I’ve been trying to get my head around the viability of moving educational programming from institutionally centered Learning Management Systems (LMS) systems, or even institutionally owned and controlled educational social systems like Elgg or Barnraiser, to a distributed and likely syndicated set of tools often referred to as Personal Learning Environments (PLE). The recent postings by Leigh Blackall, response by Dave Cormier and the work of Paul Trafford and his RAMBLE project at Oxford got me thinking. James Farmer’s pioneering 2004 work applying our Community of inquiry to blogging and Michael Hotrum’s comments on that work are also incorporated in the ideas below.
First what is a PLE? Will Richardson developed an interesting scenario that describes the life of a teacher using a PLE. Scott Wilson recreates the scenario with more specific reference to two fundamental components of a PLE:
Sources: shared content, serving as resources coming in
Conduits: posting, communications – shared postings out
The PLE is a unique interface into the owners digital environment. It integrates their personal and professional interests (including their formal and informal learning), connecting these via a series of syndicated and distributed feeds. The PLE is also a portfolio system allowing the user to maintain their repository of content and selectively share that content as needed. It is also a profile system, exposing the users interests in a variety of ways allowing automated, but selective search of the individual and their digital contributions. Of course, the PLE is a social as well as an information environment, connecting the user to individuals and cooperative events and activities throughout the Net.
Moving towards a PLE from the current model in which formal learning is very thoroughly entrenched in Learning Management systems will require considerable evolution of ideas and technologies and adoption of innovation. Innovation guru Everett Rogers noted that relative advantage is the largest factor in the adoption of innovations. Of course the relative advantage is contextualized and dependent upon the perspective and need of individual users (learners, teachers, technical support, administrators etc). Thus, the listing of advantages and disadvantages below needs to be contextualized from these and other particular viewpoints.
Nonetheless, I attempt to overview the major advantages and disadvantages of an educational system based on the familiar LMS versus an emergent one based on a PLE
Advantages of PLE’s
Ease of Use:
Advantages of LMS
Summary: Although there is something quite compelling about the vision of a lifelong learning environment that is centered upon and perpetually belongs to the learner, I think we are some distance from being able to operationalize that vision. I am reminded of the resistance from early net adopters and innovators, when LMS systems were first introduced. At the time (and still today) they offer little that can’t be built with off the shelf HTML, scripting tools and Open Source databases. Yet LMS systems have afforded teachers the capacity to create their own web courses with minimal programming expertise or even instructional design support. Thus, they have become essential and very popular tools for early and late majority users – something that never would have occurred with ‘roll your own’ tools of 10 years ago.
Similarly, PLEs are nowhere near as easy to use to facilitate and support many of the educational functions that are trivial in modern LMS systems. I eagerly await the day when both formal and informal connected learning opportunities are a natural and spontaneous outgrowth of our personal computing environment – but I don’t think it is time to throw away the LMS just yet.
Nonetheless, the PLE future seems to be more secure than that of any monolithic LMS. I suspect the LMS systems that survive will do so by opening themselves to standards based enhancements, service requests and the strong evolutionary move towards real learner centric educational applications.