Course:ETEC522/2010ST1/InformalLearningEnvironments/RC

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Report Cards

Leading Learning Applications

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As mentioned above, Lubensky (2008) states that "the success of PLEs will depend on: 1. the ease with which they can be implemented and used by learners 2. interoperability 3. the confidence that learners and institutional administrators have with them." Google Apps is both a desktop application and a web service, and though it has many very good features, the tools within the application are limited and more appropriate for communication, collaboration, and organization and less appropriate for aggregation, blogging, and information gathering. Further, apparently any content belongs to Google. Google Apps is a great service, but not particularly appropriate or broad enough for a PLE. Further, though the Google name would inspire confidence in learners and institutional administrators, and the product is easy to implement and use, it lacks the essential interoperability. Like Google Apps, Mendeley is both a desktop service and a web service. Its tools, including its social networking tool, are more appropriate for formal research than informal research: the service is more appropriate for aggregation, information gathering, and connecting with other researchers, but less appropriate for general communication, organization, blogging, and collaboration. Like Google Apps, Mendeley’s limitations outweigh its advantages, and it’s not broad enough for use as a PLE. Further, while Mendeley is clearly easy to implement and use, it not only lacks interoperability, but also the brand recognition of Google, so the service may not inspire confidence in learners and institutional administrators. As a single tool, ELGG combines most of the features necessary for creating a PLE, but like Google Apps and Mendeley, ELGG also has limitations since its primary purpose is as a social networking engine, so it may not be the best choice for aggregation, information gathering, etc. Further, you do need to have a fairly high degree of technical knowledge to run ELGG, not to mention your own (or access to an institution's) web server. Thus, while ELGG is interoperable, it lacks the key features of ease of implementation and use to which Lubensky refers. Like Mendeley, it also lacks Google's brand recognition, so learners and administrators may steer clear. Until one tool is created that accommodates all the needs of the informal learner, a do-it-yourself approach to personal learning environment creation may be the most appropriate approach of all. PLN Yourself is neither an application nor a service, but rather a method of setting up a PLE in a piecemeal manner—a set of instructions meant to describe and simplify a do-it-yourself approach to creating a PLE. Because the instructions recommend using a variety of tools, each appropriate to the learner in its own way, and because it recommends an individualized approach, it is a method appropriate to creating a PLE. While the DIY method is, by its nature, interoperable and each product can be selected for ease of implementation and use, this approach fails to “solve the problem of messiness” referred to by Lubensky.

Stability and Usability

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While there is a lot of potential for many of the tools which are currently available for use in a PLE, their stability is quite questionable. Tools which are here today, may be gone tomorrow. Conversely, as new better tools emerge, people will change what they're using creating a disconnect in their environment. It may be impossible to build a cohesive PLE which students can use throughout their learning careers.

Online tools however seem to be the best for PLE use. They are always accessible so long as the student has access to the internet and are often free or have little cost associated with them. PLE's are in their early stages of use and development. It will be interesting to see how these tools play out in the coming years.

Due to the strong future potential and ease of use of many of these tools, a B has been granted.

Total Cost of Ownership

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Successful implementation of Informal Learning Environments require a significant amount of time for set up, training and customization. They are expensive on the side of providers due to energy costs and physical infrastructure, and to the user through privacy and productivity losses, however the amount of potential learning provided in informal learning spaces is enormous. When compared to formal learning costs, informal learning is far cheaper and can be more effective for reinforcement of concepts and ideas.

Informal Learning - Total Cost of Ownership: B

Future Potential

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There is an undoubted need for PLEs and specifically for a PLE application. PLEs and PLE applications could be employed in different areas, such as informal learning, institutional (formal) learning, and professional development. Some educational institutions have already started to employ PLEs, which they have connected with institutional LMSs (VLEs). The biggest promise of PLEs is that they could extend access to educational technology to everyone who wishes to organise their own learning.

In order to succeed, PLEs should resolve some issues, such as who provides technology services, who secures data, who is responsible for the personal safety of students, connection with VLEs, intellectual property and so on. Possibly the major issues that might impede development of PLEs are the lack of consensus on what PLEs actually are and the inevitable change in the balance between individual learner and educational institutions that PLE might provoke.

Because the brilliant future predicted for PLE might be threatened by the aforementioned unresolved issues, the PLE receives only a B.

Final Grade

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Personal Learning Environment: B


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