Managing my learning ecology

I developed the My Ecology tool for a discussion workshop I ran at ALT-C 2015 titled The ways we share our innovative thinking and practice. The tool was presented as a quadrant diagram incorporating two axis: the active-passive continuum and the directed-self-determined continuum.
I realised later that it bears some resemblance to White & Le Cornu’s Visitors and Residents model (2011), but its purpose was simply to facilitate reflection in the workshop about boundary crossing amongst professional scholars in light of the emergence of social media personal learning networks.
In this post I describe the development of the tool and share a revised version of it to aid individual scholars to reflect on their own practice and so reflect on the extent to which their formal academic roles are merging with personal interests and priorities.

The My Ecology tool


The My Ecology tool (above) used in the workshop was presented as a quadrant diagram incorporating two axis: the active-passive continuum and the directed-self-determined continuum.

I demonstrated how the tool enabled me to reflect on the breadth of my scholarly activity  and discuss this with others, and vice versa. In my case, I noticed that I was able to plot almost many areas of activity into each of the quadrants. For example, I use blogs as a reader and writer as part of my job (directed) and also through my own volition (self-determined). What I did not indicate is the amount of my time I spend doing this or the quality of my reading or writing or where I am when I do it or at what point in the week I do these things. What was revelatory for me, to begin with, was the range of spaces and activities in which I engage.

This was the basis of my introduction of the tool to the workshop participants.

I observed the participants as they used the model and noted that some were unfamiliar with ideas about directed, self-directed and self-determined learning. Otherwise they successfully populated the model.

Active-passive continuum (Read and Write)

Each quadrant was labelled either ‘Read’ or ‘Write’ to be brief, clear and open-ended. These labels echo the expression captured in the ‘Read/Write Web’ (McManus, 2005) which are contemporary with O’Reilly’s notion of the participative web (2005). ‘Read’ relates to more passive engagement with ideas, the consumption of these ideas, and the notion of represented knowledge. ‘Write’ relates to learning that is more generative, ideas of production and of representing knowledge.

Formal and informal – directed and self-determined

The horizontal axis describes motivation and formality. On reflection there is a suggested correlation here between motivation to engage and the formality of the situation.
The formal end of the continuum indicates ‘Directed’ which maps to the formal requirement we have in our professional roles to undertake CPD, scholarship or research and equates to pedagogy where the teacher-learner relationship is prescribed. This may reflect the explicit requirement to engage in professional development in our job descriptions and report on progress to a line manager. ‘Directed’ is firmly embedded within the extrinsic range of motivations (Ryan & Deci, 2000). At the extreme, it is unlikely the subject would do the specific activities on this end of the continuum of their own volition.
Self-directed learning is associated with a more andragogical situation in which the adult learner is scaffolded to manage their own learning within agreed parameters and desired outcomes. In terms of the workshop, the innovator or scholar is someone who is able to explore and analyse for themselves what they, through negotiation, deem to be important.
Self-determined learning, the subject of heutagogy, is where the learner navigates their own scholarly paths at will and purpose. The scholar is likely to be intrinsically motivated and, with reference to the connectivist principles, is able to fluently find connections between one phenomena and others for themselves. Engagement can appear to resemble iterations of Kolb’s (2004) Experiential Learning Cycle, at a pace, determined by the learner: cycles of concrete experience, observation and reflection, abstract conceptualisation and re-conceptualisation, and onto further active experimentation. This, for example, is captured in Middleton & Beckingham’s interpretation of ‘Connecting Personal & Professional Development Planning with Social Media’ (2015).


Middleton & Beckingham’s interpretation of ‘Connecting Personal & Professional Development Planning with Social Media’ (2015)

Revising the model:

Reflecting on the workshop and later beginning to write about how the tool had been used I realised it could be improved by simplifying it.


The quadrants had suggested compartmentalised activities but accounts of scholarship in the workshop were more fluid crossing the space. The Directed-to-Self-Determined axis functions better as an unbroken continuum by leaving out ‘Self-directed’. In my modelling of the tool in the workshop, and then when it was used by participants, the ‘self-directed’ label raised more questions than answers and reduced its usability. In both cases it is better that the map is read as a more open space.

Unlike White and Le Cornu’s ‘Visitors and Residents’ tool (2014) I have avoided using Professional-Personal as distinct labels. My interest in this study comes from observing practices, including my own, which are related to my professional identity; an identity which is primarily owned by the individual and not their place of work. Our identity is constantly regenerated by our learning ecologies located in and emerging from our ecosocial systems. They are habitual, irregular in shape, sometimes overlapping and fluid (Jackson, 2015).

Working vertically, the user can plot what they do in degrees of activity on a continuum now labelled ‘Receive’ and ‘Generate’ following discussion for alternatives. ‘Generate’, however, usefully connects with the idea of Luckin et al.’s (2011) learner-generated context. The use of the word ‘Receive’ acknowledges learning as being intentional and active, and not simply passive, even when the learner is not the main actor in the engagement.


The user can indicate their use of the tool in any way they deem to be useful. Irregular blobs, dots, circles of different sizes, levels of transparency, and colour-coding can all be brought into play. Connection lines, possibly representing change over time or semantic connection, can all be used at the user’s discretion.

Reviewing your scholarly ecology

Photo: adapted from 'Bodies in Motion ' by Paul Stevenson

Photo: adapted from ‘Bodies in Motion ‘ by Paul Stevenson

If, like me, you find yourself straddling a ‘third space’ between work and home a lot of the time, not sure if you can keep your balance, you might want to plot out what you do and reflect with managers or family. Because of social media and the rapidly changing technology ‘enhanced’ world we live in it is not a bad idea to get into the new habit of reviewing what you do.


Beckingham, S. & Middleton, A. (2015). PDP and social media. Connect U. Online at:

Jackson, N. J. (in print). Exploring learning ecologies.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall.

Luckin, R., Clark, W., Garnett, F., Whitworth, A., Akass, J., Cook, J., Day, P., Eccesfield, N., Hamilton, T., & Robertson, J.  (2011). Learner-generated contexts: a framework to support the effective use of technology for learning. In: M.J.W. Lee & C. McLoughlin “Web 2.0-based e-Learning: applying social informatics for tertiary teaching. Hershey: Information Science Reference, pp. 70-84.

McManus, R. (2005). ReadWriteWeb. Weblog. Online at:

O’Reilly, T. (2005) What is Web 2.0? – design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Online at:

Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions ☆. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1),  pp. 54–67.

White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16, (9), 5 September 2011

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
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