Entering an online learning environment is stepping into an immersive art instillation designed to be explored, to promote curiosity and wonder, and to feel a sense of belonging.

personal learning environments

Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) are experienced as immersiveness in a complex adaptive system with characteristics of emergence, self-organization, adaptive coevolution, self-similarity, dynamic non-linearity, and systemic interconnectedness.

In a technocracy, learners are immersed in a digital environment. What does this mean for designing quality online learning programs? Students do not unplug and they will need 24/7 access to systems and support.

The emergent nature of PLEs point to learners’ experiences of choice, freedom, autonomy, and dialogue. Quality online programs will choose systems that foster these technological affordances.

Kennedy, J. (2019). Seven traits of personal learning environments for designing quality online learning programs: A systems view of connectedness. In E. Smidt and R. Li (Eds.), Ensuring Quality and Integrity in Online Learning Programs. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

online distance learning

Being connected in a personal learning network is experienced as motivation through the drive to always be-in-the-know, through the freedom to explore, through the feelings of esteem that come from belonging, and through the pursuit of self-actualization.

Being connected in a personal learning network is experienced as learning through taking agentic action, forming personally meaningful and relevant goals, seeking and finding multiple perspectives, observing and modeling, reciprocating, finding serendipitous surprises, and creating syntheses.

Being connected in a personal learning network is experienced as identity through practice and an evolving self-concept.

Kennedy, J. (2018). Towards a model of connectedness in personal learning networks, Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 16(1), 21-40. Retrieved from

designing for the open learning experience

Several key themes emerged from the synthesis of research on MOOCs: (a) openness: the varied definitions of openness; (b) barriers to persistence: high dropout and lurker rates show that barriers to learning are a significant challenge, and research has focused on engagement, motivation, and presence to mitigate learner isolation; and (c) structure: the two different MOOC formats—cMOOC and xMOOC—attract different audiences, use different learning approaches, and employ different teaching methods. 

Kennedy, J. (2014). Characteristics of massive open online courses (MOOCs): A research review, 2009-2012. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 13(1). Retrieved from