Archive for the ‘PLE2010’ Category

Personal Learning Environment multi media goodness

July 6th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

In Monday’s edition of weeks series of blog posts around the PLE2010 conference being held in Barcelona, I commented on the use of social media. Indeed, from the level of on-line activity the conference has already started! You can pick up on what is happening through following the #PLE_2010 hash tag. And the #PLE_BCN daily newspaper – provides a surprisingly rich picture of what is going on. But here are a few posts which have caught my eye.

Firstly George Couros has blogged that he is “honoured to be asked to moderate a session at the PLE Conference in Barcelona (#PLE_BCN on Twitter) to talk about what exactly is a Personal Learning Environment.  In this session, myself and 3 other educators (Cristina Costa, Ilona Buchem and Wolfgang Reinhardt) that are located all over the world, will work with participants to figure out a definition for the PLE term. ” George has posted the following diagramme to start the discussion.
PLE diagramme

Sia Vogel has contributed the following Prezi towards Alec Couros’s and my joint unkeynote presentation.

PLE_BCN Conference Jordi Adell from epdrntr on Vimeo.

Jordi will be doing a joint keynote with Ismael Pena Lopez. Here is his contribution.

That is all I have time for today. More tomorrow – live from Barcelona.

How do we capture and share our community learning?

July 5th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Well it is PLE2010 Conference week so no apologies is that is the theme of the week. And in pre-conference reflection mood I wanted to reflect on some of the things we have done well and some we have done less well.

Fist of all, PLE2010 has some 70 or so presentations and over 100 delegates. Considering we set out with no large organisations or associations backing the conference I think this is pretty good. The conference has been put together through the hard work of a fairly inexperienced organising committee backed by the experience and enthusiasm of the community – edupunk working at its best!

And most of the publicity has been generated not through traditional media but through the4 us eof social media especially Twitter – just look at #PLE_BCN for proof. There are still barriers to the do it yourself cvonference model – we had big problems setting up payments systems that worked> And whilst the opens ource EasyChair system is sort of OK it does have its quirks (it would be very useful if someone could do some more work on the software).

As I told yesterday, I am very happy about our mix of traditional calls fo contribution (needed for researchers to gain travel grants form institutions with more unconferencing formats for presentation. I am sure the event is going to be a lot of fun.

The issue I think we have not paid sufficient attention to is what we do with the outcomes of the conference. True all the papers etc. are available as on-line proceedings. But how do we represent the outcomes of the different sessions to the wider community? How can we capture ideas and use such ideas in practice and in future research? How can we use the conference as a live event in our community generating new shared knowledge and experience?

Face to face events are valuable, not just for the participants, but for the community as a whole. But I am not sure we make best use of them at the moment. Your ideas would as ever be very welcome.

Looking forward to seeing some of you in Barcelona. 🙂

How we share our ideas #PLE_BCN

July 4th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Share photos on twitter with Twitpicjust created my personal #ple_bcn badge. cool idea to let you... on TwitpicMy badge for the PLE Conference, Barcelona, July 2010 on Twitpic

Participants at the PLe2010 conference have been invited to make their own conference badges. These have been shared on TwitPic

When we launched the PLe2010 conference way back last September we were determined it would not be just another conference. Twenty minute paper presentations, endless slides with bullet points, limited discussion. Yes, we wanted people to have a good time in the evenings but how could we move those evening knowledge sharing sessions inside the conference.

Unconferencing formats such as BarCamps or TeachMeets have generated much enthusiasm and creativity. But for researchers, especially young or emergent researchers, to secure funding for attending international conferences and events, many institutions demand the presentation of an academic paper.

So, we tried to get the best of both worlds. We appointed an academic board and all papers were subjected to a two person blind review process. We then grouped the various contributions by theme and language and went on to appoint chairs for each session. We wrote to each chair asking them to contact the presenters in their session and to agree a format for the session. We left the final format to the chair and presenters but indicated we wished for the sessions to involve all participants in as far as was possible. And we got some great proposals. Here is a selection of some of the formats which have been proposed for the different sessions at PLE20010.

Speed Learning Cafe (Jane Challinor)

  1. Chair starts with brief introduction to the process and asks audience to divide into three groups /tables
  2. There is then a 10 minute presentation  by each of three presenters (Chair keeps time with stopwatch throughout!!)
  3. Each presenter then goes to sit with a group at one of the three tables, which are  covered in blank paper & supplied with marker pens
  4. The presenters begin a conversation with their table using a single SPECIFIC – but not CLOSEDquestion relating to their specific research/interest. The aim is to gather some additional thoughts/learning or questions from the group on the theme of the workshop.
  5. Audience and presenters write notes on the table based on the conversation in the form of further questions/ thoughts
  6. Groups change to second table/ presenter after 5 minutes. Repeat steps 5 & 6
  7. Groups change to third table/ presenter after 5 minutes. Repeat steps 5 & 6
  8. Each presenter in turn summarises the conversations (3 – 5 key learning points from the session)
  9. Thank you & goodbye!! – Chair

Poster Session (Graham Attwell)

We will provide participants 10 minutes to look at the posters

Each of you will be invited to introduce your poster for 5 minutes

There will be space for participants to ask questions..

Participants will be invited to write down issues arising from your posters on a sticky note.

We will then group the issues and depending on the number of groups rate the importance.

We will then form groups for discussing those issues and hold a brief plenary at the end

Speed / learning café (Cristina Costa)

What does that mean?

It means that you will have 7 minutes to present your paper, focusing on the main key points (only 1 slide is allowed!… that is if you are using slides at all. You can use whatever you want!) It may sound a bit mad, but the fact is that short presentations are more focused and therefore more appealing to the listener.

The presentations will be followed by rotating groups discussions, as delegates will take turns participating in the discussions started by your presentations (hence the importance of making your presentation thought provoking).

Each discussion will last for 10 minutes. Every 10 minutes delegates will move to the next table. In each table there will be a laptop (please bring one along if you have one!) so that participants can annotate their discussions in a wiki page.

The session will end with a short presentation (3 minutes) by each group about the conclusions they have reached.

Paper Session (Maria Perifanou)

Time available for the session: 75min

Introduction of the presenters: 2min

Presentation of the findings of your research: 15min

Conclusion of the presentation with some questions for the audience asking for their feedback ( possible problems that you have faced during your research, future research questions….): 10min

Questions from the audience: 10min

Time for work for the participants: 20 min. The participants will be divided in groups. Each group will have to do a quick reasearch regarding the integration of technology in the education (and in everyday life) in their countries with a focus on the PLE concept. Are students on the way for the development of their PLEs or is it something that looks like a “dream” for the future
based on the findings of their research?

Presentation of the groups work findings – comparison of them with the findings of your research: 15min

End of the session: Conclusions 3min

Paper Session (Isamel Pena Lopez)

I see the common denominator of the session is _support_ in the sense of “let’s tell our ‘supportees’ what does work so they can put it into practice”. Which means:

1.- there are some problems in my learning process that need being addressed

2.- solutions to fix these problems that do not work

3.- solutions that do

4.- (and likely) an assessment on how these solutions that work were

4a.—— put into practice

4b.—— their performance evaluated

My proposal.

GOAL: Instead of everyone telling their story, let’s try to end up with a shared one.
GOAL: let’s have it written so people can take it away with them

15:45 I would begin with an über-short presentation of everyone of you. That is not more than 6 minutes (2 per presenting group). And a presentation of how we will proceed. Total, 10′. I sit up with a blank powerpoint.

15:55 Each group has 3′ to explain what problems (point 1 aforementioned) they are addressing. I put them on the powerpoint without attribution, so I can merge them, rephrase them, avoid repetitions, etc.

16:04 Same with point 2.

16:13 Same with point 3.

16:22 Same with point 4a.

16:31 Same with point 4b.

16:40 We review the (now) shared presentation, let everyone in the room speak out their thoughts, add things, delete others, etc.

17:00 End of session.

Paper Session (Maria Perifanou)

4 presentations,  8min each (32min total) + 3 min (12min total) for the conclusion of each presentation with a presenter’s question to the audience for feedback  (maybe a research question for the future, something that troubles him/her in his research).

Participants write sticky notes at the same time -5min participants to add sticky notes (also
presenters can add issues for their feedback) -3min for 4 groups division  (12min in total)
-15min groups work -4min each group to report back (16min in total) -2min for presenters’ feedback to the 4 groups:  (8min in total)

Wirtualne warszaty i mapa myśli

July 1st, 2010 by Ilona Buchem

Moi drodzy, już niedługo już za momencik odbędzie się PLE konferencja #PLE_BCN w Barcelonie (8-9 lipca), którą przygotowujemy już od dawna (od dobrych 7 miesięcy). Właśnie dopinam wszystko do końca – przygotowywuję newsletter, prezentację na pecha kucha no i na warsztaty, które poprowadzę wraz z Cristina Costa (UK), Wolfgang Reinhardt (DE) i George Couros (CA) na temat definicji konceptu osobistych środowisk uczenia się. Tutaj możecie zobaczyć początkową kolekcję definicji. Warsztaty te będą miały formę „collaborative mind mapping“, czyli wspólne tworzenie mapy myśli w grupie realne i wirtualnej. W tym celu będziemy posługiwać się programem mindmeister, który daje bardzo wiele możliwści wspólnego tworzenia map myśli w tym samym czasie i asynchronicznie. Zarówno uczestnicy konferencji, jak i wszystkie inne osoby, które mają dostęp do Internetu i konto w minmeister bedą mogły uczestniczyć w tych warsztatach! Także zapraszam Was wszystkich serdecznie do brania udziału i tworzenia wspólnej mapy myśli! Warsztaty te odbędą sie w piątek, 9 lipca 15:45 do 17:00. We wtorek podam na tej stronie linka do początkowej mapy myśli i hasło do zalogowania się w piątek … ciąg dalszy nastąpi …

Context and the design of Personal Learning Environments

July 1st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Part two of my new paper on Personal Learning environments, focusing on context, and written for the PLE2010 conference in Barcelona next week.

How can the idea of context help us in designing work based Personal Learning Environments? First, given the varied definitions, it might be apposite to explain what we mean by a PLE. PLEs can be seen as the spaces in which people interact and communicate and whose ultimate result is learning and the development of collective know-how. In terms of technology, PLEs are made-up of a collection of loosely coupled tools, including Web 2.0 technologies, used for working, learning, reflection and collaboration with others.

As such, PLEs offer some solutions to the issue of the fluid and relational nature of context. PLEs, unlike traditional educational technology are mobile, flexible and not context dependent. They can move from one domain to another and make connections between them. Secondly PLEs can support and facilitate a greater variety of relationships than traditional educational media. These include relationships within and between networks and communities of practice and support for collaborative working. PLEs shift the axis of control from the teacher to the learners and thus alter balance of power within learning discourses. And, perhaps critically, PLEs support a greater range of learning discourses than traditional educational technology.

PLEs are able to link knowledge assets with people, communities and informal knowledge (Agostini et al, 2003) and support the development of social networks for learning (Fischer, 1995). Razavi and Iverson (2006) suggest integrating weblogs, ePortfolios, and social networking functionality both for enhanced e-learning and knowledge management, and for developing communities of practice. A PLE can use social software for informal learning which is learner driven, problem-based and motivated by interest – not as a process triggered by a single learning provider, but as a continuing activity.

So far we have stressed the utility of PLEs in being flexible and adaptable to different contexts. In a work based context, the ‘Learning in Process’ project (Schmidt, 2005) and the APOSDLE project (Lindstaedt, and Mayer, 2006) have attempted to develop embedded, or work-integrated, learning support where learning opportunities (learning objects, documents, checklists and also colleagues) are recommended based on a virtual understanding of the learner’s context.

However, while these development activities acknowledge the importance of collaboration, community engagement and of embedding learning into working and living processes, they have not so far addressed the linkage of individual learning processes and the further development of both individual and collective understanding as the knowledge and learning processes (Attwell. Barnes, Bimrose and Brown, 2008). In order to achieve that transition (to what we term a ‘community of innovation’), processes of reflection and formative assessment have a critical role to play.

Personal Learning Environments are by definition individual. However it is possible to provide tools and services to support individuals in developing their own environment. In looking at the needs of careers guidance advisors for learning Attwell, Barnes, Bimrose and Brown, (2008) say a PLE should be based on a set of tools to allow personal access to resources from multiple sources, and to support knowledge creation and communication. Based on an scoping of knowledge development needs, an initial list of possible functions for a PLE have been suggested, including: access/search for information and knowledge; aggregate and scaffold by combining information and knowledge; manipulate, rearrange and repurpose knowledge artefacts; analyse information to develop knowledge; reflect, question, challenge, seek clarification, form and defend opinions; present ideas, learning and knowledge in different ways and for different purposes; represent the underpinning knowledge structures of different artefacts and support the dynamic re-rendering of such structures; share by supporting individuals in their learning and knowledge; networking by creating a collaborative learning environment.

People tagging

However, rather than seeking to build a monolithic application which can meet all these needs, a better approach may be to seek to develop tools and services which can meet learning needs related to particular aspects of such needs. And in developing such a tool, it is useful to reflect on the different aspects of context involved in the potential use of such tools.  The European Commission supported Mature project is seeking to research and develop Personal Learning and Maturing Environments and Organisation Learning and Maturing Environments to support knowledge development and ‘maturing’ in organisations. The project has developed a number of use cases and demonstrators, following a participatory design process and aiming at supporting learning in context for careers guidance advisors.

One such demonstrator is a ‘people tagging’ application (Braun, Kunzmann and Schmidt, 2010). According to the project report “Knowing-who is an essential element for efficient knowledge maturing processes, e.g. for finding the right person to talk to. Take the scenario of where a novice Personal Adviser (P.A.) needs to respond to a client query. The P.A. does not feel sufficiently confident to respond adequately, so needs to contact a colleague who is more knowledgeable, for support. The key problems would be:

  • How does the P.A. find the right person to contact
  • How can the P.A. find people inside, and even outside, the employing organisation?
  • How can colleagues who might be able to support the P.A. be identified and contacted quickly and efficiently?

Typically, employee directories, which simply list staff and their areas of expertise, are insufficient. One reason is that information contained in the directories is outdated; or it is not described in an appropriate manner; or it focuses too much on ‘experts’; and they often do not include external contacts (Schmidt & Kunzmann 2007).

Also Human Resource Development needs to have sufficient information about the needs and current capabilities of current employees to make the right decisions. In service delivery contexts that must be responsive to the changing needs of clients, like Connexions services, it is necessary to establish precisely what additional skills and competencies are required to keep up with new developments. The people tagging tool would provide a clear indication of:

  • What type of expertise is needed?
  • How much of the requisite expertise already exists within the organisation?”

At a technical level the demonstrator includes:

  • A bookmarking widget for annotating persons, which can be invoked as a bookmarklet
  • A browsing component for navigating annotated people based on the vocabulary
  • An employee list and profile visualization of annotated people
  • A search component for searching for people
  • A collaborative real-time editor of the shared vocabulary that allows for consolidating tags and introducing hierarchical relationships
  • An analysis component for displaying trends based on search and tagging behaviour.

The application seeks to meet the challenge of aligning the maturing of ontological knowledge with the development of the knowledge about people in the organization (and possibly beyond).

Early evaluation results suggest that people tagging is accepted by employees in general, and that they view it as beneficial on average. The evaluation “has also revealed that we have to be careful when designing such a people tagging system and need to consider affective barriers, the organizational context, and other motivational aspects so that it can become successful and sustainable. Therefore we need to develop a design framework (and respective technical enablement) for people tagging systems as socio-technical systems that covers aspects like control, transparency, scope etc. This design framework needs to be backed by a flexible implementation.”

Technology Enhanced Boundary Objects

A further approach to supporting Personal Learning environments for careers guidance professional is based on the development of Technology Enhanced Boundary Objects (TEBOs). Mazzoni and Gaffuri (2009) consider that PLEs as such may be seen as boundary objects in acting to support transitions within a Zone of Proximal Development between knowledge acquired in formal educational contexts and knowledge required for performance or practice within the workplace. Alan Brown (2009) refers to an approach to designing technologically enhanced boundary objects that promote boundary crossing for careers practitioners.

Careers practitioners use labour market information in their practice of advising clients about potential career options. Much of this labour Markey information is gathered from official statistics, providing, for example, details of numbers employed in different professionals at varying degree of granularity, job centre vacancies in time series data at a fine granular level and pay levels in different occupations at a regional level, as well as information about education and training routes, job descriptions and future career predictions. However much of this data is produced as part of the various governmental departments statistical services and is difficult to search for and above all to interpret. Most problematic is the issue of meaning making when related to providing careers advice, information and guidance. The data sits in the boundaries of practice of careers workers and equally at the ordinary of the practice of collating and providing data. Our intention is to develop technology enhanced boundary objects as a series of infographs, dynamic graphical displays, visualisations and simulations to scaffold careers guidance workers in the process of meaning making of such data.

Whilst we are presently working with static data, much of the data is now being provided online with an API to a SPARQL query interface, allowing interrogation of live data. This is part of the open data initiative, led by Nick Shabolt and Tim Berners Lee in the UK. Berners Lee (2010) has recently said that linked data lies at the heart of the semantic web. Our aim is to connect the TEBO to live data through the SPARQL interface and to visualise and represent that data in forms which would allow careers guidance workers and clients to make intelligent meaning of that data in terms of the shared practice of providing and acting on guidance. Such a TEBO could form a key element in a Personal Learning environment for careers guidance practitioners. A further step in exploring PLE services and applications would be to link the TEBO to people tagging services allowing careers practitioners to find those with particular expertise and experience in interpreting labour market data and relating this to careers opportunities at a local level.

There has been considerable interest in the potential of Mash Up Personal Learning Environments (Wild, Mödritscher and Sigurdarson, 2008). as a means of providing flexible access to different tools. Other commentators have focused on the use of social software for learners to develop their own PLEs. Our research into PLEs and knowledge maturing in organisations does not contradict either of these approaches. However, it suggests that PLE tools need to take into account the contexts in which learning takes place, including knowledge assets, people and communities and especially the context of practice. In reality a PLE may be comprised of both general communication and knowledge sharing tools as well as specialist tools designed to meet the particular needs of a community.


In seeking to design a work based PLE it is necessary to understand the contexts in which learning take place and the different discourses associated with that learning. A PLE is both able to transpose the different contexts in which learning takes place and can move from one domain to another and make connections between them. support and facilitate a greater variety of relationships than traditional educational media. At them same time a PLE is able to support a range of learning discourses including discourses taking place within and between different communities if practice. An understanding of the contexts in which learning takes place and of those different learning discourses provides that basis for designing key tools which can form the centre of a work based PLE. Above all a PLE can respond to the demands of fluid and relational discourses in providing scaffolding for meaning making related to practice.


Attwell G. Barnes S.A., Bimrose J. and Brown A, (2008), Maturing Learning: Mashup Personal Learning Environments, CEUR Workshops proceedings, Aachen, Germany

Berners Lee T. (2010) Open Linked Data for a Global Community, presentation at Gov 2.0 Expo 2010,, accessed June 25, 2010

Braun S. Kunzmann C. Schmidt A. (2010) People Tagging & Ontology Maturing: Towards Collaborative Competence Management, In: David Randall and Pascal Salembier (eds.): From CSCW to Web2.0: European Developments in Collaborative Design Selected Papers from COOP08, Computer Supported Cooperative Work Springer,

Brown A. (2009) Boundary crossing and boundary objects – ‘Technologically Enhanced Boundary Objects’. Unpublished paper for the Mature IP Project

Lindstaedt, S., & Mayer, H. (2006). A storyboard of the APOSDLE vision. Paper presented at the 1st European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, Crete (1-4 October 2006)

Mazzoni E. and Gaffuri P .(2009) Personal Learning environments for Overcoming Knowledge Boundaries between activity Systems in emerging adulthood, eLearning papers,, accessed December 26, 2009

Schmidt A., Kunzmann C. (2007) Sustainable Competency-Oriented Human Resource Development with Ontology-Based Competency Catalogs, In: Miriam Cunningham and Paul Cunningham (eds.): eChallenges 2007, 2007,, accessed 27 June, 2010

Schmidt, A. (2005) Knowledge Maturing and the Continuity of Context as a Unifying Concept for Integrating Knowledge Management and ELearning. In: Proceedings I-KNOW ’05, Graz, 2005.

Wild, F., Mödritscher, F., & Sigurdarson, S. (2008). Designing for Change: Mash-Up Personal Learning Environments. elearning papers, 9. 1-15. Retrieved from

Wilson, S., Liber, O., Johnson, M., Beauvoir, P., Sharples, P., & Milligan, C. (2006). Personal learning environments challenging the dominant design of educational systems. Paper presented at the ECTEL Workshops 2006, Heraklion, Crete (1-4 October 2006

Personal Learning Environments and Context

June 29th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am rushing to produce my paper on ‘Supporting Learning in the Workplace’ for the PLE2010 conference (and trying to resist the temptation to recycle previous material!). The paper focuses on the issue of context, building on discussions I have had with Jenny Hughes, based on her contributions to Stephen Downes and Rita Kop’s excellent Critical Literacies course.

The  key section (which is most certainly only a first draft) is called “Problematising the Learning Space: Contexts for Learning.” Any feedback very welcome.

A major issue on designing a work based PLE is in problematising the learning space. This involves examining relations, context, actions and learning discourses. Vygotsky’s approach to cognitive development is sociocultural, working on the assumption that “action is mediated and cannot be separated from the milieu in which it is carried out” (Wertsch, 1991:18).

The socio cultural milieu mediating actions and learning in the workplace includes s series of different relationships (Attwell and Hughes, 21010).

The first is the relationships between teachers and learners. Yet, as we have already pointed out, much learning in the workplace may take place in the absence of a formal teacher or trainer. It may be more appropriate to talk in Vygotskian terms of a More Knowledgeable Other. “The More Knowledgeable Other. 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),

The second relationship is that between learners themselves. The third is relationships between learners and the wider community. In the context of work based learning that community could include formal education institutions, communities of practice or local or extended personal learning networks. Institutions. And in the context of Personal Learning Environments it is important not to forget the relationships between learners and technology. Technology will play a key role in mediating both the other relationships and mediating learning itself.

The socialcultutal milieu also includes the learning contexts. The most obvious aspect of context is where the learning takes place. Learning takes place in wider physical and online communities as well as at home and in the workplace. This relates to the issue of. physical domains. We can learn through h training workshops, through online communities or even through watching a television programme. A key issue here may be the distance of that domain from our practice Learning about computing through using a computer means the learning domain is close to practice. However learning through a training workshop may be more or less close to actual practice. Equally some enterprises have developed training islands within the workplace with aim of lessoning the distance between the learning domain and practice. Obviously the context of practice is key to work based learning and we will return to this issue. A further aspect of context is the wider social political, cultural and sub cultural environment. This in itself contains a raft of issues including factors such as the time and cost of learning and rewards for learning.

A further and critical aspect of context is what is judged as legitimate in terms of process and content. How are outcomes defined, what constitutes success and how is it measured?

Another critical issue on problematising the learning space is the nature of different learning discourse s. Learning discourses are dependent of different factors.

Firstly they can be viewed as am set of practices. Wenger points out that we practice eis not learned individually but is dependent on social relations in communities.

“Over time, this collective learning results in practices that reflect both the pursuit of our enterprises and the attendant social relations. These practices are thus the property of a kind of community created over time by the sustained pursuit of a shared enterprise. It makes sense, therefore to call these kinds of communities communities of practice.”

Although the nature and composition of these communities varies members are brought together by joining in common activities and by ‘what they have learned through their mutual engagement in these activities.’

According to Wenger, a community of practice defines itself along three dimensions:

  • What it is about – its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members.
  • How it functions – mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity.
  • What capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time.

A community of practice involves much more than the technical knowledge or skill For a community of practice to function it needs to generate and appropriate a shared repertoire of ideas, commitments and memories. It also needs to develop various resources such as tools, documents, routines, vocabulary and symbols that in some way carry the accumulated knowledge of the community. In other words, it involves practice: ways of doing and approaching things that are shared to some significant extent among members.

Secondly, learning discourses can be viewed in terms of processes methodologies and structures. As we said earlier work based learning may be more or less structured and formalised and the degree of interaction of learning processes with work processes.

Learning discourses can also be seen as taking place through the exploration of boundary objects, Boundary objects are another idea associated with Vygotsky and have attracted particular interest by those interested in Communities of Practice. The idea was introduced by Susan Leigh Star and James R. Griesemer (1989): “Boundary objects are objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds.”

According to Denham (2003) “boundary objects serve as point of mediation and negotiation around intent” and can comprise a place for shared work. Denham goes on to say “Boundary objects are not necessarily physical artifacts such as a map between two people: they can be a set of information, conversations, interests, rules, plans, contracts, or even persons.”

As a class of knowledge artefacts their importance may lay in their role in dynamic knowledge exchange and are “associated with process, meaning, participation, alignment and reification.”

Whilst reports and documents may be considered boundary objects, they can also be seen as information spaces for the creation of knowledge. A boundary object could also be a space for dialogue and interaction. Ravenscroft (2009) has advocated “knowledge maturing through dialogue and the advantages of linking ‘learning dialogues’ and artefacts.” Knowledge maturing, he suggests, can be  “supported through setting up an appropriate dialogic space in the digital milieu

The key aspect of learning discourses it that they are fluid and relational. Vygotsky held that “environment cannot be regarded as a static entity and one which is peripheral in relation to development, but must be seen as changeable and dynamic.” It is this fluid and dynamic nature of learning  environments and discourses which provides the central challenge to the design of a PLE, particularly in a workplace context.

The PLE2010 Conference unKeynote

June 28th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Alec Couros and Graham Attwell have been paired together as co-keynotes at the PLE Conference in Barcelona, Spain, July 8-9. The organizers have asked us to do something different than a typical keynote, so we have been thinking about an unKeynote format. In keeping with the theme of the conference (PLEs), we’re hoping that individuals in our network would be willing to help us frame what this might look like.

How the Session is Going to Work:
We have put together a  a list of questions (see below) and are inviting your responses. We will put together a joint presentation based on your slides.

We will present the ‘keynote’ together but will be encouraging participants – both face to face and remotely – to contribute to the keynote as it develops.

Where We Need Help:

  1. We’d like you to respond to one or more of these ‘key questions’ found below. We suggest responding through the creation of a (PowerPoint) slide, or creating a very short video (less than 1 minute?). Or, if you can think of another way of representing your ideas, please be creative.
  2. We’d like you to provide questions for us. What did we miss? What are some of the important questions for consideration when exploring PLEs/PLNs in teaching & learning.
  3. Please send your responses to graham10 [at] mac [dot] com (and you may cc: couros [at] gmail [dot] com) by July 6/10.

Key Questions:

  1. With all of the available Web 2.0 tools, is there a need for “educational technology”?
  2. What are the implications of PLEs/PLNs on traditional modes/structures of education?
  3. What are the key attributes of a healthy PLE/PLN?
  4. What pedagogies are inspired by PLEs (e.g., networked learning, connected learning)? Give examples of where PLEs/PLNs have transformed practice.
  5. What are the implications of PLEs/PLNs beyond bringing educational technology into the classroom, and specifically toward workplace/professional learning?
  6. If PLEs/PLNs are becoming the norm, what does it mean for teachers/trainers (or the extension: what does it mean for training teachers & trainers)?
  7. As our networks continue to grow, what strategies should we have in managing our contacts, our connections, and our attention? Or, extension, how scalable are PLEs/PLNs?
  8. Can we start thinking beyond PLEs/PLNs as models? Are we simply at a transitional stage? What will be the next, new model for learning in society? (e.g., where are we headed?)

PLE2010 MediaCast Contest

June 25th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

With twelve days to go the the PLE2010 Conference in Barcelona, Pontydysgu is going to be featuring  some of the events being organised around the conference> Voting is now open for the Mediacast competition: a celebration of User Generated Content with awards for the best three mediacast productions on Personal Learning Environments. You can vote by joining the the YouTube group for the PLE conference at

This video is by Jane Challinor from Nottingham University in the UK.

The PLE unKeynote

June 19th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have been paired together with Alec Couros as co-keynotes at the PLE Conference in Barcelona, Spain, July 8-9. The organizers have recently asked us to do something different than a typical keynote, so we have been thinking about an unKeynote format. In keeping with the theme of the conference (PLEs), we’re hoping that individuals in our network would be willing to help us frame what this might look like. We would like you to write your ideas in the shared Google document. We will review all your ideas, come up with a format and then once more invite your inputs.

The document is open and can be accessed by clicking this link.

The Future of Learning Environments (short version)

June 3rd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

In March I wrote a paper on ‘The Future of Learning Environments; for a publication from the IATEL conference held in Darmstadt last year. I have been asked to produce a short verion of the paper for translation to German. Here it is.

The Future of Learning Environments

1. Introduction

The present ‘industrial’ schooling system is fast becoming dysfunctional, neither providing the skills and competences required in our economies nor corresponding to the ways in which we are using the procedural and social aspects of technology for learning and developing and sharing knowledge.

One major impact of internet technologies has been to move access to learning and knowledge outside of institutional boundaries. The internet provides ready and often free access to a wealth of books, papers, videos, blogs, scientific research, news and opinion. It also provides access to expertise in the form of networks of people.

Schools and universities can no longer claim a monopoly as seats of learning or of knowledge. Such learning and knowledge now resides in distributed networks. Learning can take place in the home, in work or in the community as easily as within schools.

Technology is also challenging traditional expert contributed disciplinary knowledge as embodied in school curricula. The explosion of freely available sources of information has helped drive rapid expansion in the accessibility of the canon and in the range of knowledge available to learners. We are being forced to re-examine what constitutes knowledge and are moving from expert developed and sanctioned knowledge to collaborative forms of knowledge construction.

2. The challenge to traditional learning environments

The present north European schooling systems evolved from the needs of the industrial revolutions for a literate and numerate workforce. Besides the acquisition of knowledge and skills needed by the economy, schools also acted as a means of selection, to determine those who might progress to higher levels of learning or employment requiring more complex skills and knowledge.

The homogeneity of existing schooling systems and curricula is in stark contrast to the wealth of different learning pathways available through the internet. The internet offers the promise of Personal Learning Pathways, of personal and collaborative knowledge construction and meaning making through distributed communities.

The evolution of the school system can also be seen in terms of dominant media. Frieson and Hug (2009) argues that “the practices and institutions of education need to be understood in a frame of reference that is mediatic: “as a part of a media-ecological configuration of technologies specific to a particular age or era.” The school, he says is “a kind of separate, reflective, critical pedagogical “space,” isolated from the multiple sources of informational “noise” in an otherwise media-saturated lifeworld.” Thus, schooling systems have become isolated from the changing forms of learning and knowledge exchange facilitated by the internet.

3. How we use computers for learning

Web 2.0 applications and social software mark a change in our use of computers from consumption to creation. A series of studies and reports have provided rich evidence of the ways young people are using technology and the internet for socialising, communicating and for learning. Young people are increasingly using technology for creating and sharing multi media objects and for social networking. Such a process of creation, remixing and sharing is similar to Levi Struass’s (1962) idea of bricolage as a functioning of the logic of the concrete. Young people today are collecting their treasure to make their own meanings of objects they discover on the web. In contrast our education systems are based on specialised tools and materials.

Social networking is also increasingly a source of learning and the development and sharing of knowledge. A UK survey (McIntosh, 2008) has found the main use of the internet by young people, by far, is for learning: 57% use the net for homework, saying it provides more information than books. 15% use it for learning that is not ’school’. 40% use it to stay in touch with friends, 9% for entertainment such as YouTube.

A further survey into the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises found few instances of the use of formal educational technologies (Attwell, 2007). But the study found the widespread everyday use of internet technologies for informal learning, utilizing a wide range of business and social software applications.

It is not just the material and functional character of the technologies which is important but the potential of the use of new technologies to contribute to a new “participatory culture” (Jenkins at al). “Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways.”

Thus we can see the ways in which technology and the internet is being used for constructing knowledge and meaning through bricolage and through developing and sharing content. This takes place through extended social networks which both serve for staying in touch with friends but also for seeking information and for learning in a participatory culture.

4. Personal Learning Environments

In education, technology has been used to maintain existing practices “by perpetuating the Industrial Era-inspired, assembly line notion that the semester-bound course is the naturally appropriate unit of instruction (Reigeluth, 1999).” Herrington, Reeves, and Oliver (2005) argue that course management software leads universities to “think they are in the information industry”.

This contrast to ”the authentic learning environments prompted by advances in cognitive and constructivist learning theories.” Socio-cultural theories of knowledge acquisition stress the importance of collaborative learning and ‘learning communities.’ Agostini et al. (2003) complain about the lack of support offered by many virtual learning environments (VLEs) for emerging communities of interest and the need to link with official organisational structures within which individuals are working. Ideally, VLEs should link knowledge assets with people, communities and informal knowledge (Agostini et al, 2003) and support the development of social networks for learning (Fischer, 1995). The idea of a personal learning space is taken further by Razavi and Iverson (2006) who suggest integrating weblogs, ePortfolios, and social networking functionality in this environment both for enhanced e-learning and knowledge management, and for developing communities of practice.

Based on these ideas of collaborative learning and social networks within communities of practice, the notion of Personal Learning Environments is being put forward as a new approach to the development of e-learning tools (Wilson et al, 2006) that are no longer focused on integrated learning platforms such as VLEs or course management systems. In contrast, these PLEs are made-up of a collection of loosely coupled tools, including Web 2.0 technologies, used for working, learning, reflection and collaboration with others. PLEs can be seen as the spaces in which people interact and communicate and whose ultimate result is learning and the development of collective know-how. A PLE can use social software for informal learning which is learner driven, problem-based and motivated by interest – not as a process triggered by a single learning provider, but as a continuing activity. Attwell. Barnes, Bimrose and Brown, (2008) say a PLE should be based on a set of tools to allow personal access to resources from multiple sources, and to support knowledge creation and communication. Whilst PLEs may be represented as technology, including applications and services, more important is the idea of supporting individual and group based learning in multiple contexts and of promoting learner autonomy and control. Conole (2008) suggests a personal working environment and mixture of institutional and self selected tools are increasingly becoming the norm. She says: “Research looking at how students are appropriating technologies points to similar changes in practice: students are mixing and matching different tools to meet their personal needs and preferences, not just relying on institutionally provided tools and indeed in some instances shunning them in favour of their own personal tools.”

5. Vygotsky and Personal Learning Environments

A Personal Learning Environment is developed from tools or artefacts. Vygotsky (1978) considered that all artefacts are culturally, historically and institutionally situated. “In a sense, then, there is no way not to be socioculturally situated when carrying out an action. Conversely there is no tool that is adequate to all tasks, and there is no universally appropriate form of cultural mediation. Even language, the ‘tool of tools’ is no exception to this rule”

Vygotsky developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is the gap between “actual developmental level” which children can accomplish independently and the “potential developmental level” which children can accomplish when they are interacting with others who are more capable peers or adults.

In Vygotsky’s view, interactions with the social environment, including peer interaction and/or scaffolding, are important ways to facilitate individual cognitive growth and knowledge acquisition.

Vykotsky called teachers – or peers – who supported learning in the ZDP 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.

The role of a Personal Learning Environment may be not only that of a tool to provide access to ‘More Knowledgeable Others’ but as part of a system to allow learners to link learning to performance in practice, though work processes. And taking a wider view of artefacts as including information or knowledge accessed through a PLE, reflection on action or performance may in turn generate new artefacts for others to use within a ZPD. Social media and particularly video present rich opportunities for the modelling of ways of completing a task, especially given the ability of using social networking software to support communities of practice. However, imitation alone may not be sufficient in the context of advanced knowledge work. Rather, refection is required both to understand more abstract models and at the same time to reapply models to particular contexts and instances of application in practice. Thus PLE tools need to be able to support the visualisation or representation of models and to promote reflection on their relevance and meaning in context.

Within this perspective a Personal Learning Environment could be seen as allowing the representation of knowledge, skills and prior learning and a set of tools for interaction with peers to accomplish further tasks. The PLE would be dynamic in that it would allow reflection on those task and further assist in the representation of prior knowledge, skills and experiences. In this context experiences are seen as representing performance or practice. Through access to external symbol systems (Clark, 1997) such as metadata, ontologies and taxonomies the internal learning can be transformed into externalised knowledge and become part of the scaffolding for others as a representation of a MKO within a Zone of Proximal Development. Such an approach to the design of a Personal Learning Environment can bring together the everyday evolving uses of social networks and social media with pedagogic theories to learning.

6. The Future of Learning Environments

The major impact of the uses of new technologies and social networking for learning is to move learning out of the institutions and into wider society. Institutions must rethink and recast their role as part of community and distributed networks supporting learning and collaborative knowledge development.. This is a two way process, not only schools reaching outwards, but also opening up to the community, distributed or otherwise, to join in collaborative learning processes.

The future development of technology looks likely to increase pressures for such change. Social networks and social networking practice is continuing to grow and is increasingly integrated in different areas of society and economy. At the same time new interfaces to computers and networks are likely to render the keyboard obsolescent, allowing the integration of computers and learning in everyday life and activity.  Personal Learning Pathways will guide and mediate progression through this expanded learning environment.


Agostini, A., Albolino, S., Michelis, G. D., Paoli, F. D., & Dondi, R. (2003). Stimulating knowledge discovery and sharing. Paper presented at the 2003 International ACM SIGGROUP conference on Supporting group work, Sanibel Island, Florida, USA.

Attwell  G.(ed) 2007, Searching, Lurking and the Zone of Proximal Development, e-learning in Small and Medium enterprises in Europe, Vienna, Navreme

Attwell G. Barnes S.A., Bimrose J. and Brown A, (forthcoming), Maturing Learning: Mashup Personal Learning Environments, CEUR Workshops proceedings, Aachen, Germany

Clark, A. (1997) Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again. Cambridge, Massachusetts: A Bradford Book, The MIT Press

Conole G. (2008) “New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies”, in Ariadne Issue 56,

Dahms M, Geonnotti K, Passalacqua. D Schilk,N.J. Wetzel, A and Zulkowsky M The Educational Theory of Lev Vygotsky: an analysis

Fischer, M. D. (1995). Using computers in ethnographic fieldwork. In R. M. Lee (Ed.), Information Technology for the Social Scientist (pp. 110-128). London: UCL Press

Friesen N and Hug T (2009), The Mediatic Turn: Exploring Concepts for Media Pedagogy. In K. Lundby (Ed.). Mediatization: Concept, Changes, Consequences. New York: Peter Lang. Pp. 64-81. Online version available at:

Herrington, J., Reeves, T., and Oliver, R. (2005). Online learning as information delivery: Digital myopia. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(4): 353-67.

Lévi-Strauss, C. (1962) La Pensée sauvage, Paris, English translation as The Savage Mind (Chicago, 1966)

McIntosh E (2008) Research Summary Series 1: How do people use the internet,, accessed June 1, 2010

Razavi, M. N., & Iverson, L. (2006). A grounded theory of information sharing behavior in a personal learning space. Paper presented at the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Reigeluth, C. M. (1999b). What is instructional design theory and how is it changing? In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory. (pp. 5-29). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Wilson, S., Liber, O., Johnson, M., Beauvoir, P., Sharples, P., & Milligan, C. (2006). Personal learning environments challenging the dominant design of educational systems. Paper presented at the ECTEL Workshops 2006, Heraklion, Crete (1-4 October 2006)

Vygotsky L.(1978) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

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