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Personal Learning Environment

Have a research topic? A long-term project? 

Need a variety of sources? Need information from the web?


Set up a Personal Learning Environment (PLE)!


A PLE helps you personalize your web browsing. It lets you collect and keep track of sources. By using various tools, you can make your browser and feeds work for you, letting you know when relevant information is available. Tools also organize and enable you to annotate resources that you want to save.


Read on to learn how to create your PLE!


Using the Web Like a Pro

Using the Web Like a Pro

Why set up a

personal learning


Automatically keep track of information published online.

Save time when searching for, finding, and reviewing resources.

Have feeds and alerts that tell you when relevant things are published.

Be a

"digital resident."

Make the internet and your browser work for you.

Organize your online life.

Re-find articles easily online.

It is like a Facebook feed of your friends' posts, just on a larger scale and breadth. You pick sources to follow in the same way that you "friend" someone on Facebook.

What is a personal learning environment?

A set of tools to organize yourself online and enhance your learning.


The tools curate content for you. They save resources that you find. They keep your notes organized.


This guide focuses on your online PLE to help you use internet and browser tools.

Check out this model of tools and their roles:

Employ these websites and online tools to make the internet work for YOU. Constructing a PLE takes an initial investment of time to set up, but it saves time doing research. Your tools find resources for you, as well as make it easy to save and re-find those resources. 


Use sharing tools, from Twitter to Diigo, to customize your PLE. You can also create a PLC, or a professional learning community, so that saving an article notifies your classmates or colleagues and shares it with them automatically.


Read on for some searching tips and tricks, or scroll down to find out what tools to use!

Tips and Tricks

before searching

Be sure to memorize keyboard commands to save time and navigate the web like a pro!

to save time scrolling through and scanning long documents....

use this keyboard command to quickly locate a word or phrase on a page or document:


PC: Control (Ctrl) + F

- or - 

Mac: Command (Cmd) + F 


to save the hassle of highlighting the URL...

use this command to quickly select the URL of the webpage:


PC: Control (Ctrl) + L

- or - 

Mac: Command (Cmd) + L


Also, use Google searching tricks to tell Google what kind of information that you want.


Use this operator + a URL to search a website.


Example: technology stress


Use this operator + your word to get a definition from Google.



define: technostress

"    "

Use quotation marks to include all the words in a phrase.


Example: "computers make life busier"

~[your word]

Use the tilde (~) to tell Google to also search similar words.




technology ~stress


will also include words like "stressful" in results


Use this operator + your word or phrase to get results that contain it in the title.





Put years on either side of this operator (..) to get results in a certain date range.



technology busy life 2010..2015

Want to learn more tips like these?


Check out this infographic:

Tips and Tricks

Next, consider your goals


Try RSS, Google Alerts, and Google News


*See the following Getting Your Sources section for how to make the most of these tools.

Do you want to...

Both share and find?* 

Sign up for Twitter 


*Check out the Getting Your Sources section for tips on employing its features.


Use accounts on Diigo, NoodleTools, and Evernote.


**Go to the Keeping Track of Your Sources section.

Getting Your Sources

Getting Your Sources


How does it work?

If you don’t already use RSS, add it to your browser to peruse posts from your favorite feeds.


You can also download a mobile app that gives you a RSS-like experience of following your favorite feeds.

How do I set it up?

1. Add the browser extension. (Click your preferred browser to be redirected to a webpage with an extension for the particular browser.)





Internet Explorer




   Add the mobile app. Try:


Newsify (for iPhone, iPod, and iPad)

Feedly (for iOS and Android)



RSS icon

How do I use it?




Then, look at it regularly when online.



A sample RSS feed with NPR articles on technology 


Google Alerts

Google Alerts sends you an email when information about your topic is posted. It gathers the information from sources across the web.

How do I set it up?

1. Log into your Google Account.


2. Go to 


3. Enter a word or phrase for the alert. Use quotations around phrases to make sure your alerts contain the words together and are more relevant.


      Examples: technostress


       "technology stress"


4. Select your notification preferences for how often, what sources, what language, what region, how many, and delivery address  (under "show options").


5. Click create the alert.

Check out this tutorial!

How do I use it?

Just wait for emails in your inbox! Read the resources you receive.


To create an Alert, ask yourself:

  • What words describe your topic? Make them into Alerts!

  • Do I use quotes or no quotes around my alerts? Use quotes around phrases to include all the words.

How does it work?

Google Alerts

Google News

Google News offers the capability to follow particular news sources, set preferences for how much or how little of certain subjects you want to see, check the weather forecast, and much more.

How do I set it up?

1. Sign in to your Google account.


2. Select the grid in the upper right corner and choose News. This action opens News in a new tab.


3. Set your preferences by clicking "Personalize" (upper right).

Check out this tutorial!

How do I use it?

Visit Google News regularly to see your customized content or browse subjects, such as technology or health.

How does it work?

Google News


Twitter allows you to share thoughts and links by tweeting.


It shows you content from other people or organizations that you follow. News sources, like the New York Times, can be helpful to follow to stay up to date and find relevant resources.


Twitter is social media. Keep in mind that you can share and/or follow as much or as little as you like. You can create an account and simply follow others’ feeds. Alternatively, you can share links multiple times a day but follow very few other feeds or even none.

How do I set it up?

Twitter is free, like all the resources on this guide, but requires setting up an account

Check out these tutorials!

Creating an account:

Making tweets private:

How do I use it?




  • Who might tweet about your topic? Look for names of experts and find out if they have a Twitter that you can follow.

  • Are there news sources that tweet about articles that could be useful to you?

  • Are there relevant hashtags that you can search for to find tweets about particular topics?

Want to learn about using Twitter for content curation?


Check out these webpages:

How does it work?


Keeping Track of Your Sources

Keeping Track of Your Sources

It is a social bookmarking tool to save web resources to your account and share them with whomever you choose.


It is also a digital annotation tool, with which you can add notes to your bookmarks, highlight resources, and add sticky notes to them. The highlighted portions are saved in quote-like form in your Diigo bookmark.


It integrates with websites and databases (look for the option in Gale databases!) to make bookmarking easy.


It saves bookmarks in the cloud, so you do not have to be on your own device to bookmark something.

How do I set it up?

1. Sign up for a free account at


2. Create folders for your professional projects and needs, as well as personal interests.


      Example: Name a folder "Technology and Busy

      Lives" for a research project about how technology

      makes life busy.


3. Try setting up the Diigolet or browser extension for extra easy bookmarking!

Check out this tutorial!

How do I use it?

See what a group and bookmark look like:

Save, tag, and annotate bookmarked resources, such as blog posts, news articles, and homepages of organizations.


Share folders with classmates, friends, colleagues, team members, family members, etc. (or keep folders viewable by yourself only simply by not sharing).


Search your bookmarks using the search bar to easily re-find information, even when you only kind of remember what an article or organization is called.


How does it work?



How do I make it part of my PLE?

Save information about sources in a project and as a citation.


Use the notecards feature to capture your ideas about a resource.


Make outlines with your notecards.


Work collaboratively.

Check out these tutorials!

Introduction to NoodleTools:

Using notecards:




How do I make it part of my PLE?

Set up an account at


Write and share notes.


And more!

Check out this tutorial to get started!

Annotation Tools

Annotation Tools - NoodleTools


Now that you have set up these tools, you have a personal learning environment to organize your online life.


Use these tools regularly and seek more depending on your needs.



AASL(2007). Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. American Library Association. Retrieved



ACRL. (2015). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved



Grassian, E.S. and Kaplowitz, J.R. (2009). Information literacy instruction: Theory and practice

(2nd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman.


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5).,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf


Reed, R. (November 16, 2015). For many profs, Twitter is where it’s @. LSA Today. Retrieved from


Seitzinger, J. “7 Habits of Networked Academics. [slideshare]. Retrieved from http://www.cats


Torres Kompen, R., Monguet, J., & Brigos, M. (2015). Constant change: The ever evolving personal

learning environment. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 16(2), 119-128.


White, D.S. & Le Cornu, A. (September 5, 2011). Visitors and residents: A new typology for online

engagement. First Monday, 16(9). Retrieved from

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