The Structural Similarities of PLEs and Cities

When you’re dividing your producing time between creating a learning environment structure and creating a storyworld, strange things happen. You start to notice that part of your work is spilling into the other part. And then you notice the other part is spilling into the first part. At some point, weary from trying to figure out how it happened to begin with, you finally surrender and realize it’s a good thing. In my case, taking a break to familiarize myself with urban exploration while playing MySims Kingdom and SimCity Social led to my thinking about the nodal structure of a well-designed city. It got me to thinking about how I was laying out New Glory, and about how I could lay out New Glory to better make it model a real-world city. But as I was also starting to pull together my notes on the Personal Learning Environment, my mind stated making some interesting connections, ones I still keep in mind as I continue to flesh out my thoughts on both the PLE and New Glory.

Within your home, you store artifacts that are important to you, arranged to your liking (or by need), and maintained. Those tools you expect to need for whatever reason are kept stored away for easy access. You then pull out the artifacts you want to show off and use them to decorate your home, giving hand-picked visitors to your home a way to see who you are and what’s important to you. Your front lawn is then maintained to present a certain appearance to the general public. You may even subscribe to local newspapers and topical magazines you find interesting, just to keep in touch.

That sounds a lot like the PLE, doesn’t it? You pull together information artifacts you find interesting or informational. Those that could be useful in the future get filed into a system for later retrieval. Those that are worth sharing go out on your blog or social media. Where the site allows, you redesign the publicly viewable aspects to give off the appearance you want others to see; you share certain information and artifacts with only people you choose.

Step out of your home, and you become part of your neighborhood. You chat with neighbors to get the local gossip. You run into people from your own neighborhood or nearby ones at local stores, where you share more gossip or discuss important news. Then, you head over to the local pub, coffees shop, comic book store, independent craft store – some local haunt where your people gather – to discuss local gossip and news in light of your preferred interests. All of this, just blocks from your home.

Compare this to your Personal Learning Network (PLN), which is built both online and offline, and would therefore definitely include that local haunt. On the digital side of the PLN, you would discuss with the researchers, bloggers, social media users, and content creators immediately around you about issues, trading ideas and concerns. Just like you might travel into the boundaries between your neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods, you might use your PLN to pull together your various interests into a single network you can turn to for recent gossip, news, and information.

Leave your neighborhood for work or to engage in a hobby, and you’re out in the city. You might work just a few miles from home, and then travel across town for Ultimate Frisbee practice. Then, on the weekend you might travel over to another part of town where you volunteer as an electronics coach with a local makerspace. For most of us, this is just living life. Yes, we’re interacting with our coworkers, our teammates, and our students. But it’s just what we do. We move between these various groups we’re part of, sharing our own information and skills as we gather more information and skills from other members of the groups.

I don’t think I’ve talked much about these, but those various places you’re going to in the real world are your communities of practice. You meet with different groups to exchange ideas relevant to that group, everyone building a collective knowledge that benefits everyone. You do the same thing online in your groups, communities, and forums. People interested in a specific topic or skill come together to exchange and debate ideas, to present work for critique and to help others by critiquing their work, to share tips and tricks to improve the community’s work as a whole.

Whether we’re offline or online, our activities and interactions really have become very similar. It’s worth keeping that in mind if you are developing a meeting space or a storyworld.

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One thought on “The Structural Similarities of PLEs and Cities

  1. I think the analogy between physical spaces and structures and digital/virtual/conceptual spaces and structures is a strong one. As an educator I am interested in how these analogies can inform each other in both directions – what elements or aspects of our learning spaces creates a stronger, more personalized learning experience, and how should our knowledge of how we organize ourselves and our learning inform how we build our schools, cities, or other learning spaces.

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