Monday, July 21, 2014

Personal learning environments

Mark Johnson has written a thought provoking post on personal learning environments at in which he discusses some of the ideas that came up at the pleconf in Tallinn.  There are several points that he raises that I want to pick up below.

I was involved in some of the early debates around PLEs, and at the time the debates were not about technology, but about the ownership and control of learning and teaching. There was much discussion around the VLE (LMS) being owned and controlled by the university (or college or school) and that this disenfranchised the learner. The PLE was a way of giving control to the learner. A wide variety of tools and forms of engagement were being discussed, largely based on social tools as there was (and I think still is) a strong (if not always well articulated) social constructivist approach to learning underlying most of the PLE enthusiasts approach.

Secondly, I think that you need to be more careful about what is social software (or hardware). Almost any technology can be used socially, but it is about what the key affordances are. Social networking tools are clearly social (the clue is in the name). Some tools are not, such as text editors, but can be used socially (either by posting the results or by cloud hosting and sharing). Others have social elements (powerpoint is essentially a broadcast technology rather than a social technology, though one could argue that by posting on Slideshare there can be discussion, and equally there may be social elements in a presentation - but usually by deviating from the slides.

Finally, I am very worried by your comments on coolness, which remind me of the VLE is dead type discussions. VLEs are clearly not dead, and it is at the point at which technology becomes normal (stops being cool?) that it is widely productive. It also seems to be at this point that many learning technologists lose interest in it and want to move onto the next technology.

So, I think the priority is exactly the opposite of what you suggest in the last paragraph ("The priority is to embrace and understand emerging technology, and to avoid getting trapped in what was once new and cool, but now isn’t."). The priority is to work with what users want, and especially to help users to make the most effective use of the technologies that they are already using; with the understanding that this will grow organically as they adopt other technologies.