January 11, 2006

The Inevitable Personal Learning Environment Post at incorporated subversion

Slowly ploughing thru my humongous (and growing daily) Teachers-who-blog blogroll (see rh sidebar of this blog). I'm down to the letter 'I' and hit James Farmer's incorporated subversion. The Inevitable Personal Learning Environment Post at incorporated subversion:
Seems like there's a big wave 'o people talking about PLEs in some pretty major terms.

Stephen, for example, says this:

It's just you, your community, and the web, an environment where you are the centre and where your teachers - if there are any - are your peers. It is, I believe, the future - and where, one day, the next generation of Blackboards and WebCTs and Moodles and Sakais will make their mark.

Erm, what's a ple?

OK, off we go. Follow the links in James's original post for a quick education.

Altho I'm not involved in tech-ed at all (I blog, I know no other colleagues who do; I notice that slowly more and more of my students are blogging, but only in private), I'm interested in this topic because it helps throw light on how learning environments are changing, not just tech ones.

Back at Incsub's posting, I clicked on the graphic hoping to get a larger version I could print out (and maybe even read!). Instead I got taken to a deeper page of James' domain, with a fascinating summary of some ideas on social relationships and how these are changing, especially the section on Semilattices & Trees, ‘artificial’ and ‘natural’ environments.

This is all grist to the mill for me, pondering on curriculum change. I'm following Borderland's thoughts on curriculum, and also listening again to Dave Warlick's podcast Web 2.0 at the NCETC. I'm learning a lot from this, and I like Dave's provocative questions. Of course, one of the topics that comes up (about 30minutes in) is curriculum and textbooks: if the textbook is outdated even before students open it on the first day...David asks, what if instead of buying a textbook, a teacher subscribed to various digital sources of information that helps students learn what they're supposed to be learning?

Well, the next question, obviously, is, who is deciding what students are supposed to be learning? After all, textbooks belong to the age of the teacher as authority figure - the "I know what's best for you and here it is" figure. But if the teacher is now a kind of human aggregator, helping to locate sources of information for students, and now helping them more with the task of making sense of the information, of digesting it, and re-mixing it for their own learning purposes, then that rather changes the picture.


Brian said...

Interesting. The discussion you have summarized repsresents, for me, reveals a confusion between learning and education. They seem to be used synonyms here. Is there a kind of learning or learning environment that isn't personal? No. Learning is personal and individual by default; education is not. The word "environment" has become popular to capture the notion of educational design that is in some manner more organic in nature - a desire to more closely link to biology and nature. Unfortunately, there is little real connection between the two if we move beyond the words. The notion that a student is somehow more at "the centre" - or I assume that means "in control" is an illusion. To limit the idea of teachers to being peers only is a mistake (it's an important part, but definitely not the whole picture). Although the words point toward something that is more organic in nature, the reality of education shows something dramatically different. It really is a delusion to believe that new uses of technology will lead to meaningful change in education.

Downes said...

One wonders what is the basis on which Brian draws his conclusion.

It can't be from a study of blogging and social networking, which is sweeping the student population by the millions and already infusing many academic environments with a shift in perspective between student and learner.

It can't be from a study of emerging and more personalized learning environments, such as ELGG, or even the ocnstructivist-based Moodle, as these are becoming more widely accepted and, again, are beginning to change practice.

It can't be from a study of multimedia in learning, and especially of pdcasting, which is reshaping how students communicate, such as in Bob Sprankle's classroom.

It can't be through a measure or evaluation of learning outside the classroom, captured in such work as Jay Croos's on informal learning, nor on the learner-authored resources and references, including Wikipedia, which are driving this phenomenon.

Brian distinguishes between 'education' and 'learning' and then goes on to argue for the entrenchment of the former and to dismiss the latter. Many would argue that this is exactly what is wrong with the school system, as currently structured, and one would certainly be hard pressed to show how a system that does not have learning as its goal can produce learning as its output.

And when Brian argues that student-centered learning is an "illusion," a "mistake" and a "delusion" it seems to me that he is arguing from a basis of not having looked. Perhaps that's education. It isn't learning.

aaron said...

I think what Brian is trying to do is to highlight and emphasize the conceptual difference between 'education' and 'learning', so as not to confuse the two in discussions like this.

It's hard for me to swallow Brian's last sentence, but perhaps the key term to consider is 'meaningful'. The system can undergo tremendous changes in form, but if it doesn't result in deeper changes within each individual - and society at large - toward greater awareness, understanding, compassion, and peace, then has the change really been meaningful?

I too, can't help but wonder if, ultimately, technology really has that kind of transformative power, and whether or not we just kidding ourselves in our enthusiastic exploration of it?

Deep down, though, I believe that all the work we're doing can facilitate the process much better than ever before, as Marco suggests in his last paragraph.

Jeremy said...

Aaron, I think you're right about the education/learning split -- Brian's not attacking the usefulness of technology in helping people learn things they decide to pursue. He just has a healthy skepticism about the power of educational technology to revolutionize (or eliminating the need for) existing education systems.

Your recent post about Flickr being used in ESL classrooms could also be added to Stephen's list, along with hundreds of other current and future examples of promising technology integration in traditional classroom settings that help kids achieve educational outcomes more effectively. Brian's just not particularly interested in those institutional standards of what constitutes "learning".

Much of Brian's recent exploration of education has focused on questioning the fundamental premise of our education system -- curriculum. The traditional system basically requires everyone to be taught the same things at the same times in the same places. The examples on Stephen's excellent list (and others still to come) will continue to help students learn more effectively within those constraints. The curriculum is in the center, and students are probably not learning what they'd like to learn as they pursue their own meaningful life goals, or learning what might be most valuable in their communities. They'll be picking up a few things they may find useful later in life, but to call the whole exercise "learner-centred" would be a bit of a joke.