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Personal Learning Environments

Many of you agree with Attwell's premise that there is a mismatch between the way people learn and the way our educational system operates though some of you think that Attwell is too extreme. You emphasized that not all students are the same; some of them will take advantage of using PLEs, while others will not.

"As it is now, our schools are designed to create individuals that are equipped to face the challenges of yesteryear.“ – Denise Flick

"Yes, I strongly believe there is a disparity between school and learner. As a wife and mother, an educator and a student, I have many things to get done in any 24 hours. My quest for knowledge cannot be met by schools. … School is not designed for me.“ – Michele McFarlane

PLE’s could provide part of the answer. Students could access a variety of tools outside of classroom hours which can assist with their learning of concepts they have been exposed to in class. PLEs promote collaborative learning, student-centred learning, and the freedom to discover and experiment with new knowledge. PLEs are a result of a student’s multiple intelligences. PLEs can be instrumental in providing learning opportunities. As an ‘enabler’, PLEs use technology to help learners maximize opportunities. A PLE should be something that’s always on and fully integrated across your entire digital experience.

You said about role of teachers and schools:

"I believe this is a question of authority, control, and the apparent loss of it as students move to learn outside of our walls.“ David Evans

“teacher’s role would evolve. They would need to become web literate. This would enable teachers to become models, facilitators and guides to students who are developing their own learning environments.” - Dominic Smith

Although studies show that during the day students experience the least engagement during the hours they are attending school, PLEs won't make schools obsolete because schools do more than just help students with academics. Students build social skills and build strong friendships at school. Schools take care of children while parents work. Nevertheless, schools will have to change to one where learning is facilitated rather than directed.

"PLE’s can enhance the school experience, but they won’t replace it…nor should they attempt to.“- Devinder Deol

Leading Learning Applications

Our week-long discussion reflected mixed responses to the idea of one application for a PLE. It seems that until the perfect PLE tool emerges, people who are inclined to manage their own learning (both formal and informal) will continue to do so with a variety of tools and applications. It will likely be a long time before the perfect tool meant to manage all informal and formal learning emerges because everyone learns so differently. The class responses to the question regarding their own personal learning environments is enlightening because the responses are all so different: some people use desktop applications, others use blogs or wikis, most indicate that they simply use a variety of applications. Certainly, most responses indicate the appeal of one perfect tool that cleans up what Lubensky calls “the messiness” of the do-it-yourself PLE, but I suspect that perfect application cannot exist because everyone’s idea of perfection is so different:

“I am beginning to like Google Apps more and more, as it is a one stop shop for tools and it is easier to manage the tools via one log in attempt. I might use more of the do-it-yourself approach, but I am not keen on logging into tools each time I want to use them. Now, if someone could develop a virtual box for all my PLE tools, whereby I could log in once to use all my tools; I would consider more of a mash up of tools so to speak.” Dominic Smith

“I’m not sure that I’d enjoy a formalized PLE. I stopped using Twitter and viewing the message boards a few months ago because there was so much information available/being thrown at me that it was overwhelming. I suspect this might be the case if the information was all housed in one particular application.” Rebecca Ticknor

“I see my blog as a place to create a one stop shopping place that stores all of my needs and have started to organize it that way. On the main page I like to post sites that I find interesting or relevant to my work or study and I have separate pages for each of my MET courses, my resume, the sports I coach, etc. Ideally this would allow me to organize information I come across and fit it into a particular section or leave it in a catch-all area on the first page. On the sides I can add applications or sites that I find relevant and I can link to other services I am a member of or have an account with, the main one being Delicious.” Craig Wehrle

“Some people will continue to use a whole set of tools for their personal learning just like I do now, but for some people, including me, one application which might help manage disparate forms of learning and put them all under one roof will be gladly embraced. Users of such an application could still use other application or services that they find useful, but a single application could help manage the messiness.” Gordana Jugo

Stability and Usability

"A lot of responsibility is put on students to access the appropriate web 2.0 tools that enable them to engage in and demonstrate learning. I think this may be the wave of the future…currently LMS’s are struggling to keep up and integrate with the many web 2.0 tools out there." – Devinder Deol

"As educators we need to have an open mind if we want our students to learn. We need to create the opportunity for learning to take place, both inside and outside of our classrooms." - Ritwa Smith

"I do not believe that PLE will make schools obsolete. However in order to make students love school and love to learn it cannot be business as usual. The operations of the schools will have to change to to one where learning is facilitated rather than directed. Schools need to provide guidance for learners where they can maximize their learning potential." - Donna Powell Wilson

I suppose since many online web 2.0 PLE tools are very much still in their infancy that this can make them quite unstable in regards to their longevity. While it's difficult, if not impossible, to project how long many of these tools will be around, I believe it is evident that many of these tools build on the previous ones and competition can only produce better products. One thing we've seen on the internet is how quickly users can switch from one application to another when something better comes along. Exponential growth can very easily lead to exponential reduction of people using a specific tool.

Most of you agreed that PLE's have a place in education, not as a replacement to the classroom, but rather as an enhancement. There are a lot of tools available that need to be explored both by the student the instructor. By doing so, we'll learn what types of tools and options work and which ones do not.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Much of the conversation around TCO centered on financing and needed structure in informal learning. The concept of value in terms of necessity of investing in technology to provide access to informal learning environments.

Here is the essence of the conversation:

"I believe an informal learning will be existed as an assistant teaching approach for a long time. Some students who can afford an electronic product will take the lead in learning in an informal learning environment. It depends on each student’s financial condition."

"Cost is a big deciding factor, however it is not necessary the cheaper the better. You really need to consider the value of investment. In business, people can look at how much money they would make in an investment. That is not the case in education. People need to evaluate what defines success in their investment. It may require a lot of funding, but it is something necessary."

"I don’t believe that informal learning is always more cost-effective than formalized training...Informal learning can be very cost-effective but it depends on the learning needed. There are situations where each offers benefits over the other. Informal learning often provides “just-in-time” training for students/people who need immediate skills in a certain area/tool/application. Depending on what type of training is needed, often informal training can get someone started where they don’t have time to wait for a workshop or training session. Or, the amount of training is minimal and therefore informal training gets the job done. Often, budgets don’t allow for formal training, particularly if travel is involved. For budget reasons, schools commonly use the ‘train-the-trainer’ models where one or two teachers in a school will be offered formal training and then become the experts for the school where they will train their peers through informal methods. Informal training can sometimes be done at any hour of the day, allowing for flexibility of work/family life. Therefore, each situation needs to be looked at to determine the most effective (and cost-effective) learning environment."

It seems that if informal learning is complementary to a structured daily learning practice, as well as being cost-effective for the individual's needs, then budgetary restrictions can be overcome. "Just in time" learning patterns, electronic options and "train the trainer" models all benefit the individual whose education, knowledge and skills can be enriched despite the costs.

Future Potential

Most of you see a lot of potential in PLEs, although most of you think that they are in their infancy and that it will take at least 10 years before PLEs become a significant part of education. People who have their own PLE now will continue to use a whole range of tools while a structured or explicit set of PLE tools are yet to emerge.

Many of you believe that "Any new application meant to manage all of someone’s informal and formal learning will always fall short because everyone learns so differently“ (Sheila Hancock). On the other hand, some of you "would appreciate a software application that could integrate and assimilate the various pieces of a PLE. Making all technology simpler and more usable is a tremendous value.“ (Paul Quinlan)

Most of you think that PLEs will be embraced by individuals first, while schools, large companies and governments will lag behind. Some of you see a great potential for PLEs in the home schooling realm.

PLEs need to resolve some issues before their adoption, such as issues regarding their safety, security of information, privacy and intellectual property. Another important issue "is a standardization of appearance, commands and functions along with technological convergence so files can be easily transferred from one application to another.“ (Catherine Gagnon)

"Well I think it’s all about control, that really the need to control what is learned and the pace is why PLEs and institutions may not be compatible. There is some good reason for some measure of control as quality is an important facet of education. The time has come, now that the requisite technological tools are available, for PLEs to flourish. I hope it does." – Norma Williams


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