Archive for the ‘Vygotsky’ Category

Personal Learning Environments, Self Directed Learning and Context

June 15th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Ten days ago I had an email from Alexander Mikroyannidis from the UK Open University. “Together with some colleagues from the EU project ROLE (http://www.role-project.eu)” he said, “I’m preparing a book to be published by Springer. It will be entitled “Personal Learning Environments in Practice” and it will present the results of applying PLEs in different test-beds in the project.

For each chapter, we have invited an external expert to provide a 2-page commentary that will also be published in the book. Would you be available to write such a commentary for the chapter that describes the vision of the project?”

How could I refuse? And here is my contribution:

Research and development in learning technologies is a fast moving field.  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 community but by the way people (and not just students) are using technology for learning in their everyday lives.

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. Such trends became more pronounced with the emergence of Web 2.0 and social software. Social networking applications in particular, allowed the development of personal learning networks. Rather than go to the institutionally sanctioned LMS or VLE, learners communicated through Facebook or Whats App. PLNs were not longer limited to class or course cohorts but encompassed wider social and learning networks. Wikipedia has emerged as a major open resource for learning.

As mobile technologies have become increasingly powerful and, at least in some countries, internet access has become increasingly ubiquitous, learners use their own devices for learning and are not confined to institutional facilities. Regardless of trends in educational technology theory and research, learners are developing and using their own Personal Learning Environments.

At the same time, the ongoing rapid developments in technologies are changing forms of knowledge development and leading to pressures for lifelong learning. Universities and educational institutions can no longer preserve a monopoly on knowledge. Notwithstanding their continuing hold on accreditation, institutions are no longer the only providers of learning, a move seen in the heart-searching by universities as to their mission and role.

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.

Learning is becoming multi-episodic, with people moving in and out of courses and programmes. More importantly the forms and sources of learning are increasingly varied with people combining participation in face-to-face courses, online and blended learning programmes and self directed and peer supported learning using different internet technologies.

These changes are reflected in discussion over pedagogy and digital literacies. It is no longer enough to be computer literate. Learners need to be able to direct and manage their own learning, formal and informal, regardless of form and source. In conjunction with More Knowledge Others (Vygotsky, 1978) they need to scaffold their own learning and to develop a personal knowledge base. At the same time as the dominance of official accreditation wanes, they need to be able to record and present their learning achievement. Personal Learning Environments are merely tools to allow this to happen.

All this leads to the issue of the role of educational technology researchers and developers. In research terms we need to understand more not just about how people use technology or learning but how they construct a personal knowledge base, how they access different resources for learning, including people and how knowledge is exchanged and developed.

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. Not all workplaces or for that matter communities offer a rich environment or learning. Yet there is vast untapped potential in such environments, particularly for the development and sharing of the tacit knowledge and work process knowledge required in many tasks and occupations. PLE tools can help people learning in formal and informal contexts, scaffold their learning and develop a personal learning knowledge base or portfolio.

At both pedagogic and technical levels, context provides a major challenge. Whilst mobile technologies recognise the context of place (through GPS), other and perhaps more important aspects of context are less well supported. This includes time – how is what I learned at one time linked to something I learned later? It includes purpose – why am I trying to learn something? It includes the physical environment around me, including people. And of course it includes the social and semantic links between places, environments, people and objects.

The challenge is to develop flexible applications and tools to enhance peoples’ PLEs and which can recognise context, can support people in scaffolding their learning and develop their own Personal Learning Networks and enhance their ability to direct their own learning and the learning of their peers.

Two major European funded projects, ROLE and Learning Layers are attempting to develop such applications. They both have the potential to make major inroads into the challenges outlined in this short paper.

Reference

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

 

 

 

RadioActive: Inclusive Informal Learning through Internet Radio and Social Media

September 3rd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Andrew Ravenscroft, Casey Edmonds and James Dellow are presenting the Radioactive project at the British Educational Research Association co0nference in Brighton, UK today. Below is a summary of the presentation.

Addressing how disenfranchised young people can be included and engaged within relevant work-related vocational learning paths is one of the key challenges within the UK and across the globe. Weakening social and economic conditions linked to cut-backs in education is arguably producing a ‘lost generation’ of young people who are excluded from education and training, particularly within the UK and Europe. The challenge of including, engaging and educating these marginalised young people, in innovative and low-cost ways, so that they can become active and engaged citizens, who contribute to legitimate economies, is a substantive problem linked to research priorities within the UK and EU.

Our RadioActive initiative addresses these challenges directly, through two related Community Action Research projects, one focussed in London and the UK (RadioActive UK, funded by Nominet Trust), and the other focussed on the broader European landscape (RadioActive EU, funded by the EU Lifelong Learning Programme). Collectively, these projects provide a broad international application of internet radio for inclusion, informal learning and employability.

The project is implementing a radical approach to conceptualising, designing and developing internet radio and social media for informal learning within ‘lived communities’. It embodies the key pedagogical ideas of Paulo Freire (1970) and his notion of transformational (or emancipatory) learning through lived experience.  This is achieved in the UK context through embedding the radio and content production within the existing practices of established youth organisations. The internet radio is used to catalyse, connect and communicate developmental practices within these organisations, leading to rich personal and organisational learning, change and development. In particular, exploring rich and varied personal and community identities, and promoting their articulation, expression and positive transformation, are pivotal to RadioActive. It also embodies a new approach to social media design – that is conceived as an intervention in existing digital, and mixed-reality, cultures. Hence, the application of our approach captures, organises and legitimises the digital practices, content production and critical and creative potential of disenfranchised young people to provide a new and original community voice. This voice combines the intimacy, relevance and ‘touchability’ of local radio with the crowd sourcing power of social media.

This talk will present:  our original rationale and pedagogical approach; the new learning design methodology linked to the resulting RadioActive platform; some exemplar broadcasts and content; and, an evaluation of the degree to which RadioActive has led to personal and community learning and development within participating youth organisations.

Scaffolding learning with and about technology

September 24th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Last week we were in Cadiz at the European Conference on Educational Research. Amongst other things, we produced three live half hour radio programmes and I will upload the podcast copies in the next two days.

Today we had an online meeting of the UK Nominet Trust funded RadioActive project. This is a great new project, using Internet radio to work with young people in Hackney in London. the idea is for them to produce their own programmes, about whatever topics interest them. And in the course of the project we hope they will learn a series of different skills and competences, including interviewing, multimedia, producing and editing music etc.

The grant included funding for equipment, which we bought at the start of the work. Of course, we wanted to make sure we had all the equipment we might need in the course of the two year project (we will post this up soon in case anyone is interested). We adopted a cascade model for training, with Pontydysgu running a two day workshop for youth workers who would be working with the young people. Of course we wanted to show the best that could be done wit such equipment, using wireless microphones, a portable mixing deck and an Apple computer to broadcast a half hour radi0 programme. Although I was not there, by all accounts the workshop was a great success.

The idea was the youth workers would follow up by running their own workshops with young people. But as sometimes happens, contracting issues crept in to delay the live launch. And by the time we were ready for working directly with young people, the youth workers were not confident about using our advanced ‘outside broadcast’ radio set up.

Although we had taken a lot of trouble to design the workshop to scaffold the learning process around skills and competences such as interviewing and designing and producing media, in the course of today’s meeting it became apparent that we had failed to scaffold the learning around the technology.

This afternoon I did a one hour on line training session (using Skype) for one of the project staff. Instead of setting up the mixing deck and wireless microphones, we started simple, using just a USB microphone plugged directly into a computer and focusing on a number of simple first steps:

We did 3 things:

  1. We used GarageBand to record and edit a short voice input (if there had been more people this could have been an interview)
  2. We made a simple jingle mixing a GarageBand loop with a voice over
  3. We downloaded a Creative Commons licensed track from jamendo.com and edited it in Garageband to make our intro music for a programme.

We exported all of these to iTunes and then dragged them onto Soundboard. Sadly we did not have the server settings for Nicecast but if we did we could have then instantly broadcast a programme.

Now I am thinking how we can build a series of activities which both scaffold the content of what we are doing but also scaffold the technology which we use.

Of course I should have done this when we started, but I think it is indicative of a wider problem. We have been working in several projects using Web2.0 technology and social software with teachers and trainers. I think we can get over excited about the possibilities such applications offer. Then instead of focusing on the subject or topic of the learning, learning about the technology overwhelms everything else. I had a conversation with Jenny Hughes some time ago about this and she suggested (if I remember correctly) that we have a develop a dual system of scaffolding – one for the subject and a second for the technology. Of course these two scaffolds will overlap at some point.

I have seen a number of attempts to develop schema or even applications which suggest the best software or apps for any particular learning task but am unconvinced they work or even that this approach is possible. In most cases there will be many different technologies which could be used. I am far more impressed by the format and structure adapted by the Taccle2 project, in which Pontydysgu are a partner. This project focuses directly on teaching and learning and the technology is an enabling factor, rather than the ’50 great apps for learning’ approach so prevalent today.

i will write more on this but would be interested in any feedback / ideas.

 

 

Boundary Crossing and Learning

August 13th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I have been long interested in the idea of boundary objects especially in relation to the use of technology for learning in the workplace. In general I think one of the issues with Technology Enhanced Learning is that we have tended to ignore the importance of physical objects in learning and practice.

Following the presentation by Alan Brown and myself on Technologically Enhanced Boundary Objects (for use in careers guidance) at the final Mature-IP review meeting, Uwe Riss kindly referred us to two papers:

This is Not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept by Susan Leigh Star

and

Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects by Sanne F. Akkerman and Arthur Bakker.

Sadly neither is available for open access (I have university access but I find it very frustrating when there is no open access to important work).

I haven’t read Star’s paper yet, but found the paper by Akkerman and Bakker very useful. They define boundaries as “sociocultural differences that give rise to discontinuities in interaction and action.” They have undertaken an extensive literature review of the use of the idea of boundary crossing in education. In particular I think that Baktin’s idea of ‘dialogicality’ helps explain how learning takes place with multiple sources of ideas and knowledge (which some are referring to as ‘abundance’, through the internet as well as through structured, course based learning.

Bakhtin’s basic line of reasoning was that others or other meanings are required for any cultural category to generate meaning and reveal its depths:

Contextual meaning is potentially infinite, but it can only be actualized when accompanied by another (other’s) meaning, if only by a question in the inner speech of the one who understands. Each time it must be accompanied by another contextual meaning in order to reveal new aspects of its own infinite nature (just as the word reveals its meanings only in context). (Bakhtin, 1986, pp. 145–146)

This Bakhtinian notion of dialogicality comes to the fore in the various claims on the value of boundaries and boundary crossing for learning: learning as a process that involves multiple perspectives and multiple parties. Such an understanding is different from most theories on learning that, first, often focus on a vertical process of progression in knowledge or capabilities (of an individual, group, or organization) within a specific domain and, second, often do not address aspects of heterogeneity or multiplicity within this learning process.

In the second part of their research Akkerman and Bakker look at the “four dialogical learning mechanisms of boundaries”:

  1. identification, which is about coming to know what the diverse practices are about in relation to one another;
  2. coordination, which is about creating cooperative and routinized exchanges between practices;
  3. reflection, which is about expanding one’s perspectives on the practices; and,
  4. transformation, which is about collaboration and codevelopment of (new) practices.

Developing Work based Personal Learning Environments in Small and Medium Enterprises

July 5th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

This is a work in progress. It is the first draft of a paper by Ludger Deitmer and myself for the Personal Learning Environments Conference to be held in Aveiro next week. We are looking at how we might develop work based PLEs drawing on the work on the forthcoming Learning Layers project. there is a downloadable version (in word format) at the bottom of the post. Your feedback is very welcome.

 

Developing Work based Personal Learning Environments in Small and Medium Enterprises

Graham Attwell, Pontydusgu, Wales

Ludger Deitmer, ITB, University of Bremen, Germany

Abstract

This paper is based on a literature review and interviews with employers and trainers in the north German building and construction trades. The work was undertaken in preparing a project application, Learning Layers, for the European Research Programme.

The paper looks at the development of High Performance Work Systems to support innovation in Small and Medium enterprises. It discusses the potential of Personal Learning environments to support informal and work based learning.

The paper goes on to look at the characteristics and organisation of the building and construction industry and at education and training in the sector.

It outlines an approach to developing the use of PLEs based on a series of layers to support informal interactions with people across enterprises, supports creation, maturing and interaction with learning materials as boundary objects and a layer that situates and scaffolds learning support into the physical workplace and captures people’s interactions with physical artefacts inviting them to share their experiences.

Keywords

Building, construction, Small and Medium Enterprises, informal interactions, boundary objects, workplace learning, scaffolding

1. Introduction

Research and development in Personal Learning Environments has made considerable progress in recent years. Yet although often acknowledging the importance of informal learning, such research continues to be largely focused on formal educational institutions from either higher or vocational training and education. Far less attention has been paid to work based and work integrated learning and still less to the particular context of learning at work in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) (Gustavsen, Nyhan, Ennals, 2007). Yet it could be argued that it is in just these contexts, where work can provide a rich learning environment and where there is growing need for continuing professional development to meet demands from new technology, new materials and changing work processes, that PLEs could have the greatest impact. A work environment in which the workers plan, control and validate their work tasks can both competitive and productive (Asheim 2007). It also requires that workers are able to make incremental and continuous improvements to work processes to develop better products and services. This in turn requires continuous learning. In contrast to predominant forms of continuous training based on activities outside the workplace, and in response to the perceived lack of take up of Technology Enhanced Learning in SMEs, we propose a dual approach, based on informal learning and the development of network and mobile technologies including Personal Learning Environments. This paper will describe an approach being developed for learning in SMEs, specifically in the building and construction industry in north Germany.

Our approach is based on the development of high performance work systems in industrial clusters of SMEs. In this context, individual learning leads to incremental innovation within enterprises. Personal Learning environments serve both to support individual learning and organisational learning through a bringing together of learning processes (and technology) and knowledge management within both individual SMEs and dispersed networks of SMEs in industrial clusters. Our approach is also based on linking informal and work based learning and practice and formal training.

The paper is based on literature research and on interviews with employers and trainers in the building and construction sector. This work was undertaken in preparation for a project called Learning Layers, to be undertaken through the European Commission Seventh Framework for Research and due to commence in November 2012.

In the paper we look at the ideas behind high performance work systems and industrial clusters before examining the nature and context of the building and construction industries and particularly of SMEs within the industrial cluster.

We develop a scenario of how PLEs might be used for learning and suggest necessary developments to be undertaken to facilitate the adaptation of such technologies for learning.

2. The challenge for knowledge and skills for the workforce

Many industries are undergoing a period of rapid change with the introduction of new technologies, new production concepts, work processes and materials. This is resulting in new quality requirements for products and processes which lead to an emergence of new skill requirements at all levels of personnel, including management, workers, technicians, apprentices and trainees. These changes can be described as a paradigmatic shift from traditional forms of production towards leaner, agile and flexible production based on high performance work systems (Toner 2011).

Leaner business organisations have less hierarchical layers and develop ‘close to production intelligence’ in order to be more flexible to change and to customer demands. The qualifications required of workers within such production or service environment are broader than in traditional workplaces reflecting a shift from functional skills towards multiskilling. Skilled workers require practical and theoretical knowledge in order to act competently in the planning, preparation, production and control of work and to coordinate with other departments in or outside the company.

Information and communication technologies – including both technologies for learning and for knowledge management – are required to allow more decentralised control to support just-in-time and flexible production and services. A key to flexibility and high productivity lies in the qualification profiles of the workforce and in the development of worker-oriented production technologies, which allow more flexible control in the production process.

The following table illustrates the change in innovation management within such companies and the consequences for the skilling of workers, technicians and the apprentices. This change in production philosophy can be described as a move from a top-down management approach towards a participative management approach (Rauner, Rasmussen & Corbett, 1988; Deitmer & Attwell, 2000) which requires a commitment to innovation at all level of the workforce, not just at the management level.

Innovation management by: control Innovation management by: participation Organisational consequences for the skilling of emerging workers
function-oriented work organisation business-oriented work organisations Learn to work within the flow of the business process and at the work place through experience-based learning
steep hierarchy flat hierarchy Self regulated working and learning based on methods like plan, do, act and control cycle
low level and fragmented qualifications shaping competences Be able to shape workplaces and make suggestions for improvement of services and production processes
executed work commitment, responsibility Developing vocational identity and occupational commitment
external quality control quality consciousness professional level of training based on key work and learning tasks

Table 1 Innovation management and the skilling of workers (Deitmer 2011)

3. Learning by doing and drivers for incremental innovation

Toner (2011) points out that a ‘learning by doing’ strategy in an innovative work environment can lead to gradual improvement in the efficiency of the production processes and product design and performance (Toner 2011). Such improvements are based on high performance skills by workers. High Performance Work Structures are based on the practical knowledge of the workers underpinned by theoretical knowledge (Nyhan 2002, Rauner). Practical knowledge is generated in the context of application and is shaped by criteria such as practicability, functionality and the failure free use of technologies.

In high performance work systems (Toner 2011, Arundel 2006, Gospel 2007, Teece et.al 2000)  the following qualification profiles are emerging:

  • High levels of communication, numeracy, problem solving and team working are required as managerial authority is delegated to the shop floor including the design of the workplace, maintenance and continuous product and process innovation
  • Broad Job Classifications which allow functional flexibility by limiting occupational demarcations and requiring workers to be competent across a broader range of tasks than is conventionally expected which in turn requires broad based training.
  • Organisational learning around new patterns of activities is based on capturing the learning and work experiences of individual workers and teams of workers
  • Flat management hierarchies provide more responsibility for individual workers and work teams in problem solving and in organising work processes

High Performance Work Systems require a commitment to innovation at all levels of the workforce; this process is more inclusive, democratic and incremental rather than elitist, imposed and radical. The empowerment of the work force to make proposals for changes and improvement is key. However the adoption of such practices requires continuous learning linked to knowledge management and systems and technologies to support such processes.

Thus the development of work based PLEs could be linked to wider processes of innovation within SMEs.

4. Learning and innovation in Regional Clusters

Many SMEs organise themselves in clusters or networks in order to collaborate, to share knowledge and skill, or even to exchange staff. The network dimension is particularly important as regional clusters have been understood as an instrument of scaling learning in heavily SME dependent sectors. This is reflected by large EU projects like European Cluster Excellence Initiative. It is much easier to economically justify the creation of learning materials which can be reused in an entire cluster and hence by many organisations than just for a few individuals. The challenge from a network point of view would be to identify such high potential learning materials and to find ways to distribute them efficiently within the network. The current focus of cluster initiatives is almost exclusively on scaling up formal training by organising training across network members. While a Communities of Practice perspective has been adopted in some cases to address informal learning processes, these are usually not effectively supported through information technologies (Prestkvern & Bardalen 2008).

Effects resulting from relationships in networks of small organisations for learning processes have received little attention in Technology Enhanced Learning research to date, despite these networks having been identified as a potential way of fostering favourable learning conditions (Deitmer & Attwell 2000). However, we can build here on work in diverse fields looking into these network effects. Seminal work by Granovetter (1973) has made distinction between strong and weak ties in such networks. Further studies investigated the network effects on experience sharing (Baum, 1998), on social networks (Cross, 2001), of trust on knowledge transfer (Levin, 2004) on communication for innovation (Müller-Prothmann, 2006), on communication with new media (Haythornthwaite, 2002) and more recently on networked learning (Ryberg, 2008). However, the effects on informal learning and on the creation of shared knowledge artefacts are still open issues.

The development and implementation of Personal Learning Environments within the context of regional clusters could support this form of networked informal learning.

However there remain barriers. Research suggests (Perifanou, forthcoming) that SMEs may still be concerned about a perceived loss of competitiveness through openness in collaborative learning contexts. Similarly some SMEs regard learning materials, especially those generated within their organisation, as a potential source of future revenue.

5. Learning approaches and technological support for learning at the workplace

Research suggests that in SMEs much learning takes place in the workplace and through work processes, is multi episodic, is often informal, is problem based and takes place on a just in time basis (Hart, 2011). Rather than a reliance on formal or designated trainers, much training and learning involves the passing on of skills and knowledge from skilled workers (Attwell and Baumgartl, 2009). Dehnbostel (2009) says that learning in the workplace is the oldest and most common method of vocational qualification, developing experience, motivation and social relations. Learning at work is self-directed, process-oriented form of lifelong learning that essentially contributes to personality development and professionalism, and promotes innovation and employability (Streumer, 2001; Dehnbostel, 2009; Fischer, Boreham and Nyhan, 2004).

A survey undertaken in Germany found work based learning comprised of 43% of training and learning undertaken by enterprises (Büchter et al., 2000).

Thus work based learning is seen as a potential approach to developing continuing learning for the broader competences and work process knowledge required for high performance workplaces. Rather than a reliance on formal or designated trainers, much training and learning involves the passing on of skills and knowledge from skilled workers (Attwell and Baumgartl, 2009). In other words, learning is highly individualized and heavily integrated with contextual work practices. While this form of delivery (learning from individual experience) is highly effective for the individual and has been shown to be intrinsically motivating by both the need to solve problems and by personal interest (Attwell, 2007; Hague & Lohan, 2009), it does not scale well: if individual experiences are not further taken up in systematic organisational learning practices, learning remains costly, fragmented and unsystematic.  It has been suggested that Technology Enhanced Learning can overcome this problem of scaling and of systematisation of informal and work based learning. However its potential has not yet been fully realized and especially in many Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), the take-up has not been effective. A critical review of the way information technologies are being used for workplace learning (Kraiger, 2008) concludes that most solutions are targeted towards a learning model based on the idea of formal, direct instruction. TEL initiatives tend to be based upon a traditional business training model with modules, lectures and seminars transferred from face to face interactions to onscreen interactions, retaining the standard tutor/student relationship and the reliance on formal and to some extent standardized course material and curricula.

The development of work based Personal Learning Environments have the potential to link informal learning in the workplace to more formal training. Furthermore they could promote the sharing of experience and work practices and promote collaborative learning within networks of SMEs. Research suggests that in SMEs much learning not only takes place in the workplace and through work processes, but is multi episodic, is often informal, is problem based and takes place on a just in time basis (Hart, 2011).

Learning in the workplace draws on a multitude of existing ‘resources’ – many of which have not been designed for learning purposes (like colleagues, Internet, Intranet) (Kooken et al. 2007). Research on whether these experiential forms of learning lead to effective learning outcomes are mixed. Purely self-directed learning has been shown to be less effective than most guided learning in many laboratory studies and in educational settings (Mayer, 2004). On the other hand, explorative learning in work settings has often been reported to be beneficial, e.g. for allowing construction of mental models and improving transfer (Keith & Frese, 2005). Some form of guidance may be necessary to direct learners’ attention to relevant materials and support their learning (Bell & Kozlowsky, 2008). This is especially true for learners at initial levels (Lindstaedt et al. 2010).

One approach to this issue is to provide scaffolding. The use of scaffolding as a metaphor refers to the provision of temporary support for the completion of a task that a learner might otherwise be unable to achieve. Scaffolding extends the socio-cultural approach of Vygotsky. Vygotsky (1978) suggested that support for learning was provided by a Significantly Knowledgeable Other, who might be a teachers or trainer, but could also be a colleague or peer. Attwell has suggested that such support can be embodied in technology. However, scaffolding knowledge in different domains and in particular in domains that involve a relationship between knowledge and practice requires a closer approach to learning episodes and to the use of physical objects for learning within the workplace. Thus rather than seeing a PLE as a containers or connections- or even as a pedagogical approach – PLEs might be seen instead as a flexible process to scaffold individual and community  learning and knowledge development.

6. Developing Work based PLEs in the Building and Construction Sector

In the first section of this paper we have looked at the idea of high performance work systems and innovation and knowledge development within industrial clusters. We have suggested that Personal Learning Environments could facilitate and develop these processes through building on informal learning in the workplace.  We have recognized the necessity for support for learning through networked scaffolding. In the second section, we will examine in more depth the north German Building and Construction sector, developing a scenario of how PLEs might work in such a context. We will; go on to suggest further research which is needed to refine our idea of how to develop work based PLEs.

7. The Building and Construction Cluster

The building and construction trades are undergoing a period of rapid change with the introduction of green building techniques and materials and new work processes and standards. The EU directive makes near zero energy building mandatory by 2021 (European Parliament 2009). This is resulting in the development of new skill requirements for work on building sites.

The sector is characterized by a small number of large companies and a large number of SMEs in both general building and construction and in specialized craft trades. Building and construction projects require more interactive collaboration within as well as between different craft trade companies within the cluster.

Training for skilled workers has traditionally been provided through apprenticeships in most countries. Continuing training is becoming increasingly important for dealing with technological change. However further training programmes are often conducted outside the workplace with limited connection to real work projects and processes and there is often little transfer of learning. Costs are a constraint for building enterprises, especially SMEs, in providing off the job courses (Schulte and Spöttl, 2009). Although In Germany, as in some other European countries, there is a training levy for sharing training costs between enterprises, there remains a wider issues of how to share knowledge both within enterprises and between workers in different workplaces. Other issues include how to provide just in time training to meet new needs and how to link formal training with informal learning and work based practice in the different craft trades.

The developments of new processes and materials provide substantial challenges for the construction industry. Traditional educational and training methods are proving to be insufficient to meet the challenge of the rapid emergence of new skill and quality requirements (for example those related to green building techniques or building materials). This requires much faster involvement and action at three levels – individual, organisational and cluster. The increased rate of technical change introduces greater uncertainty for firms, which, in turn, demands an increased capacity for problem solving skills (Toner 2011). Despite the recession there is a shortage of skilled craftspeople in some European regions and a problem in recruiting young people for apprenticeships in higher skilled craft work in the building and construction industry.

In the present period of economic uncertainty, it is worth noting that the total turnover of the construction industry in 2010 (EU27) was 1186 billion Euros forming 9,7% of the GDP in 2010 (EU27). The construction industry is the biggest industrial employer in Europe with 13,9 million operatives making up 6,6% of the total employment in EU27 and if programmes were to be launched to stimulate economies, construction has a high multiplier effect.

8. Mobile technologies and work based Personal Learning Environments

Although the European Commission has pointed to the lack of take up of e-Learning in various sectors, this is probably too simplistic an analysis. It may be more that in all sectors, e-learning has been used to a greater or lesser extent for learning in particular occupations and for particular tasks. For example e-Learning is used for those professions which most use computers e.g. in the building and construction industries, by architects and engineers. Equally e-learning is used for generic competences such as learning foreign languages or accounting.

In the past few years, emerging technologies (such as mobile devices or social networks) have rapidly spread into all areas of our life. However, while employees in SMEs increasingly use these technologies for private purposes as well as for informal learning, enterprises have not in general recognized the personal use of technologies as effectively supporting informal learning. As a consequence, the use of these emerging technologies has not been systematically taken up as a sustainable learning strategy that is integrated with other forms of learning at the workplace.

9. An approach to developing PLEs in the work place

We are researching methods and technologies to scale-up informal learning support for PLEs so that it is cost-effective and sustainable, offers contextualised and meaningful support in the virtual and physical context of work practices. through the Learning Layers project we aim to:

  • Ensure that peer production is unlocked: Barriers to participation need to be lowered, the massive reuse of existing materials has to be realized, and experiences people make in physical contexts needs to be included.
  • Ensure individuals receive scaffolds to deal with the growing abundance: We need to research concepts of networked scaffolding and research the effectiveness of scaffolds across different contexts.
  • Ensure shared meaning of work practices at individual, organisational and inter-organisational levels emerges from these interactions: We need to lower barriers for participation, allow emergence as a social negotiation process and knowledge maturing across institutional boundaries, and research the role of physical artefacts and context in this process.

10. The Learning Layers concept: an approach to support informal learning through PLEs

Work based Personal Learning Environments will be based on a series of Learning Layers. In building heavily on existing research on situated and contextualised learning, Learning Layers provide a meaningful learning context when people interact with people, digital and physical artefacts for their informal learning. Learning Layers provide a shared conceptual foundation independent of the personal tools people use for learning. Learning Layers can flexibly be switched on and off, to allow modular and flexible views of the abundance of existing resources in learning interactions. These views both restrict the perspective of the abundant opportunities and augment the learning experience through scaffolds for meaningful learning both in and across digital and physical interaction.

At the same time, Learning Layers invite processes of social contribution for peer production through providing views of existing digital resources and making it easy to capture and share physical interactions. Peer production then becomes a way to establish new and complementary views of existing materials and interactions.

Three Interaction Layers focus on interaction with three types of entities involved in informal learning:

  • a layer that invites informal interactions with people across enterprises in the cluster, scaffolds workplace learning by drawing on networks of learners and keeps these interactions persistent so that they can be used in other contexts by other persons,
  • a layer that supports creation, maturing and interaction with learning materials as boundary objects and guides this processes by tracking the quality and suitability of these materials for learning, and
  • a layer that situates and scaffolds learning support into the physical workplace and captures people’s interactions with physical artefacts inviting them to share their experiences with them.
  • All three interaction layers draw on a common Social Semantic Layer that ensures learning is embedded in a meaningful context. This layer captures and emerges the shared understanding in the community of learners by supporting the negotiation of meaning. To achieve this, the social semantic layer captures a number of models and lets the community evolve these models through PLEs in a social negotiation process.

The following scenario within the building and construction industry illustrate how these technologies will be operational in the regional North West German building and construction cluster.

11. Building and Construction Scenario: Cross-organisational Learning for Sustainable Construction

A regional training provider for the building industry offers courses on how to install PLC (programmable logic control) based lighting systems, a new technology designed for more efficient energy consumption. Veronika, a vocational trainer at a regional branch, designs a course on PLC based systems where she provides electronic materials. In the course, she distributes QR tags which participants can stick on devices in order to receive information on demand. She also integrates work-based exercises in her teaching where users tag PLC systems with QR tags, take pictures or create short videos, and add their personal experiences with these systems that they make available for other people as learning experiences [Artefact Interaction Layer].

Paul is a skilled electrician working in craft trade electrician service company who has not used PLC technology before. The PLC installation instructions are difficult to understand for him because he lacks experience with such installations. He scans the QR tag attached to the PLC with his tablet PC. The system suggests course materials from Veronika’s course, relevant standards for the installation from a technical publisher, as well as a short video documenting the installation steps recorded by a colleague [Artefact Interaction Layer]. Moreover, Paul receives the information that two people have experience with this particular PLC [Social Semantic Layer]. Paul calls one of them over Skype and checks that his plan and understanding of the installation is sound and then proceeds with the installation with the help of the video. As several further questions remain, Paul posts them using voice recording and photo to a Q&A tool [People Interaction Layer].

Paul’s question is forwarded to Dieter, an Electrical “Meister” in another SME using similar devices, based on his user profile indicating that he has experience with PLC, and because he has indicated his willingness to help. Dieter briefly answers Paul’s question, including links to materials (Pictures, …) available in the learning layers repository. Dieter is a well-known “problem solver” in his SME network. By support of the Learning Layers technology he has created a training business in which he gives technical advice service and trainings to other building electrician companies. His comments can be traced by others and recognized as service from the Electrician’s Guild.

Veronika, the vocational trainer, is notified by the system that there are currently many new activities around PLC programming and views the concrete questions that occurred [Social Semantic Layer]. With the notification, she also gets recommendations for the most active and helpful discussions and for most suitable and high quality materials people have suggested [Learning Materials Interaction Layer]. She decides to include these in her course to illustrate solutions to potential problems.

The four layers described in the previous section provide the core of the conceptual and technological approach for the development of the PLEs. There are two further critical elements that will be crucial for reaching our vision. These elements are needed for effectively integrating the different layers.

12. Further Research 

Integration of work practices with learning to support situated, just-in time learning

We need further investigation into the relationship of informal learning and workplace practices on the individual, organisational and on the network level. In extending previous work, we will especially focus on physical workplaces and the opportunities and constraints that come with supporting learning. Secondly, we require a further focus on existing barriers and opportunities for scaling peer production and learning in cooperative-competitive SME networks. This work will create a model for scaling informal learning in a networked SME context and ensure that the use of tools is integrated through practice as suggested for example by Wenger, et al. (2009). But we generally acknowledge that a key factor for enterprises to staying agile and adaptive is to have a highly skilled workforce. With the rapid development of new technologies, staying up-to-date with know-how and skills increasingly becomes a challenge in many sectors.

Integration through a technical architecture for fast and flexible deployment:

Our idea is to base PLes on mobile devices, either the users’ personal devices or devices provided by the enterprises. However,  the Learning Layers concept is based on fast and flexible deployment in a networked SME setting with heterogeneous infrastructural requirements and conditions. Current learning architectures are typically deployed as monolithic in-house installations that lack flexibility for inter-SME networking in response to fast-changing environments. On the other hand, externally hosted solutions are too restricted to features, devices and environments supported by the provider, again impeding flexibility and fast development cycles. Thus, the challenge of both fast and flexible development and deployment of learning solutions is currently not optimally catered for. This issue requires further research and development.

13. First Conclusions

This paper presents the early stages of research and development towards producing a system to support Personal Learning Environments in the workplace. There remains much work to do in realising our vision. We are attempting both to theoretically bring together approaches to innovation and knowledge management with learning and at the same time to develop pedagogical approaches to scaffolding learning in the workplace and develop technologies which can support the use of PLEs in networked organisational settings.

Our ambition is not merely to produce a proof of concept but to roll out a scalable system which can support learning in large scale networks of SMEs.

Our approach to developing the use of PLEs is based on a series of layers to support informal interactions with people across enterprises, supports creation, maturing and interaction with learning materials as boundary objects and a layer that situates and scaffolds learning support into the physical workplace and captures people’s interactions with physical artefacts inviting them to share their experiences.

Acknowledgement

The authors wish to acknowledge the contribution of the partners in the Learning Layers project application, on whose work this paper draws heavily.

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Download the paper here in Word format  PLE2012

 

 

 

 

 

Open Learning Analytics or Architectures for Open Curricula?

February 12th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

George Siemen’s latest post, based on his talk at TEDxEdmonton, makes for interesting reading.

George says:

Classrooms were a wonderful technological invention. They enabled learning to scale so that education was not only the domain of society’s elites. Classrooms made it (economically) possible to educate all citizens. And it is a model that worked quite well.

(Un)fortunately things change. Technological advancement, coupled with rapid growth of information, global connectedness, and new opportunities for people to self-organized without a mediating organization, reveals the fatal flaw of classrooms: slow-developing knowledge can be captured and rendered as curriculum, then be taught, and then be assessed. Things breakdown when knowledge growth is explosive. Rapidly developing knowledge and context requires equally adaptive knowledge institutions. Today’s educational institutions serve a context that no longer exists and its (the institution’s) legacy is restricting innovation.

George calls for the development of an open learning analytics architecture based on the idea that: “Knowing how schools and universities are spinning the dials and levers of content and learning – an activity that ripples decades into the future – is an ethical and more imperative for educators, parents, and students.”

I am not opposed to what he is saying, although I note Frances Bell’s comment about privacy of personal data. But I am unsure that such an architecture really would improve teaching and learning – and especially learning.

As George himself notes, the driving force behind the changes in teaching and learning that we are seeing today is the access afforded by new technology to learning outside the institution. Such access has largely rendered irrelevant the old distinctions between formal, non formal and informal learning. OK – there is still an issue in that accreditation is largely controlled by institutions who naturally place much emphasis on learning which takes place within their (controlled and sanctioned) domain. yet even this is being challenged by developments such as Mozilla’s Open Badges project.

Educational technology has played only a limited role in extending learning. In reality we have provided access to educational technology to those already within the system. But the adoption of social and business software for learning – as recognised in the idea of the Personal Learning Environment – and the similar adaption of these technologies for teaching and learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – have moved us beyond the practice of merely replicating traditional classroom architectures and processes in technology.

However there remain a series of problematic issues. Perhaps foremost is the failure to develop open curricula – or, better put, to rethink the role of curricula for self-organized learning.

For better or worse, curricula traditionally played a role in scaffolding learning – guiding learners through a series of activities to develop skills and knowledge. These activities were graded, building on previously acquired knowledge in developing a personal knowledge base which could link constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose.

As Peter Pappas points out in his blog on ‘A Taxonomy of Reflection’, this in turn allows the development of what Bloom calls ‘Higher Order Reflection’ – enabling learners to combine or reorganize elements into a new pattern or structure.

Vygostsky recognised the importance of a ‘More Knowledgeable Other’ in supporting reflection in learning through a Zone of Peripheral Development. Such an idea is reflected in the development of Personal Learning Networks, often utilising social software.

Yet the curricula issue remains – and especially the issue of how we combine and reorganise elements of learning into new patterns and structure without the support of formal curricula. This is the more so since traditional subject boundaries are breaking down. Present technology support for this process is very limited. Traditional hierarchical folder structures have been supplemented by keywords and with some effort learners may be able to develop their own taxonomies based on metadata. But the process remains difficult.

So – if we are to go down the path of developing new open architectures – my priority would be for an open architecture of curricula. Such a curricula would play a dual role in supporting self organised learning for individuals but also at the same time supporting emergent rhizomatic curricula at a social level.

 

Open Badges, assessment and Open Education

August 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

I have spent some time this morning thinking about the Mozilla Open Badges and assessment project, spurred on by the study group set up by Doug Belshaw to think about the potential of the scheme. And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced of its potential as perhaps one of the most significant developments in the move towards Open Education. First though a brief recap for those of you who have not already heard about the project.

The Open Badges framework, say the project developers, is designed to allow any learner to collect badges from multiple sites, tied to a single identity, and then share them out across various sites — from their personal blog or web site to social networking profiles. The infrastructure needs to be open to allow anyone to issue badges, and for each learner to carry the badges with them across the web and other contexts.

Now some of the issues. I am still concerned of attempts to establish taxonomies, be it those of hierarchy in terms of award structures or those of different forms of ability / competence / skill (pick your own terminology). Such undertakings have bedeviled attempts to introduce new forms of recognition and I worry that those coming more from the educational technology world may not realise the pitfalls of taxonomies and levels.

Secondly is the issue of credibility. There is a two fold danger here. One is that the badges will only be adopted for achievements in areas / subjects / domains presently outside ‘official’ accreditation schemes and thus will be marginalised. There is also a danger that in the desire to gain recognition, badges will be effectively benchmarked against present accreditation programmes (e.g. university modules / degrees) and thus become subject to all the existing restrictions of such accreditation.

And thirdly, as the project roils towards a full release, there may be pressures for restricting badge issuers to existing accreditation bodies, and concentrating on the technological infrastructure, rather than rethinking practices in assessment.

Lets look at some of the characteristics of any assessment system:

  • Reliability

Reliability is a measure of consistency. A robust assessment system should be reliable, that is, it should yield the same results irrespective of who is conducting it or the environmental conditions under which it is taking place. Intra-tester reliability simply means that if the same assessor is looking at your work his or her judgement should be consistent and not influenced by, for example, another assessment they might have undertaken! Inter-tester reliability means that if two different assessors were given exactly the same evidence and so on, their conclusions should also be the same. Extra-tester reliability means that the assessors conclusions should not be influenced by extraneous circumstances, which should have no bearing on the evidence.

  • Validity

Validity is a measure of ‘appropriateness’ or ‘fitness for purpose’. There are three sorts of validity. Face validity implies a match between what is being evaluated or tested and how that is being done. For example, if you are evaluating how well someone can bake a cake or drive a car, then you would probably want them to actually do it rather than write an essay about it! Content validity means that what you are testing is actually relevant, meaningful and appropriate and there is a match between what the learner is setting out to do and what is being assessed. If an assessment system has predictive validity it means that the results are still likely to hold true even under conditions that are different from the test conditions. For example, performance evaluation of airline pilots who are trained to cope with emergency situations on a simulator must be very high on predictive validity.

  • Replicability

Ideally an assessment should be carried out and documented in a way which is transparent and which allows the assessment to be replicated by others to achieve the same outcomes. Some ‘subjectivist’ approaches to evaluation would disagree, however.

  • Transferability

Although each assessment is looking at a particular set of outcomes, a good assessment system is one that could be adapted for similar outcomes or could be extended easily to new learning.  Transferability is about the shelf-life of the assessment and also about maximising its usefulness.

  • Credibility

People actually have to believe in the assessment! It needs to be authentic, honest, transparent and ethical. If people question the rigour of the assessment process, doubt the results or challenge the validity of the conclusions, the assessment loses credibility and is not worth doing.

  • Practicality

This means simply that however sophisticated and technically sound the assessment is, if it takes too much of people’s time or costs too much or is cumbersome to use or the products are inappropriate then it is not a good evaluation!

Pretty obviously there is going to be a trade off between different factors. It is possible to design extremely sophisticated assessments which have a high degree of validity. However, such assessment may be extremely time consuming and thus not practical. The introduction of multiple tests through e-learning platforms is cheap and easy to produce. However they often lack face validity, especially for vocational skills and work based learning.

Lets try to make this discussion more concrete by focusing on one of the Learning Badges pilot assessments at the School of Webcraft.

OpenStreetMapper Badge Challenge

Description: The OpenStreetMapper badge recognizes the ability of the user to edit OpenStreetMap wherever satellite imagery is available in Potlatch 2.

Assessment Type: PEER – any peer can review the work and vote. The badge will be issued with 3 YES votes.

Assessment Details:

OpenStreetMap.org is essentially a Wikipedia site for maps. OpenStreetMap benefits from real-time collaboration from thousands of global volunteers, and it is easy to join. Satellite images are available in most parts of the world.

P2PU has a basic overview of what OpenStreetMap is, and how to make edits in Potlatch 2 (Flash required). This isn’t the default editor, so please read “An OpenStretMap How-To“:

Your core tasks are:

  1. Register with OpenStreetMap and create a username. On your user page, accessible at this link , change your editor to Potlatch 2.
  2. On OpenStreetMap.org, search and find a place near you. Find an area where a restaurant, school, or gas station is unmapped, or could use more information. Click ‘Edit’ on the top of the map. You can click one of the icons, drag it onto the map, and release to make it stick.
  3. To create a new road, park, or other 2D shape, simply click to add points. Click other points on the map where there are intersections. Use the Escape to finish editing.
  4. To verify your work, go to edit your point of interest, click Advanced at the bottom of the editor to add custom tags to this point, and add the tag ‘p2pu’. Make its value be your P2PU username so we can connect the account posting on this page to the one posting on OpenStreetMap.
  5. Submit a link to your OpenStreetMap edit history. Fill in the blank in the following link with your OpenStreetMap username http://www.openstreetmap.org/user/____/edits

You can also apply for the Humanitarian Mapper badge: http://badges.p2pu.org/questions/132/humanitarian-mapper-badge-challenge

Assessment Rubric:

  1. Created OpenStreetMap username
  2. Performed point-of-interest edit
  3. Edited a road, park, or other way
  4. Added the tag p2pu and the value [username] to the point-of-interest edit
  5. Submitted link to OpenStreetMap edit history or user page to show what edits were made

NOTE for those assessing the submitted work. Please compare the work to the rubric above and vote YES if the submitted work meets the requirements (and leave a comment to justify your vote) or NO if the submitted work does not meet the rubric requirements (and leave a comment of constructive feedback on how to improve the work)

CC-BY-SA JavaScript Basic Badge used as template5.

Pretty clearly this assessment scores well on validity and also looks to be reliable. The template could easily be transferred as indeed it has in the pilot. It is also very practical. However, much of this is due to the nature of the subject being assessed – it is much easier to use computers for assessing practical tasks which involve the use of computers than it is for tasks which do not!

This leaves the issue of credibility. I have to admit  know nothing about the School of Webcraft, neither do I know who were the assessors for this pilot. But it would seem that instead of relying on external bodies in the form of examination boards and assessment agencies to provide credibility (deserved for otherwise), if the assessment process is integrated within communities of practice – and indeed assessment tasks such as the one given above could become a shared artefact of that community – then then the Badge could gain credibility. And this seems a much better way of buidli9ng credibility than trying to negotiate complicated arrangements that n number of badges at n level would be recognized as a degree or other ‘traditional’ qualification equivalent.

But lets return to some of the general issues around assessment again.

So far most of the discussions about the Badges project seem to be focused on summative assessment. But there is considerable research evidence that formative assessment is critical for learning. Formative assessment can be seen as

“all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes ‘formative assessment’ when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the needs.”

Black and Williams (1998)

And that is there the Badges project could come of age. One of the major problems with Personal Learning Environments is the difficulties learners have in scaffolding their own learning. The development of formative assessment to provide (on-line) feedback to learners could help them develop their personal learning plans and facilitate or mediate community involvement in that learning.Furthermore a series of tasks based assessments could guide learners through what Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development (and incidentally in Vygotsky’s terms assessors would act as Significantly Knowledgeable Others).

In these terms the badges project has the potential not only to support learning taking place outside the classroom but to build a significant infrastructure or ecology to support learning that takes place anywhere, regardless of enrollment on traditional (face to face or distance) educational programmes.

In a second article in the next few days I will provide an example of how this could work.

Beyond blended learning- towards a fluid discourse of educational conversations

April 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Steve Wheeler has written an interesting bog post, which deserves unpacking and discussing.

Steve says:

Blended learning (in the established, traditional sense) means a mix of learning activities that involved students learning both in the classroom, and at a distance from the classroom, usually mediated through technology. I am claiming that this type of blended learning – in concept at least – is now outmoded because the boundaries between local and remote have now been substantially blurred.

I think I would largely agree with him although I am not so sure it is due to the blurring of the boundary between local and remote. Reading older papers on technology enhanced learning, there was great emphasis placed on the divide between synchronous and asynchronous communication and how to provide a proper ‘mix’ of technologies facilatating such modes. Today we flip between different modes without thinking about it. Take Skype – if I text someone they may reply straight away or may reply the next day. I may have a series of short episodic conversations with a colleague throughout the day. I may switch from text to audio or video for parts of these conversations. They may be one to one or we may invite others to participants for particular parts of the conversation. Instead of a divide between synchronous or asynchronous communication, tools now support multi modal communication and multi modal learning.

Steve goes on to say:

The new blend is to blur formal and informal learning

Of this I am less convinced. I am in a few problems here because I have often written myself about informal learning. But in truth I am unconvinced of the value of the concept. Indeed there is little agreement even on what the terms formal, informal and non-formal learning mean. If you are interested in this debate there is an excellent literature review by Colley, Hodkinson and Malcom who explore different definitions and uses of the terms. I have tended to use the idea of informal learning in two ways – to refer to learning which takes place outside the formal education system or to learning which takes place in the absence of formal teaching. The problem with the first use of the term is that it refers only to what it is not, rather than to what it is. And in the case of the second, it tends to ignore the influence of what Vykotsly called a More Knowledgeable Other. The More Knowledgeable Other is anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, particularly in regards to a specific task, concept or process – a friend, a peer, a colleague, who can support the scaffolding of  learning. Technology is playing a significant role in blurring boundaries here. If I read Steve Wheeler’s article, think about it and write my own ideas then surely I am learning, and in this case Steve is playing the part of the More Knowledgeable Other in guiding my thinking. Recently one of my computers was overheating. I searched for and found a web site telling me at what temperature the Northbridge chip should be running (it was running much hotter). I then found a YouTube video showing me how to take my computer apart and clean the filters. Is this formal or informal learning? Do I have scaffolding and guidance in my learning? I would suggest I do.

Even more problematic is Steve’s idea of “informal technology”. I think this may just be careless use of terminology. Of course technologies are not informal or formal. However what is certainly true is that most young people today own various technology based devices, which can be used or as John Cook calls it “appropriated” for learning. And as we move towards near ubiquitous connectivity, at least in richer countries, then these devices provide constant access to all kinds of learning – including contact to those with more knowledge than we have. It is interesting to note that most of this learning takes place in the absence of purpose built education technology, rather we appropriate applications designed for business or enterprise use or for entertainment, for learning.

I think more useful than setting a dichotomy between the formal and the informal is to explore the different relationships and contexts in which learning takes place. Last year Jenny Hughes and I made a slidecast called Critical Literacies, Pragmatics and Education as part of a Critical Literacies course being run by Rita Kop and Stephen Downes as part of their ongoing research project on Personal Learning Environments.

In this we referred to the relationships in which learning take place. These include the relationships between learners and teachers, between the learners themselves and between the learners and the wider community.

We went on to look at context. Obviously this includes place or physical context, which could be described as the learning domain. This might be a school or college, the workplace or at home. Important here is the distance between the different domains. Sometimes this distance will be short (say in the case of an apprenticeship involving workplace and school based study), but sometimes there may be a quite broad seperation between the different domains.

A second context is the social, cultural and political environment in which earning takes place. A third – and to my mind critical – context is the idea of what is legitimate learning – what is learnt and how it is learnt. Obviously this involves the idea of control.

Especially important is the context of how we recognise achievement – how outcomes are defined, what value is placed on learning, by whom and how.

We also raised the idea of discourses – the sum total of the conversations around education. In the past, we suggested, education has tended to be a top down discourse with prescribed and structured strategies  for learning. This is changing and now leaners may be more likely to start from practice without a predetermined strategy for learning.

Thus relations and context or learning are becoming fluid and are contently changing. Technology is playing a major role in these changing relationships and contexts. Such a fluid discourse inevitably leads to conflict with an educational structure based on top down educational discourses.

Connectivism vs Constructivism?

September 22nd, 2010 by Jenny Hughes

I’m always a bit nervous about commenting on someone commenting on someone…but was interested in Steve Wheeler’s blogspot post reporting on a keynote he attended in Brisbane yesterday. Speaker was Sir John Daniel asking whether initiatives aimed at trying to provide computers for children in emerging nations to offer escape routes from the poverty trap actually work.I quote Steve’s post

Well, yes and no, was Sir John’s answer. No, in the case of Nick Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project, which was aimed at an ambitious 150 million, only 1 million have actually been distributed. Yes, in the case of ‘Slum Dog Professor’ Sugata Mitra’s hole in the wall project.

So far, so good. I’m agreeing with him. But found his arguments less than convincing.

The difference between the them, said Sir John, lay in the concept and theory behind the two projects. OLPC was premised on the theory of constructivism, where the child, as a solo explorer, could use his laptop to learn independently. Mitra’s project on the other hand, discovered that children actually learn best (and even teach themselves) when they are in small groups. Minimally invasive education has been shown to be better than direct instruction for promoting intellectual maturity. Thus, said Sir John, social connectivism trumps constructivism for third world child learning.

Hmmm! This raises so many questions.

Firstly, the intention of OLPC was certainly that individual children would have their own laptop which they could use alone, at home. But it was also something they could use in school in the presence of other pupils (if they attended school) and could help bridge the home-school, formal-informal divide. Importantly, it was envisaged that other family members would, by association, access information initially using the child as a conduit. So the computer becomes a catalyst for family learning. I am also interested in this idea of the OLPC child being a ‘solo learner’ operating ‘independently’.  I thought that one of the biggest benefit to the child was that it could provided access to other learners, social networks, communities etc etc. I agree that most kids learn best in groups but surely these groups can be on-line groups as well as physical groups?

“Minimally invasive is better….” is also something I have problems with. Yes – maybe – sometimes. I have spent a lifetime in teacher training talking about ‘appropriate or inappropriate’ methods and technologies stressing that every learning situation is unique and what is appropriate in one context may not be in another. As a generalisation, I can see where he is coming from but I would be a lot more cautious.

I agree that OLPC has not been the global success we were all hoping for but there were many contributory factors to do with the technology, the costing models, the distribution, the support etc etc which collectively may have been more significant barriers than the pedagogic model. I think I’m saying that we are not comparing like with like here. OLPC and the Hole in the Wall were so totally different in conception and execution.

Finally, I am genuinely confused by social connectivism being presented in opposition to constructivism. Is Social Connectivism now a distinct pedagogy that has fallen bellow my radar? Or, for that matter is Constructivism a pedagogy? Constructivism is a theory of knowledge not a specific pedagogy – Constructionism is the educational theory proposed by Papert using Piaget’s constructivist ideas.

(And while we are on the subject, we also need to make a distinction between Cognitive Constructivism (Piaget, Dewey etc) and Social Constructivism (Vygotsky, Bruner etc)

Research support for constructivist teaching techniques is very divided – one of the major criticisms being that it is deterministic and reduces the individual to a product of his social environment (a very similar criticism to that  often made about Behaviourism, funnily enough)

Notwithstanding all that lot, many researchers (e.g Bruning, Eggan etc) argued that knowledge must initially be constructed in a social context before it can be appropriated by individuals and Vygotsky’s basic premise was that meanings and understandings grow out of social encounters. This rather supposes that ‘social connectivity’ is part of Constructivism not something to be set in opposition to it.

Anyway, thanks for that Steve. If I have misreported the original speaker (almost certainly) I unreservedly apologise but your blogpost and Sir John Daniels ideas certainly made me think and stimulated much late night, beer-fuelled discussion and argument here in the Pontydysgu office.  Diolch yn fawr iawn!

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.

Conclusions

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.

References

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, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ga1aSJXCFe0&feature=player_embedded, 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, http://www.elearningpapers.eu/index.php?page=doc&doc_id=14400&doclng=6&vol=15, 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, http://publications.professional-learning.eu/schmidt_kunzmann_sustainable-competence-management_eChallenges07.pdf, 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 http://www.elearningeuropa.info/out/?doc_id=15055&rsr_id=15972

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

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    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

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    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100′s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”


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    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

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