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More notes on e-Portfolios, PLEs, Web 20 and social software

March 16th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Some more very quick notes on teaching and learning, e-portfolios and Personal Learning Environments.

Lets start with the old problems of Virtual Learning Environments – yes one problem is that they are not learning environments (in the sense of an active learning process taking place – but rather learning management systems. VLEs are great for enrolling and managing learners, tracking progress and completion and for providing access to learning materials. But the learning most often takes place outside the VLE with the VLE acting as a place to access activities to be undertaken and to report on the results. In terms of social learning, groups are usually organised around classes or assignments.

The idea of Personal Learning environments recognised three significant changes:

  • The first was that of a Personal Learning Network which could be distributed and was not limited by institutional groups
  • The second was the idea that learning could take place in multiple environments and that a PLE could reflect and build on all learning, regardless of whether it contributed to a course the user was enrolled on
  • The third is that learners could use their own tools for learning and indeed those tools, be they online journals and repositries, networks or authoring tools, might also be distributed.

Then lest throw social software and Web 2.0 into the mix. This led to accordances for not just consuming learning through the internet, but for active construction and sharing.

This leads to a series of questions in developing both pedagogies and tools to support (social) learning (in no particular order):

  • How to support students in selecting appropriate tools to support their learning?
  • How to support students in finding resources and people to support their learning?
  • How to support students in reporting or representing their learning?
  • How to support students in identifying and exploring a body of knowledge?
  • How to motivate and support students in progressing their learning?
  • How can informal learning be facilitated and used within formal course outcomes?

How can we reconcile learning through communities of practice (and distributed personal learning networks) with the requirements of formal courses?

I am not convinced those of us who advocate the development of Personal Learning Environments have adequately answered those questions. It is easy to say we need changes in the education systems (and of course we do).

In one sense I think we have failed to recognise the critical role that teachers play in the learning process. Letsg o back to to Vykotsky. Vykotsky called those teachers – or peers – who supported learning in a Zone of Proximal Development as the More Knowledgeable Other. “The MKO is anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the leaner particularly in regards to a specific task, concept or process. Traditionally the MKO is thought of as a teacher, an older adult or a peer” (Dahms et al, 2007).

But the MKO can also be viewed as a learning object or social software which embodies and mediates learning at higher levels of knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner presently possesses.

Of course learners operate within constraints provided in part by the more capable participants (be it a teacher peer, or software), but an essential aspect of this process is that they must be able to use words and other artefacts in ways that extend beyond their current understanding of them, thereby coordinating with possible future forms of action.

Thus teachers or peers as well as technology play a role in mediating learning.

In terms of developing technology, we need to develop applications which facilitate that process of mediation. Some social software works well for this. If I get stuck on a problem I can skype a friend or shout out on Twitter, There is plenty of evidenced use of Facebook study groups. Yet I am not sure the pedagogic processes and the technology are sufficiently joined up. If I learn from a friend or peer, and use that learning in my practice, how does the process become transparent – both to myself and to others. How can I represent by changing knowledge base (through DIIGO bookmarks, through this blog?). And how can others understand the ideas I am working on and become involved in a social learning process.

I guess the answer lies in the further development of semantic applications which are able to make those links and make such processes transparent. But this requires far greater sophistication than we have yet achieved in developing and understanding Personal Learning Environments,

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  1. […] overview of the opportunities emerging in Higher Education as a result of new technologies. Also, Graham Attwell has a terrific post on evolving technologies and their effect on pedagogy. This leads to a series of questions in developing both pedagogies and tools to support (social) […]

  2. […] More notes on e-Portfolios, PLEs, Web 20 and social software — A great post by Graham Attwell on evolving technologies in education. From the post. “This leads to a series of questions in developing both pedagogies and tools to support (social) learning (in no particular order): […]

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