Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Personal Learning Environments

James Farmer's excellent post about personal learning environments pulls together and stimulates some good discussions. I enjoyed Autono Blogger's take on the issue enough to craft a rambling comment. I was glad to see ELGG popping up all over the place as an example of a personal learning environment that is already working.

Terry Anderson's skepticism about the likelihood of universities providing students with personal learning environments isn't surprising. He writes:
"Similarly, PLEs are nowhere near as easy to use to facilitate and support many of the educational functions that are trivial in modern LMS systems."
Isn't this a bit like criticizing the design of a screwdriver because it doesn't work well for hammering nails? As far as I know PLE's were not created to facilitate the process of institutions educating students -- they're designed to help learners manage their own learning. Pretty much by definition, they are not institutional. An anonymous writer at myWORLD already articulated most of this view better than I could, and I was also reminded of the conversation that broke out in November around Dave Cormier's related post.

This stuff reminded me of an existing pattern and sent me back into my own virtual memory bank, particularly to a productive phase in this blog from late '03 to early '04. This is the same debate we've been having over the integration of other personal technology spaces into educational programs, especially blogs, games and e-portfolios (can anyone articulate how a PLE differ from a proper e-portfolio, or are we just bored with e-portfolios already?). Anyway, for my own reflective amusement, I collected a few of my own thoughts along that thread, most of which link out to the usual suspects:I'll extend this exercise in narcissism by quoting what I
wrote about this topic last year. Simply imagine PLE in the company of blogs and e-portfolios:
"Something as reflective, time-consuming, information-intensive and personally revealing as blogs and e-portfolios will only ever appeal to a certain subset of people who discover the benefits of the process. The education system tends to look at these successes and tries to force everyone to 'enjoy' the same benefits, but it won't work. Even if you 'converted' all of the administrators and teachers, most of the students are just going to be jumping through the hoops, particularly if the new tools just rehash all the old ways of doing things ('read Chapter 1 and answer the questions on p.211 in your blog')."
Of course none of this is a criticism of the value of these concepts and technologies to help motivated people learn in self-directed ways -- I'm still fired up about that -- but please, let's not pretend that the education system can adopt them so that students will miraculously engage in the curriculum they're being taught.

Oh yeah, and much of this stuff came from OLDaily at some point...


Donna said...

Thanks for the list of links Jeremy and the quote from your work. You are right about learners and motivation. Some learners will think everything is great, some will think blogging or PLE's are great because of an interest in the technological or pedalogical aspects and some will think nothing is great and just wait for the whole "education" process to be over so they can get out and join the "real" world. I guess we have to get past the idea that if learners just had "x" they would learn better. Somehow people have always managed to learn but now there are a lot more formal and informal ways to engage in the learning experience. Ah, human nature...


Brian said...

This captures the essential issue for me: "let's not pretend that the education system can adopt them so that students will miraculously engage in the curriculum they're being taught."

Jeremy said...

Yes, Brian...looking forward to reading your continuing exploration of that exact issue. I'm really banging my head into it right now too, and wondering how much space I should be giving it in my thesis work.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Donna.

I suppose there will always be some students who will be able to learn better if they just had "x"...but forcing everyone to do/use it is probably a mistake. The thing I'm still backing up to is why people should have to learn things they don't care about in the first place...hence my current focus on informal learning.

Looking forward to seeing your thesis work emerge as well!