This section will be a discussion of Personal Learning Environments (PLE) and their potential in blended learning.
This document will serve to:
A personal learning environment is ”…a common environment in which a learner may gather or assemble resources and services from a…number of distinct providers, work with these materials to solve problems or create new resources, and then communicate these results to peer learners, instructors or mentors, evaluation and assessment agencies, or the public at large…1)”. It's important to note that these resources may be in the form of both content and social contacts within external networks (Educause, 2009).
This environment can either refer to an aggregation of a selection of tools that each serve a single purpose, or can be a suite of tools within one single application. In addition, it's also not clear at this early stage whether “PLE” refers to a technology, or a general concept. PLEs seem to be:
So, while it's not always easy to define a PLE, it seems clear that they are distributed, social and learner-centric 2).
Learning environments, Banks & Salmon, 2010
Before exploring Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), it might be worthwhile to briefly discuss their predecessor, the Learning Management System (LMS). Learning Managment Systems grew out of a tendency of educational technologists to conceive of learning content as objects, which could be codified, structured and packaged for delivery (Downes, 2005)3). In effect, this reduces e-learning to a series of courses that can be delivered through a Learning Management System, and place an emphasis on a structured transmission from the “expert” to the learner.
Mott and Wiley (n.d.)4) have suggested an alternative to a traditional learning management system by combining a PLE with a Content Management System (CMS) to create an Open Learning Network (OLN). They begin by describing the limitations of a CMS in the following way:
Characteristics of an alternative design include:
PLEs encourages multiple perspectives and narratives, highlighting the fact that the learning network, while guided by a teacher, doesn't weight any one approach or narrative over another (Learning Technologies Centre). Another distinction is that the LMS is course-centric, as opposed to the PLE being learner-centric7).
In essence the PLE allows students to take greater control of their learning experiences in the following ways:
Another distinction is that PLEs allow for a combination of both formal and informal learning experiences, and doesn't attempt to force the learner into any one particular pathway or process. A more general approach might be to view the LMS as a structure that enables resources in the form of selective shared content coming in, and conduits that enable communication going out (Anderson, 2006)10).
In order to understand how education needs to change, it would be worth understanding what members of a knowledge economy need to be able to do. Castells (2009)11) asserts that knowledge workers (“self-programmable labor”) must have the ”…capacity to search and recombine information”, requiring education and training in terms of creativity, as well as an ability to adapt to changing environments (pg. 30). This essentially, is what is needed in order for individuals to be productive in the information society.
In examining some relevant trends over the past few years, Downes (2005)12) writes that the relationship between producers and consumers are changing as a result of the networks that form through the internet. These trends manifest in education as a move towards learner- or student-centred learning, which signifies a fundamental shift in the balance of power between student and teacher (Marzano, 1992)13). This shift in power is readily seen in the PLE when learners interact with external resources and other networks in a feedback system that is integrated within the PLE (Educause, 2009).
The PLE facilitates a process of continual growth within the individual and the network, as the learner moves through Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).14) In this sense, the PLE acts as scaffolding around which learning experiences are constructed, with the nodes of the network being added, edited and removed as the learner progresses through the ZPD.
Connectivism is an emerging educational theory that, ”…at its heart…is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” (Downes, 2007)15)