An audit on where stand with PLEs

(via Scott Wilson)

Back in 2006 I posted some of my reservations about PLEs. At the time I thought these issues were insurmountable, and largely being ignored by the PLE advocates. Now, I’m more convinced of the possibility, and worth of a PLE, I thought it would be good to see where they stood against my original set of reservations.

This of course comes with a massive pre-question ‘what do you mean by a PLE?’ (as Alan Levine said in a twitter post, it seems to be a spoke diagram with lots of web 2.0 logos – what can he mean?). And maybe the notion has softened somewhat from a purely personal learning environment to a more distributed learning environment built on a range of applications. Some of these will be teacher selected e.g. ‘we’ll be using this wiki’, and some user selected e.g. ‘post to your own blog’. Anyway, here is my initial set of reservations, with some random indication of progress.

  1. Support.
    My initial argument was that VLEs allow centralisation of support which becomes unmanageably complex if every user has different applications. While this is true, the need for support has diminished I feel because a) there is a greater level of familiarity out there (although I am not naive enough to think that even amongst the digital natives everyone is computer savvy) and b) the sort of third party tools available are easy to use and robust. People don’t take courses in how to use Facebook after all.
    Progress: 50%
  2. Quality
    assurance. My argument was that universities could not ensure a certain quality of provision with PLEs. I feel that given the superiority of many third party applications over institutional systems, the reverse may now be true. But it still remains that it is much more difficult with a PLE type world to point at something and say ‘that’s what student A is doing at time X’.
    Progress: 75%
  3. Suitability. My argument here was that users may adopt or use the wrong technology. This brings us back to what we mean by a PLE, since it might not be the case that they are left completely to their own devices (pardon the pun). And in addition I don’t think I envisaged the way widgets would come in to play, so your blog, Netvibes or iGoogle page is easily populated.
    Progress: 60%
  4. Negotiation
    of activity. My argument here was that if everyone is using a different tool it means that every activity starts with some negotiation about what you will use, instead of just getting on with the task using the default VLE services. I still think there is something in this, but if we take the slightly looser interpretation of a PLE, then it may not mean that every task is negotiated, but rather that the educator has a choice of tools to choose from.
    Progress: 40%
  5. Technological
    complexity. This is the big one. Since 2006 the rise of RSS as a common data standard, the use of widgets and the development of standards such as openID makes a lot of the potential complexity less of an issue. Look how easily a user can embed different tools, video content, feeds, etc. But at the moment the different applications are dumb to each other, and this is where work will focus over the next few years (through things like Social:Learn and eduglu).
    Progress: 50%

That’s not bad progress so far I reckon. What we need now is to move away from the spoke diagrams to some real applications.

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