My friend Rory McGreal and I are very fortunate to have been invited to by the Estonian E-Learning Development Centre (oh to have a funded, national e-learning group and strategy!!) to present at the 8th annual Estonian E-learning conference in Tartu starting tomorrow.  Yesterday morning we spent the day gawking at the wonderful ‘old town’ here in Tallinn. Although Rory kept grousing about the Disneyfication of Europe’s old cities, we were pretty impressed.

Tallinn, Estonia old twon

Tallinn, Estonia old town

The town was settled by European immigrants in the 12-14 century. It has the highest town wall (complete with towers) that I have seen and the center is chalked full of very old houses, Inns, churches and the current Estonian houses of Parliament. Of course all of this beauty comes with a zillion tourist and handicraft shops, outdoor booths and restaurants.  The season is just beginning as there is still dirty snow piled up on the corners (reminds me of home).

Later in the afternoon we had a very interesting visit to the Centre for Educational technology at the University of Tallinn.

Meeting with Terry Anderson and Rory McGreal

This group of about 15 professors, researchers, postdocs and doctoral students does very interesting work and is fortunate to be able to devote nearly all their time to developing educational innovations and testing these in courses delivered f2F and online at the University. The Director, Mart Laanpere talked about their interest and considerable interest in Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and blog based (as opposed to LMS based teaching/learning systems). In particular I was very impressed with the EduFeedr system (described and downloaded from and running at This system sems ideal for open courses, in that it has a number of features that allow a teacher to organize, grade and comment upon students, each using their own individual blogs (hosted wherever). Thus achieving progress towards the goal of all PLEs to manage and support both formal and informal learning through one’s own (rather than any one institution’s) private and protected system.

We talked about the challenge of openness and the compromises between allowing teachers and students to selectively reveal only the amount of posting and personal/personal data that they wish, and only to selective audiences. Interestingly they too have had a long history with ELGG (the software suite that exeles at managing privacy and access issues and one we use at Athabasca), but in their latest work they are developing a new platform, that recues some from the overhead of unused features of elgg.

The second very impressive tool we saw was introduced by Hans Poldoja. I had seen LeMill a few years ago, but not visited lately. is a collaborative learning object repository unlike Merlot or our earlier efforts with CAREO, LeMill allows anyone to edit, augment and enhance existing learning objects that are submitted, in wiki-like fashion. This editing capacity, in addition to comments and notes on how the object could be or is used, allow for evolution and emergence of the object, but of course are open to editing and contextualizing beyond the interests or even intent of the original author. This could lead to others ‘messing up’ the object, but as we discussed, the reality of most objects is that they are used “as is” and educators are better at consuming than “produsing“. LeMill also allows aggregating and export (using SCORM) of collections of objects, though I didn’t see such collections being eaten up by Moodle or any other LMS systems.  LeMill is also a centralized system, with largest number of users from Estonia and Georgia (not the US state!) (and don’t ask me why Georgia – active missionaries???).

There is something to be said for the ease of using central systems run by others, but even more powerful arguments for allowing users to just post their content and for “smart” aggregators to find, catalog, recommend and update content of interest to teachers and to learners.  Such a distributed system is described by Stephen in Stephen’s Downes Online Daily on Monday,  but the example used is a FireFox plugin that tags, catalogues, organizes and can share music files anywhere on the net. As Stephen suggested, we could use this type of tool in education.

Well on towards Tartu  tomorrow.