Slides used for invited talk at the online conference on Personal Learning environment and Personal Learning Networks, October 2009, jointly organised by the University of Manitoba and the National Research Council Canada
Hi I have outlined here the major points of this presentation. I would like to start about influences on the learning environment and learning itself. I will set out my view as an educationalist of a Personal Learning Environment and what I find to be educational challenges to a PLE. I will go on to lay out my ideas on what are important issues in designing learning experiences and a PLE in particular and will finish with some conclusions. I am happy to take questions during the presentation and I am sure Stephen and George will keep an eye on the chat window.
Moving from teaching and learning in a class room to an online space seems a natural step for learning technologists, but for about half of the adult population it is a challenge. Education has its roots in age-old cultural traditions that have developed over centuries. ‘ The education structure, which is expository teaching and receptive learning , created by the interplay between space, time, tradition and subjects acting in learning spaces has been in existence for thousands of years and is found all over the world. It has in fact become a universal cultural model.’ (Peters, 1999, p10) Peters argued that the space in which we teach and learn defines our approaches to the teaching and learning process .
These cultural influences on the learning environment are only one aspect that is underlying what actually happens in a learning process. There is a process that we can follow and observe, such as in a formal institution: you can see who organises the learning session, who teaches, who is in charge of quality and administration . But underneath that there is another layer that influences the learning that takes place: culture, beliefs, values and ideas of teachers will determine their views on learning, knowledge and education. The learner’s background and context will determine how she learns and if the environment suits them in their learning. If we look at informal learning and in particular on personal learning environments there are some other challenges that I will come back to laterchallenge for educators when we move online.
Although Illich was sceptical about technology in that way, he could see how technology could on the other hand see how it could help to avoid the clutches of the bureaucrats. His ideas are currently picked up by people interested in learning technology, as his ideas of what education should be like, eg networks, and communication and community webs, fit very well with the new Web2.0 technologies. He said for instance that we should ‘ 1. To liberate access to things by abolishing the control which persons and institutions now exercise over their educational values . 2. To liberate the sharing of skills by guaranteeing freedom to teach or exercise them on request . 3. To liberate the critical and creative resources of people by returning to individual persons the ability to call and hold meetings – an ability now interestingly monopolized by institutions which claim to speak for the people . 4. To liberate the individual from the obligation to shape his expectations to the services offered by any established profession- by providing him with the opportunity to draw on the experience of his peers and to entrust himself to the teacher, guide, adviser or healer of his choice .’ (Illich, 1971, p.103) His vision was to see people take ownership of the learning process, rather than institutions controlling their education. In order for agency and participation to return to the learning experience, Illich (1971, p.2) called for ‘ the possible use of technology to create institutions which serve personal, creative and autonomous interaction and the emergence of values which cannot be substantially controlled by technocrats’. He saw that the alternative to ‘scholastic funnels’ would be true communication webs.
However, moving from an institutionally controlled learning environment towards an Internet based open environment would create several problems and an important question to ask would be if communication facilitated by this type of technology would be effective in knowledge creation? Would communication with global communities of (possibly the same) interest help in knowledge construction? Would it be less contrived than discussion boards that are controlled by the instructor on a VLE? I have put up a quote by Oldenburg here. The relationships forged in informal environments that Oldenberg names ‘third place’, both close and casual, add richness to society. My recent experiences and research in distance learning development have shown that interactional experiences, ie dialogue between teacher and learner and among learners is what leads to a richer and more engaging learning experience. This is also shown in research by Gur & Wiley’s for instance: ‘ instructional designers need to create structures in which a caring relationship might be enhanced and a dialogue can take place .’ Critical educators such as Freire (Freire and Macedo,1999, p48) thought it to be essential that teachers have a directive role. In this capacity, teachers would enter into a dialogue ‘as a process of learning and knowing’ with learners, rather than the dialogue being a ‘conversation’ that would remain at the level of ‘the individual’s lived experience . ‘I engage in dialogue because I recognise the social and not merely the individualistic character of knowing .’ He felt that this capacity for critical engagement could not be present when educators were reduced to facilitators. If we are thinking of education and learning for the future , how then can Personal Learning Environments be reconciled with this social nature of learning; and also, how to keep the critical voice of the teacher or expert to ensure that individuals get to a level of ‘deep’ thinking’ that includes a process of assimilating opposing points of view?
Anderson and Dron (2008) highlighted another important aspect. They have recently provided us with their thoughts on the distinctions between learning in groups, which might take place in an online or face to face class room, the learning taking place on online networks , such as the blogosphere, or in giant courses like the ‘Connectivism’ one that is currenly being run by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, or MySpace and FaceBook, and the learning from collectives , such as Flickr and Del.icio.us, where the connection with others might only be through tags. The main difference between the three being the level of presence , or ‘nearness’ to the other people you are communicating with or linking to. According to them this will mean a different level of emotional engagement and willingness to invest time and energy to get involved in the activities . My own research has confirmed this . If we compare these pictures and imagine how the Internet and what it has to offer seems to a vast number of people, it seems worth considering how much of a tutor, or an expert presence is required to ensure people get involved and engaged because it means something to them, more than a website to just click on, or click off from, or a social site to catch up on gossip or play games with friends (Research by Selwyn shows that that is what most young people use the Internet for, amusement) My recent research shows clearly that adult learners do not learn best or get engaged in an environment that lets them find all their own resources, nor by an environment where all resources are laid out and they are expected to get on with it themselves. They are most engaged if an expert challenges them, engages them in a dialogue, provides feedback, also in an online environment .
Bouchard (2008) and Dron (2007) both indicate that learner autonomy is not a particular quality or level of independence in learning that people have, but a relational interplay between contextual and personal factors. Adult learners make choices about the level of control imposed by others on their learning and Bouchard (8,p123) identified several factors that are significant. He clustered them in four groups, the first one related to ‘ motivation, initiative’ and confidence ; the second to control over the learning activity and the third one related to issues of language and communication used in the learning and teaching process. The importance of aspects of ‘economy ’ in learner autonomy was recognized as a fourth category; the choice to learn for personal gain such as for future employment, and the possible cost of other study options. In short, learners will conduct a breakdown of costs and benefits that the particular learning option would bring and make choices accordingly. Where does this leave us if we also listen to learning technologists who can see the opportunities that the latest technology offers for more personalized and autonomous learning journeys?
One view is that we have to move from a formal to a more informal approach. I have put in a table here roughly the distinctions between traditional educational learning and Internet based informal learning, which shows me that the main strengths of traditional learning is that knowledge is verified against quality standards that includes a critical voice by the tutor. In addition of course there is a group of people present to discuss the subject with . Weakness is that it is qualification driven or workbased outcome driven if it is arranged by the work place, rather than personalised, so it is not always what the learner wants to know or learn, nor presented in a way that it is best for individuals to digest . Very much dependent on the teacher if social interaction or activities are included in the teaching. Strengths of informal Internet based learning are that it is based on the interest or need of the learner; the learner is in control. Learning is embedded in real life and can be mixed with other applications . Its weakness is that the learner has to find information for him self, can communicate on the Internet, but will have to work harder to transform the information into knowledge and to verify the level of truth. Several critical voices have indicated that there might be critical experts out on the Internet, but that people not necessarily will look for the challenge, they prefer ‘more of the same, rather than voices that challenge them in their beliefs (Norris)
If we think then of how informal could be organised, if it is organised by the learner. What a PLE could look like? If learners are creators and no longer audiences who soak up knowledge that is transferred by experts, it means to me that the central area of a PLE would be a mash-up area where the learner can bring together all information and applications that he or she has aggregated from the network, link it to his thougths, his personal contacts and actively do something with it. This could be writing, or even writing a traditional essay, make a video, an image poem, whatever, and push it out again to share with people on the Internet.
What would be important when designing a PLE? Accessing any website is a multi sensory experience. Web2.0 technologies have made it possible to incorporate all sorts of applications and features to lift a page from the Web1.0 information and read-write experience with hyperlinks into a learning experience. I have here highlighted some principles that are important in the design of any web presence. There are some Human Computer Interaction principles on usability and accessibility that designers will have to keep in mind when designing a PLE. Nielsen (2006) has research usability and come up with some common sense issues: If your pages don't load quickly, users won’t wait, If your pages are confusing or hard to read, users will look elsewhere, If users can't find what they want, they will leave Attwel emphasised the need for social interaction, Siemens the need for creation and expression, and Downes emphasised that this creation, writing a blog for instance, and the reflection involved will aid the thinking and learning process In a PLE the emphasis in learning should also be on pulling in, aggregating information, rather than to let a teacher ‘push’ the information, although I feel it is important to incorporate space for adult guidance on formal learning opportunities, and an area where VLEs could link up to it. I have called this a knowledge bank.
Nathan Shedroff discusses experience. He says : While everything, technically, is an experience of some sort, there is something important and special to many experiences that make them worth discussing . In particular, the elements that contribute to superior experiences are knowable and reproducible, which make them designable . Six principles. Together, these create an enormous palette of possibilities for creating effective, meaningful, and successful experiences. The most important concept to grasp is that all experiences are important and that we can learn from them whether they are traditional, physical, offline experiences or whether they are digital, online, or other technological experiences. In fact, we know a great deal about experiences and their creation through these other established disciplines that can-and must-be used to develop new solutions. Most technological experiences-including digital and, especially, online experiences-have paled in comparison to real-world experiences and have been relatively unsuccessful as a result. What these solutions require is for their developers to understand what makes a good experience first, and then to translate these principles, as well as possible, into the desired media without the technology dictating the form of the experience.
What then makes for engaging online learning experiences? Quite often they will be multi-sensory, involve doing, touching, using visual and auditory stimuli, in addition to reading and writing. Communication and participation will make that people get insights, the ahha erlebnis, after reflection on the new concept. In some recent research I did in learning on networks, people inevitably mentioned the importance of reflection and relaxation to get to an important insight. I would also add that people like the un-expected as is shown in the video on the left, where people initially choose the escalator to go up, but as soon as the stairs were replaced by one that worked as a piano, and people made sounds to move up or down, the majority chose to use the piano stairs. So some fun and the wow-factor will help to make people want to take part.
What do I think helps a PLE to be not a store of e-information, but a place where people get insights and think critically about information and opinions from others? It will have to some-how help people to aggregate and order information and applications in some sort of order, eg through a Netvibe or iGoogle type desktop application. It is good for the learner to be in control, like the man here in moving house, which appealed to me as I have just gone through that myself. It should also be possible to produce something, in read write or visual or auditory mode, that can be communicated about with others, so communications tools are vital to be able to collaborate and communicate with others about what there is to be learned. That is what in the end challenges peoples ideas, conceptions and beliefs and make them be open minded to ideas of others and learn something.
Over the past weeks I have been trying to get clear for m self how people learn in a PLE and I’ve come up with the following model. At the centre some of you might recognise the Kolb learning cycle: the learner has an experience or problem that needs solving and needs information and some form of aggregation takes place. The person Organises what has been collected, might share and collaborate with others, perhaps advice from a more knowledgeable other to reach understanding. She will reflect on it, perhaps find more information that is relevant, and links it to knowledge or experience the user already has and reach some level of understanding, that might even become clearer by writing about it, or producing a video about it and sending it and publishing it, which could invoke feedback. This would make the circle round as after reviewing what has been learnt, it might lead to new experiences or problems that require the circle to start all over again.
e-Information or p-Learning? PLE conference Oct09
The Personal Learning Environment p-Learning or e-Information? Rita Kop
Key Themes Learning environment or learning place? Educational Challenges Well-designed Personal Learning Environment Conclusions
Essence of a Personal Learning Environment <ul><li>‘ 1. To liberate access to resources … </li></ul><ul><li>2. To liberate the sharing of skills… </li></ul><ul><li>3. To liberate the critical and creative resources of people ... </li></ul><ul><li>4. To liberate the individual… by providing him with the opportunity to draw on the experience of his peers and to entrust himself to the teacher, guide, adviser or healer of his choice’ </li></ul>Illich, 1971, p.103
A personal or a social place? A place that ‘hosts the regular, voluntary, informal and happily anticipated gatherings of Individuals beyond the realms of home and work’ Oldenburg, 1989 ‘ I engage in dialogue because I recognise the social and not merely the individualistic character of knowing’. Freire,1999 ‘ How can Personal Learning Environments be reconciled with the social nature of learning?’ Attwell, 2009
Challenges Groups – Networks – Collectives: Presence
Challenges Learner autonomy Bouchard, 2008, p123 Learner Control Conative Algorithmic Semiotic Types of social interaction Confidence Initiative Motivation Learning activity Sequencing Pacing Resource selection Text-hypertext Multimedia Search approaches Economic Perceived value of knowledge Cost-benefit ratio Opportunity cost alternatives Value assessment and recognition Life context Social environment Monitoring Evaluation
Informal versus formal learning <ul><li>Traditional formal education: </li></ul><ul><li>Institution in control </li></ul><ul><li>Passivity </li></ul><ul><li>Critical experts </li></ul><ul><li>Knowledge is spoon-fed </li></ul><ul><li>Artificial situation </li></ul><ul><li>Knowledge validated by </li></ul><ul><li>quality systems </li></ul><ul><li>Qualification driven </li></ul><ul><li>Human contact </li></ul><ul><li>Higher order thinking? </li></ul><ul><li>Qualification </li></ul><ul><li>Internet-based informal learning: </li></ul><ul><li>Learner in control </li></ul><ul><li>Activity, participation and interaction </li></ul><ul><li>(Critical) experts ? </li></ul><ul><li>Knowledge needs to be distilled </li></ul><ul><li>from information found on Internet </li></ul><ul><li>Embedded in real life </li></ul><ul><li>Self-assessment or peer- </li></ul><ul><li>validation of knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Interest driven </li></ul><ul><li>Human contact via messages </li></ul><ul><li>Deep or shallow thinking? </li></ul><ul><li>Qualification? </li></ul>
Design of the new learning experiences ‘ Our “audiences” aren’t audiences at all, but rather creators, and our job is not to lecture but to enable. With this new approach comes not only design challenges but the joy of reconnecting people to each other’. Michael Wesch, 2008
Designing a Personal Learning Environment <ul><li>Design usability issues: </li></ul><ul><li>Simplicity – learnability -memorability </li></ul><ul><li>Accessibility </li></ul><ul><li>Relevance </li></ul>Design dimensions to experience: <ul><li>Personal learning: </li></ul><ul><li>Learner choice and control </li></ul><ul><li>Creation and expression </li></ul><ul><li>Aggregation </li></ul><ul><li>Link to (challenging) </li></ul><ul><li>knowledge bank </li></ul><ul><li>People </li></ul>
‘ Design is the process of evoking meaning’ Shedroff, 2009, p4.