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What do we learn from debates on VLEs, PLEs and MOOCs for workplace learning?

February 24th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Currently our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing itself for the Design Conference of the Year 2, which will take place in March in Espoo (next to Helsinki) in Finland. We will be discussing issues of Co-Design, Evaluation and Exploitation. Surely, our work with the Learning Toolbox will be high on the agenda. But, as the name of the event says, we should consider, what is important regarding design, transfer of innovations and scaling up of innovations.

From this perspective I have looked over the fence and explored, what our colleague Graham Attwell has been writing recently on the debates on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), and Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on his blog Wales-Wide-Web. Of course, his blog articles are available on this same Pontydysgu site. But sometimes it is worthwhile to highlight some points that we may pass too quickly when reading his flow of posts. Here some of the highlights that I have picked as lessons from the debates:

1. Graham’s comment on the optimistic prediction on the impact of mobile technologies on workplace learning (July 6th 2014)

Prediction (formulated by Graham): “the workplace becomes part of the Personal Learning Environment and conversely the PLE becomes part of the work process. At the same time, such an approach can bring together both formal and informal learning.”

Comment (by Graham): “It hasn’t happened yet and it is worth thinking about why. One reason maybe that only recently has seen the spread of sufficiently powerful mobile devices and applications. Another is the suspicion of employers about the uses of such devices in the workplace. Most importantly may be the failure to develop pedagogic approaches for mobile learning.”

2. Graham’s comments on trends and fashions in Educational Technology (June 15th /April 29th 2014)

What is floating, what is sustaining: ” Ideas and trends emerge, peak and die away as attention moves to the latest new thing. At the time of writing MOOCs dominate the discourse. Yet the developments around Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) have not gone away.  It could be argued that the development and adoption of PLEs is not so much driven the educational technology (…) but by the way people (…)  are using technology for learning in their everyday lives.”

Managerism/Consumerism/Prosumerism: “Even when Learning Management Systems were in their prime, there was evidence of serious issues in their use. Teachers tended to use such environments as an extended file storage system; forums and discussion spaces were frequently under populated. In other words such systems were used for managing learning, rather than for learning itself.  Learners expropriated and adapted consumer and productivity applications for their learning.”

Contrast between VLEs/PLEs: “At a development level, there is little point in trying to develop a new PLE to replace the VLE. Instead we need to provide flexible tools which can enhance existing technologies and learning provision, be it formal courses and curricula or informal learning in the workplace or in the community. It can be argued that whilst most educational technology development has focused on supporting learners already engaged in educational programmes and institutions, the major potential of technology and particularly of Personal Learning Environments is for the majority of people not enrolled on formal educational programmes.”

Open learning/Open Educational Resources/ MOOCs: “Such changes are reflected in the growing movement towards open learning, be it in the form of MOOCs or in the increasing availability of Open Educational Resources. The popularity of MOOCs has revealed a vast pent up demand for learning and at least in the form of the c-MOOCs has speeded the adoption of PLEs. MOOCs are in their infancy and we can expect the rapid emergence of other forms of open learning or open education in the next few years.”

MOOCs – only hype?: “MOOCs are now set on the downside of the hype cycle and it is not difficult to find critics – or even those predicting their immanent end. I can’t see much sign of them going away = if anything there seems to be more and more MOOCs appearing – although that may be just a result of better discoverability. However there does seem to be huge variation in design, duration and above all quality although we do not really have any agreed criteria for measuring quality.”

So what: “Despite the issues of design and quality, the sheer numbers of learners signing up for MOOCs deserves some reflection. I interpret it as a vast pent up demand for opportunities for learning. (…) MOOCs have enabled a massive expansion in the scope of subjects on offer as Open Education. So, even though I sympathise with the critics, particularly as to the quality of pedagogy, I think we should see MOOCs in that light. MOOCs are one iteration in the use of technology to greatly expand Open Education and to make that education available to everyone.”

OK, here I have picked some thoughts that Graham has brought forward in the course of debates and as candidates for ‘lessons from the debates’. However, these are still at the level of educational debates. What we in the Learning Layers are looking for, is something to put into practice and something that sustains in the hard test of practice. I think Graham has something more to say in this respect – I will continue my reading.

More blogs to come …

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