10 February, 2011

Thoughts on Personal Learning Environments for Formal and Informal Learning

There are various things that the term Personal Learning Environment (PLEs) can refer to, but any definition would look on them as student controlled environments to support either formal or informal learning. Stephen Downes' 2005 E-learning 2.0 article does a good job of talking through the changes that have been taking place over the last decade, which have led us to using and talking about this sort of thing.

We can gain a basic understanding of PLEs by comparing them to VLEs For example:
  • VLEs
    • Managed by institution.
    • Made of a few pieces of software.
    • Owned by Institution.
    • Student uses for the time that they are in formal education.
    • Content mainly provided by institution.
  • PLEs
    • Managed by student
    • Made up of varying numbers of pieces of software, people and networks.
    • Owned by student as far as that is possible
    • Student uses for the time that they are wanting to learn about a topic
    • Content provided by wide variety of people

This is a very simple comparison and Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network goes much deeper (see Table 1).

Some are looking at the idea of the Open Learning Network as trying to merge the best of these two 'systems' in a formal setting, with a different Informal Learning Environment as the solution for informal learning or small scale corporate learning.

Exploring these ideas leads me to two questions.

Firstly, can we see our VLE and supporting tools developing to include what an Open Learning Network is, or would we need to develop new systems to support this? I don't feel that I understand the concept enough to comment right now, although the development of the Learning Edge system, which is more than just a VLE, seems like it could be a foundation for something like this.

The second question is how do we support students and staff to develop their own Personal Learning Environment for their own informal lifelong learning. A good starting place would be to work out what it might look like. Sarah Stewart tried to visualise hers and how it changed over several years. If I was to examine mine looking at inputs and outputs from the perspective of work on my SOLSTICE Fellowship I might find:
  • Inputs
    • Face-to-face - Colleagues in the office, other Fellows, academic staff
    • Web content collected by Google Reader - Blogs, conferences, journals
    • Twitter - content and comment from around the sector
    • Personal experiences
  • Outputs
    • Face-to-face - meetings, conferences and conversations
    • Twitter - content and comment
    • Blog posts
    • Reports to institution
    • Relevant research list
    • Delicious bookmarks
Is this what we want a informal PLE to be for our learners? There are specific goals (reports, influencing people to use the technology where it is appropriate), there is communication and reflection about what has been learned (the process of writing blog posts and reports) but in writing this out I see different outputs and can recognise how chaotic this process is.

In conversations in the office it was noted that if we are to support the development of people's PLEs, we really need to know what process individuals go through when using them. There’s not a right or wrong way to manage your inputs (e.g. Web Feeds, Podcasts, Twitter networks, and Bookmarks), but advice on work flow could help people use appropriate tools well.

So it looks to me like we could:
  1. Encourage people to visualise their own PLE in some way to identify what is involved and enable developments.
  2. Raise awareness about various tools that can be used in your informal learning. (e.g. we could run face-to-face and online sessions, publish blog posts).
  3. Encourage sharing of how work-flows can be improved while performing tasks (e.g. using a feed reader rather than visiting dozens of web sites every week to check for updates, backing up your data).

5 comments:

ryan2point0 said...

Thanks Peter for the shout-out regarding the Informal Learning Environment.

I think it's a great idea to give the student some guidance on what their PLE might look like. Demonstrating a real-life PLE (a staff member's?) as an example would be really useful.

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A wonderful explanation or difference between VLEs and PLEs. Off course, E-learning does good job.. Thanks for sharing the valuable information with us.

Ray Tolley said...

Hi, Peter,

I have a somewhat different view of a PLE. see my comment at: http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=55464

Best Wishes,
Ray T