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The Future of the Elearning

The Future of the Elearning

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Published by Oskar Casquero

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Published by: Oskar Casquero on Nov 30, 2007
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eLearning Papers • www.elearningpapers.eu •
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 Vol 2, Nº 1 • January 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
 
Personal Learning Environments - the future of eLearning?
Graham AttwellPontydysgu
Summary
ThispaperexploressomeoftheideasbehindthePersonalLearningEnvironmentandconsiderswhyPLEsmightbeusefulorindeedcentraltolearninginthefuture.Thisisnotsomuchatechnicalquestionasaneducationalone,althoughchangingtechnologiesarekeydriversineducationalchange.Thepaperstartsbylookingatthechangingfaceofeducationandgoesontoconsiderthedifferentwaysinwhichtheso-called‘netgeneration’isusingtechnologyforlearning.Itgoesontoconsidersomeofthepressuresforchangeinthepresenteducationsystems.TheideaofaPersonalLearningEnvironmentrecognisesthatlearningisongoingandseekstoprovidetoolstosupportthatlearning.Italsorecognisestheroleoftheindividualinorganisinghisorherownlearning.Moreover,thepressuresforaPLEarebasedontheideathatlearningwilltakeplaceindifferentcontextsandsituationsandwillnotbeprovidedbyasinglelearningprovider.Linkedtothisisanincreasingrecognitionoftheimportanceofinformallearning.Thepaperalsolooksatchangingtechnology,especiallytheemergenceofubiquitouscomputingandthedevelopmentofsocialsoftware.Thepaperbelievesthatwearecomingtorealisethatwecannotsimplyreproducepreviousformsoflearning,theclassroomortheuniversity,embodiedinsoftware.Instead,wehavetolookatthenewopportunitiesforlearningaffordedbyemergingtechnologies.Socialsoftwareofferstheopportunitytonarrowthedividebetweenproducersandconsumers.Consumersthemselvesbecomeproducers,throughcreatingandsharing.Oneimplicationisthepotentialforanewecologyof‘open’content,books,learningmaterialsandmultimedia,throughlearnersthemselvesbecomingproducersoflearningmaterials.Socialsoftwarehasalreadyledtothewidespreadadoptionofportfoliosforlearners,bringingtogetherlearningfromdifferentcontextsandsourcesoflearningandprovidinganongoingrecordoflifelonglearning,capableofexpressionindifferentforms.ThepaperconsidershowPersonalLearningEnvironmentsmightbedevelopedthroughtheaggregationofdifferentservices.ThefinalsectionprovidesexamplesofpracticesthatshowhowPLEsmaybeusedinthefuture.
Keywords:
personallearningenvironments,PLE,socialsoftware,netgeneration
 Introduction
TheAssociationofLearningTechnology’s2006conferencewasdominatedbydiscussionsonhowblogsandwikiscouldbeusedforlearning.AndtherewasabuzzaroundtheideaofPersonalLearningEnvironments(PLEs).SomeoneevensuggestedthatinafewyearstimewewouldnolongerneedtheVirtualLearningEnvironment.YetforallthetalktherewasnoconsensusonwhataPersonalLearningEnvironment(PLE)mightbe.Theonlythingmostpeopleseemedtoagreeonwasthatitwasnotasoftwareapplication.Insteaditwasmoreofanewapproachtousingtechnologiesforlearning.Underpinninganumberofthediscussionswastheissueofwhatroleteachersandinstitutionswouldplayiflearnersthemselvesdevelopedandcontrolledtheirownon-linelearningenvironment.Thispaperwillnotanswerallthequestions.InsteadweseektoexploresomeoftheideasbehindthePersonalLearningEnvironmentandconsiderwhyPLEsmightbeusefulorindeed
 
 
eLearning Papers • www.elearningpapers.eu •
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 Vol 2, Nº 1 • January 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
 
centraltolearninginthefuture.Ofcoursethisisnotsomuchatechnicalquestionbutaneducationalone,althoughchangingtechnologiesareakeydriverineducationalchange.Thepaperwillstartbylookingatthechangingfaceofeducationandgoontoconsiderthedifferentwaysthesocallednetgenerationisusingtechnologyforlearning.WewillgoontoexaminesomeoftheissuesaroundPersonalLearningEnvironmentsandtheemergenttrendsinthewayPLEsarebeingintroduced.
Lifelong Learning
Lifelonglearningishardlyanewidea.Arguably,theideaoflifelonglearningwasoriginallyrootedintheworkersmovement.IntheUK,theMechanicsInstitutes,theMinersHallsandorganisationsliketheWorkersEducationalAssociationorganisedtheclassesandcoursesforworkerstoimprovetheirowneducationaswellasprovidingaccesstolearningresourcesandsocialactivities.Whilstthisprovisionmightaimatdevelopingtechnicalandlabourmarketrelatedskillsandknowledge,itwasguidedbyawiderbeliefinthepowerofeducationforemancipation.Themorerecentfocusonlifelonglearning,insaythelastthirtyyears,hasbeenguidedbyafarnarrowerdiscourses.Drivenbyashorterproductlifecycle,theincreasingspeedofadoptionandimplementationofnewtechnologiesintheworkplaceandtheincreasinginstabilityofemploymentwiththecomputerdrivenindustrialrevolution,itwasreasonedthatworkerswouldneedcontinuouslearningthroughouttheirwork-lifetoupdatetheiroccupationalskillsandknowledgeortolearnnewoccupationalcompetences.Itwascontestableastowhowouldberesponsibleforthis.Whilstpreviouslycontinuingvocationaltraininghadbeentheresponsibilityofemployers,andthestatewasseenasplayingaleadingroleintheprovisionofcontinuingeducationandtraining,itwasnowoftenarguedthatindividualswereresponsibleformaintainingtheirownemployability,albeitsometimeswiththeassistanceofgrants,vouchersandsubsidisedcourses.Ifnotcontinuous,learningisnowseenasmultiepisodic,withindividualsspendingoccasionalperiodsofformaleducationandtrainingthroughouttheirworkinglife.TheideaofaPersonalLearningEnvironmentrecognisesthatlearningiscontinuingandseekstoprovidetoolstosupportthatlearning.Italsorecognisestheroleoftheindividualinorganisingtheirownlearning.Moreover,thepressuresforaPLEarebasedontheideathatlearningwilltakeplaceindifferentcontextsandsituationsandwillnotbeprovidedbyasinglelearningprovider.Linkedtothisisanincreasingrecognitionoftheimportanceofinformallearning.
Informal Learning
Informallearningissomethingofaconundrum.Fairlyobviously,welearnthroughoutourlives,inallkindsofdifferentsettingandcontexts.Mostofthislearningdoesnotcomefromformaleducationalprogrammes.AccordingtotheInstituteforResearchonLearning,atmost,formaltrainingonlyaccountsfor20percentofhowpeoplelearntheirjobs.Mostworkerslearntheir jobsfromobservingothers,askingquestions,trialanderror,callingthehelpdeskandotherunscheduled,largelyindependentactivities(Cross,2006).Yettherehasbeenlittleattentionpaidtoinformallearningortohowittakesplace(seebelowformoreconsiderationofthis).InmostEuropeancountriestherehasbeensomemovestorecogniseinformlearning.However,mostefforthasbeenexpendedontryingtoassessandcertifyinformallearning,(Whetheritthenremainsinformalisamootpoint,asiswhethermostpeoplewishtheirinformallearningtobecertified).Therehasbeeninterestininformallearningfromthecorporateworld,drivenbythedesiretocapitaliseontheintellectualassetsoftheworkforce,tomanageorganisationalknowledgeandinrecognitionthatinformallearningmayproveacosteffectivewayofdevelopingcompetence.Intermsofeducationaltechnology,therehasbeenlittleattentionpaidtoinformallearning.Itisremarkablethatformallearningtechnologyandapplicationshaveonlyreallybeenmadeavailabletothoseenrolledonaneducationalprogrammeortothoseworkingforlargerenterprises.ThepromiseofPersonalLearningEnvironmentscouldbetoextendaccesstoeducationaltechnologytoeveryonewhowishestoorganisetheirownlearning.FurthermoretheideaofthePLEpurportstoincludeandbringtogetheralllearning,includinginformallearning,workplacelearning,learningfromthehome,learningdrivenbyproblemsolvingandlearningmotivatedbypersonalinterestaswellaslearningthroughengagementinformaleducationalprogrammes.PersonalLearningEnvironmentscouldalsofacilitatedifferentstylesoflearning.
Different styles of Learning
Itisarguedthatweallhavedifferentstylesoflearningandapproachlearningindifferentways. Althoughthiswouldseemself-evident,attemptstotheoriseandclassifysuchlearningstylesarelessthanconvincing..Personally,IdonotthinkIhaveoneparticularlearningstylebutusedifferentlearningstylesanddifferent‘intelligences’in
 
 
eLearning Papers • www.elearningpapers.eu •
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 Vol 2, Nº 1 • January 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
 
differentcontexts,differentsubjectsandindifferentknowledge-domainsandinresponsetodifferentlearningaimsandgoals.Imightuseadifferentstyleforsolvingaquickproblem-sayhowtouseSkypeformypodcast-thanforlearningGerman.Notwithstandingtheproblemsofthethetheoreticaldebateonlearningstyles,itwouldappearlikelythatlearnerswillhavepreferencesfordifferentpedagogicapproaches,inparticularlearningcontexts. Alleducationalsoftware,implicitlyorotherwise,eitherenhancesorrestrainscertainpedagogicapproachestolearning.Thereisnosuchthingaspedagogicallyneutralsoftware.APersonalLearningEnvironmentcouldallowaleanertoconfigureanddevelopalearningenvironmenttosuitandenabletheirownstyleoflearning.
New approaches to assessment and therecognition of learning
 Animportantdevelopmentineducationinthepastperiodhasbeenthetranslationofqualificationsintooutcomesandcompetences.Itisbeyondthescopeofthispapertoexplorethefullimplicationsofthesedevelopmentsortogointothediscussionoverwhatexactlycompetenceis.FromthepointofviewofthePLE,theimportanceliesintheseparationoftheoutcomeswhichformaqualificationfromthelearningprogrammewhichdevelopscompetenceforsuchoutcomes.Thismeansthatlearnersarenolongernecessarilylockedintoaparticularcourseinordertogainaqualificationbutareabletopresenttheirlearningtoprovetheypossesssuchcompetenciesorareabletoachievethoseoutcomes.ThismeansthatlearnerscouldselectevidenceandartefactsfromthePLEforpresentationforqualificationpurposes.Itisalsoimportanttonotethatformalqualificationsareincreasinglyonlyseenasoneaspectofcompetence,atleastforemploymentpurposes.Employersalsoincreasinglywishtoseeevidenceoftheabilitytoapplyskillsandknowledgeinaparticularcontext.PLEscouldfacilitatesuchpresentations,inanextendedformofane-Portfolioandthroughlinkstoane-Portfolio.
Changing technologies
InthissectionIwilllookattwodevelopmentsintechnologywhichIthinkareofparticularsignificanceforthedevelopmentofPersonalLearningEnvironments-ubiquitouscomputingandthedevelopmentofsocialsoftware.
Ubiquitous computing
Thetermubiquitouscomputingreferstotwotechnologicaldevelopments.ThefirstisthegrowingubiquitousnatureofinternetconnectivitywiththedevelopmentofwirelessandGSMnetworks,aswellasthespreadofbroadband,resultinginconnectivitybecomingavailablealmosteverywhereinthefuture.Itisalsoexpectedthatdeviceswillbeabletosearchforandseamlesslyswitchtoutiliseavailablenetworks.Thesecondandassociateduseofthetermisforthemanydifferentdevicesnowabletoaccesstheinternet,includingmobilecommunicationdevicessuchasPDAsbutalsohouseholdappliancesandindustrialandelectronictoolsandmachinery.ThedevelopmentofubiquitouscomputingmayoffernewopportunitiesfortheuseofICTforlearning.Previouslyoccupationalandvocationallearninghasbeendividedbetweenthetheoryandknowledgebasetobeacquiredintrainingschoolsandthepracticewhichoftentakesplaceintheworkplace.Withtheuseofmobiledevicesandthespreadofconnectivityitisatleasttheoreticallypossibletobringthislearningtogetherandtoaccesstheoryandknowledgeinthecontextinwhichitistobeapplied-intheworkprocess.Secondly-andpossiblymoreimportantfromadidacticalpointofview-istheembeddingofcomputerbasedcommunicationwithinthetoolsoftheworkplace.Thisofferstheopportunitytodeveloplearningenvironmentswhilstsimultaneouslyaccessingandshapingtheproductionandbusinessprocessthroughsuchinterfaces.Inotherwordsthecontextinwhichlearningtakesplacebecomesthecontextinwhichthelearningistobeappliedandthenatureofthelearninginterface-orthelearningmaterialsbecometheoccupationaltoolswithwhichthe(workprocess)knowledgeiscarriedout.Whilstubiquitouscomputingisnotyetfullydeveloped,thereareanumberofpilotactivitieswiththeuseofmobiledevicesandwithnewinterfacestolearningandworking.Keytoanunderstandingofthepotentialofsuchdevicesistheideaofbeingablebothtoshapetheworkprocessthroughtheapplicationofoccupationalknowledgewhilstshapingthelearningprocessthroughcarryingoutworkprocesses.Italsofacilitatesparticipationindispersedcommunitiesofpracticeandcollaborationbetweendifferententerprisesinprovidingtraining(althougharguablysuchopportunitiesalreadyexistwithoutubiquitouscomputing).PLEscandevelopthispotentialbyfacilitatingaccesstolearningindifferentcontextsandusing

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