Over the past five years the emergence of interactive social media has influenced the development of learning environments. The Virtual Learning Environment has come to maturity, but has been seen by learning technologists as not capturing the spirit and possibilities that the new media have to offer to enhance the learning process. They are controlled by educational institutions and are subsequently used to support institutional learning.
Each learner is unique and will have a unique learning experience. This has instigated the research and development of a different type of learning environment, the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) that is in the control of the learner. The needs, requirements and experience of each learner using a PLE will be different, which makes the planning and development of a PLE that serves as an aid to each possible learner a challenge. An added problem is the openness of the environment and the large number of different dimensions that can be designed and developed. Moreover, PLEs are so new that research in their development has been limited so far.
The authors are part of a team researching and developing a PLE and after scritinizing the literature about the possible architecture of PLEs, research in the design and development of a PLE is now in progress. This paper will report on the first phase of the research, the identification process of what potential users would find important components, applications and tools in a PLE, and their learning preferences. The methodology included surveying “super-users” on their use of existing tools, applications and systems in order to develop the highest possible PLE specification. The research paper will set out the research strategy, in addition to the results of the actual research. It will outline methodological concerns, and focus on the usability and functionality of the learning environment, the learner experience, and the minimum set of components required to facilitate quality learning. At the centre of the design and development is the premise that it should be the learner who owns the PLE and who makes the decisions about its use, not an educational institution.

Cada estudiante tiene su propia experiencia de aprendizaje. Las necesidades y las experiencias de cada estudiante que utiliza PLE serán distintas.
El articulo describe la primera fase de investigación, para identificar las preferencias de aprendizaje de los potenciale usuarios, y los componentes, aplicaciones y herramientas que consideran importantes para sus PLEs. La metodología se basa en entrvistas de los usuarios expertos sobre su uso de herramientas, aplicaciones y sistemas existentes.

If the learning environment moves outside the realm of educational institutions, this might affect the learning experience (Bouchard, 2010; Kop, 2010; Weller, 2010). The lack of presence of an educator to aid the learner in his or her critical engagement with resources has for instance been identified as a problem as the Web is not a power-free environment and people will have to adapt to negotiating this environment autonomously. To find the right information and to know how to access required resources new competencies and abilities will be required from learners. Moreover, the new learning environment requires learners to be active in their learning by editing and producing information themselves in a variety of formats and by communicating and collaborating with others in new ways. People need to have a certain level of creativity and innovative thinking, in addition to feeling competent, confident and comfortable in using ICT applications to be able to do so. Learners need to be flexible, able to adapt to new situations and able to solve problems that they come across during their learning journey. They will have to be motivated enough to take on new challenges and could use help from the system itself.

Some argue that these skills and competencies will develop while engaging in online communication with others, or via challenging feedback or recommendations through the PLE system itself (Downes, 2009). The system and technology itself, or the activity the learner is involved in, will have to be engaging and interesting enough for the learner to work his or her way through the problems that will undoubtedly come up during the learning journey.

Cuando el aprendizaje se traslada fuera del entorno institucional, esto afecta la experiencia de aprendizaje. La falta de docente crea una situación en la que los estudiantes tienen que adaptarse a negociar autonomicamente su entorno de aprendizaje. Encontrar información válida y saber acceder recursos deseados requiere de nuevas competencias y habilidades. Además este nuevo entorno de aprendizaje requiere de usuarios activos, que editan y producen información en una variedad de formatos y que se comunican y colaboran con otros de nuevas maneras. Necesitan un cierto nivel de creatividad y pensamiento crítico, y el sentimiento de competencia, confidencia y comfort en el uso de aplicaciones informáticas. Tienen que ser flexibles, saber adaptarse a nuevas situaciones y resolver problemas que encuentran durante su proceso de aprendizaje. Tienen que ser suficientemente motivados como para aceptar nuevos retos.
Algunos (como Downes) argumentan que estas competencias se desarrollan participando en comunicación on-line o mediante el feedback o recomendaciones del mismo PLE. El mismo sistema, tecnología, o actividades tienen que ser suficientemente interesantes para motivar al usuario a hacer frente a los problemas que encuentre.

People will have to be motivated to use the environment. Intrinsic motivation has an affective dimension and the literature highlighting the importance of affective aspects to networked learning is growing (Picard, 2004, Kop, 2010, Zaharias & Poylymenakou, 2009; Jones & Issroff, 2004). Other issues related to motivation have been highlighted by Lombard &Ditton (1997), and Dron & Anderson (2007) in the form of “presence”. Dron & Anderson (2007) discussed the different levels of presence in different online learning ‘settings'. They made the distinction between learning in ‘groups', learning on ‘networks', and learning by using ‘collectives'. Presence and motivation would be highest in a group, which would be a typical class room or organised online educator-led learning setting, while the presence while learning on an open informal network would be lower, e.g., on the 2008/2009 connectivism courses (Siemens, Downes 2008, 2009). The connection and presence on collectives would be even lower as the connections between people/resources would be in the form of tags. The main characteristic of presence is that of an illusion of non-mediation. In other words, there is a high level of presence when a participant in an online activity experiences the activity as if it was taking place in real life, without the mediation of the computer. Garrison et al (2000) argued that deep and meaningful learning results if three forms of presence play a role in education. These would be “cognitive presence” that ensures a certain level of depth in the educational process and would be important in the creation of meaningful online experiences, “social presence”, would also be important, and in a formal educational environment that of “teacher presence”. In PLE based learning the teacher presence would not necessarily be there, but one could argue that there are knowledgeable others on the Web who would take on that teacher role to a certain extent. A Personal Learning Environment (Downes, 2009) that would aid the learner in this endeavour could play a positive role. But which combination of components, tools and applications would form a pedagogical platform that would make learners think critically about resources accessed?

3. Super-users to help identify desirable components and tools for the PLE

Research in PLEs is only in its infancy and to know how best to research and evaluate a PLE we looked at e-learning evaluation and design-based research literature. The literature on e-learning evaluation (Attwell,2006) provides a variety of models ranging from comparisons with traditional learning, to benchmarking models, product evaluations, performance evaluations, program and policy evaluations, studies of metadata and more complex all encompassing design-based research (Bannan-Ritland, 2003) models. The approach to the evaluation in these models varies considerably and ranges from an emphasis on the program objectives, the management of the scheme, the outcomes for the user, the expertise required in the program to a participant oriented approach. (Attwell, 2006). These are mostly related to the organization of learning, the ‘input' and ‘output' and lack in substance when it comes down to establishing the process taking place and the learner experience.

The PLE project eventually decided upon three parts to the research: i. An exploration phase: exploration of the literature and of possible components for the PLE, and a close contact with other PLE research groups worldwide. ii. Usability testing of Plearn, the developed learning environment, consisting of feedback from users on mock-ups of the PLE and testing of the Plearn prototype at different stages of development iii. Educational research, consisting of a comparison of learning without and with Plearn in 3 case studies (with different users in different scenarios).

This paper will report on the first phase of the research, the exploration. As the first stage of the PLE research we asked advanced ICT users, people who are using advanced technology in their everyday life and learning, which tools they use, how and why they choose to use them. We surveyed “super-users”. In the literature, the word “super-user” is used in different contexts and in different meanings, ranging from loyal users in social media campaigns, the user account responsible for the IT system administrator, brand-ambassadors (Merritt, 2009). In this paper we define as super-users, people who use advanced Internet tools and technologies in an educational environment. These tools would include information aggregators, editors and publishers; ones that exploratory research highlighted as possibly important to a Personal Learning Environment.

4. Results of the first phase of the PLE research

The first phase of the research involved gathering information from potential users; what they consider to be the important components, applications and tools in a PLE. The methodology included surveying “super-users” on their use of existing tools, applications and systems in order to enhance the development of the highest possible PLE specification.