As illustrated in the table above, In contrast to Learning Management Systems (LMS), Personal Learning Environments (PLE) have the following characteristics:
- Personalization: A LMS follows a one-size-fits-all approach to learning by offering a static system with predefined tools to a set of many learners around a course. A PLE, by contrast, is responsive and provides a personalized experience of learning. It considers the needs and preferences of the learner and places her at the center by providing her with a plethora of different tools and handing over control to her to select and use the tools the way she deems fit.
- Informal learning and lifelong learning support: A LMS is not supportive of informal or lifelong learning. It can only be used in a formal learning setting, managed and controlled by the educational institution. And, in a LMS, learning has an end. It stops when a course terminates. A PLE, however, can connect formal, informal, and lifelong learning opportunities within a context that is centered upon the learner. A PLE allows the learner to capture her informal and lifelong learning accomplishment and develop her own e-portfolio. In a PLE learning is fluid. It continues after the end of a particular course.
- Openness and decentralization: Unlike a LMS, which stores information on a centralized basis within a closed and bounded environment, a PLE goes beyond the boundaries of the organization and operates in a more decentralized, loosely coupled, and open context. A PLE offers an opportunity to learners to make effective use of diverse distributed knowledge sources to enrich their learning experiences.
- Bottom-up approach: Within a LMS there is a clear distinction between the capabilities of learners and of teachers, resulting into a one-way flow of knowledge. In contrast to a hierarchical top-down LMS, shaped by command-and-control and asymmetric relationships, a PLE provides an emergent bottom-up solution, driven by the learner needs and based on sharing rather than controlling.
- Knowledge-pull: A LMS adopts a knowledge-push model and is concerned with exposing learners to content and expecting that then learning will happen. A PLE, however, takes a knowledge-pull model. Learners can create their very own environments where they can pull knowledge that meets their particular needs from a wide array of high-value knowledge sources.
- Ecological learning: A PLE-driven approach to learning is based on personal environments, loosely connected. A PLE is not only a personal space, which belongs to and is controlled by the learner, but is also a social landscape that offers means to connect with other personal spaces in order to leverage knowledge within open and emergent knowledge ecologies. Rather than belonging to hierarchical and organization-controlled groups, each learner has her own personal environment and network. Based on their needs and interests, different learners come together for a learning experience. They work together until the learning goal is achieved and thereby do not have a permanent relationship with a formal organization or institution. The distributed PLEs can be loosely connected to build a knowledge ecology. Unlike LMS- driven groups/communities, which are closed, bounded, structured, hierarchical, and organization-controlled, a PLE-driven knowledge ecology is open, distributed, diverse, emergent, self-organized, and learner-controlled.