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OpenLearn – a step forward in PLE design

July 25th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I am greatly intrigued by Martin Weller’s presentation on SocialLearn yesterday. One of the advantages of Elluminate is it allows you to watch a recording of the presentation afterwards, although it is very frustrating not being able ot take part in the rolling chat channel. SocialLearn is a UK Open University project. According to the SocialLearn blog: “Some learners will be happy running 20 web apps [for their Personal Laerning Environment], while others will want to access this ecosystem via a coherent web interface. Currently one would do this via iGoogle, Netvibes, Facebook etc, if the apps have widgets in these different walled gardens.

In SocialLearn, we aim to move beyond web-feed based interoperability and visual clustering of apps on the webtop, with SL-aware apps communicating via the API, so that the learner’s profile can track and intelligently manage the flow of information and events to support their activity.”

This seems a great approach and I particularly liked Martin’s demo of their alpha software. two things stood out for me – the focus on people as a recommender for resources, thus allowing Open Educational Resouces to be accessed in context. Secondly the idea of supporting micro and episodic learning.

I do have concerns. The OU appears to be positioning the project as an experiment in exploring new business models in a world of competition by multiple learning providers. I am not sure that this is the ideal starting point but I suppose innovation is driven by many concerns and motivations!

When I watched the presentation last night I was also not happy with another of the core assumations behind the project – namely that “there is a major shift in society and education driven by the possibilities new technology create for creating and sharing content and social networking.” This seemed to me too technology centerd. But looking at it again in the cold light of a Friday morning the emphasis on the possibilities of new technology seems right. What then becomes interesting is that if such possibilities exist and if we assume that technology can be socially shaped, how do we use such possibilities in facilitating learning.

And in that respect, the SocialLearn project looks to be a very important initiative.

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2 Responses to “OpenLearn – a step forward in PLE design”

  1. Martin says:

    Phew! When you said you disagreed with a lot of what I said, I was concerned I had said something stupid! But these are valid points. To take your two objections:
    i) Business models – I partly agree that money may not be the best starting point. It isn’t _my_ main interest – I’m really interested in unpicking how social networking can really be used to enhance learning. But I wanted to be clear that exploring business models was _a_ motivation for the OU. Partly this is because I think we should be upfront about this, and also partly because exploring the business models is also a way of understanding the changes that are, or could, happen in education.
    ii) The technology focus – ah, I’m getting into technological determinism waters again (I’ve been debating this over on D’Arcy Norman’s blog). Actually it’s the processes that are more important, things like the democratic nature, user generated content, etc But these are made possible by the technology. In short it’s not that a wiki itself is important, but that what wikipedia represents is (the removal of the filter, democratisation of knowledge, distribution produces quality, long tail of interests, etc).
    Thanks for the comments, be good to let you have a play when there’s a bit more bones on it.

  2. Graham Attwell says:

    Thanks Martin – would love to have a play with it when ready. Agree that is is important to be upfront about OUs motivation and it is interesting that a business concern is allowing such a space for innovation and in particular to explore social networking.
    Think issue of business models is interesting – what are the different ways of explaining the changes which are or could happen – do the way we explore those changes effect the different scenarions we might develop (don’t have an answer to this but would seem possibly important).

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