I’ve been putting together a short discussion for my university around the reasons that a given professional might want to go ahead and blog. Why put thoughts out that are incomplete, that still need work? Won’t this impact my standing as a professional? Won’t some people misunderstand and think that I’m simply a sloppy thinker?
Some people will see your work that way… and i’ve had my share of that the last couple of weeks (http://etcjournal.com/2010/09/24/6103/ comes to mind) but the response on the disaggregate people not power post from a couple weeks ago puts the reason why i blog in clear focus. I started PLENK2010 very conflicted in my feelings around the PLE/N, unsure about where the technology ended and the learning begins, but with all of your help, I’m now feeling better
A word on PLE vs. PLN
For the purposes of this discussion lets agree that the PLN (Personal Learning Network) is a description of the network of people in which I learn. It is a description of people online or offline. This simplistic definition may strike some of you as unfair, but without getting the PLN out of the way, this discussion gets even more complicated.
Two definitions of PLE
Whether in the most significantly edited wikipedia article on the subject http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_personal_learning_environments, the NRC and @downes run project ‘creating’ one http://ple.elg.ca/ or oft cited research on the subject, it seems clear that the dominant interpretation of the term PLE is a technological environment created to allow students a personal rather than a course based view of formal(ish) education. A technology which, as Wilson et. al suggest
is concerned with enabling a wide range of contexts to be coordinated to support the goals of the user.
the PLE operates at a personal level in that it coordinates services and information that is related directly to its user and owner. However, the PLE can also be considered global in scope as the range of services it can potentially coordinate is not bounded within any particular organization. The user can connect their PLE with social networks, knowledge bases, work contexts, and learning contexts of any size to which they can obtain access.
The distinction, then, between a VLE/LMS and a PLE is that the former is course or institution based, and the later is person based, irrespective of the courses that a person is taking. The history of PLE wikipedia article cited earlier is a long string of technology projects that detail the ways in which we can create a technology that will increase the global ‘range of services’ that will allow an institutionally supported system to allow the student to set their own goals, organize their learning content and to allow their formal work to interact with ‘the real web’. (this if you’ll allow that in the quote above, the clear distinction is being made between “their PLE” and “social networks, knowledge bases, work contexts… etc…)
Definition 1 –This is personal (as in, given to one person) learning environment (as in, space identified by the institution from which you can then connect to the free web)
Here are some live blogging notes from Michelle Martin while listening to a Stephen Downes talking about his PLE… he speaks of flickr and googledocs and skype and gliffy as PLE. Or, a tad more colourfully
This from Scott Leslie. This is clearly not ONE technology that allows you to work with others… the middle section of the diagram are about the physical location of the learner (say desktop), and then they extend from there. They include technologies, people, relationships, events, from a ‘personal’ perspective.
Definition 2 – This is a Personal (as in, me the person) learning environment (as in, the ecology in which I learn)
So we have two views
In Definition 1 we have PLE as a pedagogical change in education from a course based focused to a learner based focus. In Definition 2 we see learning as irrespective of any formal system, it is a PLE that describes the world as it is… with communication streams be they telephone or twitter, as the ecology in which I learn. In this second definition you will see my rebel yell of education referred to in the earlier Disaggregation post.
Definition 1 as power maintained
In the first definition we have a system that is ‘created for’ students, that is maintained by a university (and, one would imagine payed for by their fees payed to the institution) where lines of connection are created that the student may then fill. It is a software system that locates the students in a concentrated area that makes it easy for them to find each other, easy for a professor to find their work, and makes it easy to get things started. It is preferable to the VLE in the sense that a student gets to keep working on things from one course to another, it provides that e-portfolio style location for their work, gives them an individual presence inside their learning institution.
These are all services provided FOR the student by the institution. Services that, usually, will then be taken away once the student moves on to other learning areas. Now, you might say that I can export the content of my work, or through some SCORMish mumbo jumbo i could move it from one institution to another. It’ll be fine, i’m told, as long as we have good standards. But this version of the PLE is controlled by the institution. The institution holds the switch, they control the pathways that are allowed for learning, the connections that can be made (maybe by decision, by technical ability or by standards imposed guidelines)
While i see this as preferable to the coursed based LMS, it still leaves the learning in the hands of the institution. This means that if you leave, even if you take all your content in some exported format, you lose the connections of your learning. Any links in and out of your work get borked, any habits that people have of coming to visit your work go away, your work at creating a sense of place go away. You do not own it.
(caveat: I am not speaking of learning in the sense of ‘coming to know a thing.’ The majority of introductory classes probably belong in a nice structured VLE. I’m thinking of student ‘becoming’ professionals or, better, those who are already. /caveat)
Definition 2 – disaggregating power
There is a very different power relationship between being given a space which ‘enables contexts’ and ‘allows supports’ for a user and a space that you build and support for yourself. It dodges those institutionally created problems of student mobility, of losing the connections formed in your learning and gives you a professional ‘place’ from which you can start to make long term knowledge network connections that form the higher end of the productive learning/knowing that is possible on the web. The power is disaggregated in the sense that while attending an institution of learning you are still under the dominance of the instructor or the regulations surrounding accreditation, but coming to your learning space is not about that dominance. The power held (and, i should probably add, that you’ve given to that institution in applying for accreditation/learning it’s not (necessarily) a power of tyranny) by the institution only touches some of your work, and it need not impede any work you choose to do.
Here’s where I get to the part about the ‘personal’ that’s been bothering me
The danger in taking definition two as our definition for PLE is that we lose sight of the subtle, complex dance of person and ecology so eloquently described by Keith Hamon in his response to my post. Maybe more dangerously, we might get taken up as thinking that learning is something that happens to the person, and not as part of a complex rhizome of connections that form the basis of the human experience.
Learning (and I don’t mean definitions or background) and the making of connections of knowledge is something that is steeped in complexity. At each point we are structured in the work (written in a book, sung in a song, spoken in a web session) of others that constantly tests our own connections and further complexifies our understanding. This is the pattern of knowledge as i understand it. It is organic, and messy, and subject to subtle manipulations (intended or otherwise) of power. Having a place of ownership within that complexity, whether we call it ‘the personal’ or not, is vital to emancipated thought.
We have created an educational system that focuses on the content to be distributed from teacher/institution to a student. We have controlled curriculums and then told students what, where and when to learn. Students have been taught to obey and now we want them to decide. Definition 1 described above does not, in my mind, leave enough room for that decision, for control of learning. It certainly disaggregates the institutional framework of learning (courses) but it does not disaggregate the power of the insitution. Definition 2 is far more personal, the power is centred in the learner. You can have your own blog, your own place to store your files, pictures, conversations and, most importantly, a place to centre connections.
We need to remember that the ‘personal’ is about emancipation, not about being alone. Learners need to remember that the connections are still needed, they just need to go out and make them, they will not be provided. The side effect to the power granted, is that simply ‘doing the work’ (read: posting my response to my blog) is not the end of the work. The work needs to be connected to others, learning is still about people.