As PLENK2010 moves into week two we are taking on the debate between Personal Learning Environments and Learning management systems. My next post will address the differences between the two, but there is a major point that I’d like to address that digs into my distaste for the use of the word ‘personal’ in education.
The PLE/LMS debate is not about autodidacticism, it’s about the decentralization of power
It is easy to see the transition to PLE as the ‘rebel yell’ of education. The splitter leaving the fold to strike out on their own to a place where they can make their own decisions, commune with knowledge on their own terms, thank you very much, and not be under the evil yoke of a power mongering educator and not have to suffer the ignominy of working in groups with other classmates. The lone learning warrior, learning on their own, without guidance. It is an easy vision to have as the discussion around PLEs is often put in opposition to LMSs and this often degenerates to “institution bad, learn on your own”. While this is a very interesting debate, it is not the same as the debate around learners managing their own learning content.
I see learning as a social activity. I don’t care if you’re engaging with dead white men in a book, it’s still a conversation. (albeit one sided in that case) The problem with the PLE (when contrasted with the LMS) is that it can easily move the focus to THE LEARNER and not THE LEARNERS. In this way the move from LMS to PLE can be seen as a move from with people, to without people. We don’t learn much alone. We need to keep the focus of the discussion on the disaggregation of power, not the disaggregation of people.
My own PLE (if i were to call it that) is very much about the aggregation of people. It is about me having the choice of which people I aggregate. It is a plurality. This kind of plurality, the kind of engagement with the network of knowledge on your own terms is about choice. The traditions of education are not so much about the student having choice but about the institution of education having choice (the LMS). This, in my mind, is the central distinction between PLE and LMS.
When we disaggregate the power in education, we empower individual learners. It can encourage them to learn more than is presented in the curriculum. It can encourage lifelong learning. PLEs provide an excellent venue for this to happen. This does not mean that the role of the educator, the guide or the facilitator has evaporated. The great thing about MOOCs is that it brings focus to the many different things that we are all interested in learning, it provides a community of learning, a community curriculum for us to engage with. This, to me, is what the PLE is all about.