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The challenge for education

April 8th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I am speaking at the Plymouth elearning conference on 23 and 24 April. Steve Wheeler asked me to produce a summary of my presentation for the conference publication.

This was a problem. Firstly, I am bad at writing summaries. Secondly, I never know quite what I will say until I say it. But finally I have sat down and written it. I quite like it. I think it provides a summary of the different ideas around which we are centring our work at Pontydysgu.

Social software, personal learning environment and the future of education

The presentation  will look at the impact of recent developments in social software and the possible impact on education.

The origins of the word curricula, coming from the Latin word    ‘currere’ – a running race, a course or career can be contrasted to the origins of the word learning coming from the old Gothic word ‘Gleis’, meaning to tack, to follow and to find a path, the Gothic ‘leis’ which means to know and the the old English ‘learnien’ – to get knowledge.

Our education systems and institutions have been based around the original idea of curriculum, with winners and losers, the
same starting point and same finish point for all participants and with progression being seen as
a straight line between the two. Above all our educational institutions have been developed around the idea of homogeneity.

Such an idea of homogeneity was reinforced by the first industrial revolutions which led to the expansion of a schooling system to develop the skills needed by the workforce in a production economy.

The introduction of social software allows the exploration of different  learning pathways, and learning through exploring, wandering and funding the way.  Social networking tools allow learners to make connections, to  take individual choices about the direction of their learning within personal learning networks. Learning is based on bricolage – on making creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand, regardless of their original purpose.

Teachers and trainers have a new role as mentors and guides to scaffold and support learning.

In terms of the future development of educational technology we need tools to help explore pathways, develop connections and to take control of own learning. This is turn requires a greater degree of engagement between developers, educational technologists and practitioners.

Education systems need greater flexibility to provide learners with their own space, to work at their own speed and at their own level, to define their own knowledge areas and make their own connections. Institutions can take the first steps in this by unlocking their resources and opening up their VLEs, by providing more and different ways of accessing services and by focusing IT support on services rather than systems.

The emergence of the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is an important  step in this respect. PLEs can provide tools to help learners make and sustain connections, to help learners organise, scaffold and take responsibility for their learning and to manage and handle learning content. PLEs can also provide tools for recording and representing and sharing the learning ‘bricolage’

The emergence of new patterns and forms of learning based on social software provide a great opportunity to extend learning opportunities and to embed learning in every day work and living. At the same time it poses a challenge to educations systems and institutions who no longer have a monopoly on knowledge development and transmission.


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