLE
  • Facebook chat and text messages to communicate with each other about our progress on the project
  • our Blogs to reflect about what we have learned about PLE, and possibly get comments from others about how they view PLE

Below you can see an image of our PLE, the tools that we used in our project:

our PLE

While doing this project I realized that this is actually one example of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL).

What is CSCL – or at least, what I think CSCL is about

As the name suggests, CSCL is about studying how people can learn together with the help of computers. However, this is way more complex an issue than the simple definition above would suggest.

Before going any further, I think it is important to define what is collaborative learning. Collaborative learning is not equal to co-operative learning. Collaborative learning is a studying method where group members have a joint task and are committed to construct a joint understanding through social interaction. In co-operative learning the task can be divided to subtasks which are then worked on by the individuals on their own, and the outcomes of the subtasks are finally put together.

When reading an article CSCL: An historical perspective by Stahl, Koschmann and Suthers, I learned that earlier studies of learning in groups treated learning as an individual process. The fact that individuals worked in groups was treated as a contextual variable that influenced the individual learning. In CSCL, by contrast, learning is also analyzed as a group process; analysis of learning at both the individual and the group unit of analysis is necessary. More recently in CSCL research, the group itself has become the unit of analysis, not how individuals function in group, so the focus has shifted to properties of the interaction.

The goal for design in CSCL is to create artifacts, activities and environments that enhance the practices of group meaning making, so the design of CSCL technology must be founded on an analysis of the nature of collaborative learning.

In addition to understanding how cognitive processes of participants are influenced by social interaction, we need to understand how learning events themselves take place in the interaction between participants. All this is very intriguing, but at the same time I think it poses huge challenges to CSCL research. What are the methods to be used so that you are able to draw valid conclusions from the research? This is something that still baffles me, but I’m sure we will go deeper into these issues as our studies in LET progress.


Stahl, G., Koschmann, T, & Suthers, D. (2006). CSCL: An historical perspective. Based on a chapter in: R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 409-426). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.




About kaipihla

A student in Learning, Education and Technology Master's degree program in University of Oulu, Finland.
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