There has been some discussion lately about Personal Learning Environments and their pedagogic benefits to the learners. While I agree with most of what is said about the learner-centred-ness of PLEs and the life-long and social support they may provide in an ideal world, it is the particular aspect of the technical platform that I am more than sceptical about:
Many PLE discussions seem to suggest the creation of a one-stop-shop portal application for life-long learning organisation (e.g. PLEX). The aim is to bring a variety of dispersed web services together for the learner’s benefit and self-organised by the learner. Does this actually require a platform? To me the only place where learning from all contexts, motivations, interests, and types comes together is the learner’s head – the only one-stop shop there’ll ever be.
Experience of the Internet generation tells us that people (learners) have no difficulty mashing-up digital and real-life activities (learning, social and other activities). I may do my banking online one day, but visit the bank the next (until they close the branch). The term “virtual” has lost its meaning as it increasingly becomes part of real socialisation to those who move in and out of virtual space. It is no less real than talking to your mother on the phone.
The question therefore is: If learners are totally capable of blending various environments together, be it flickr, VLEs, messaging tools, mobile phones, television, etc., why would we want some middleware to do just that?
With so much talk about CMS and repositories currently taking place, I wonder whether anyone has taken a look at workspace reality? It seems to me the developers of repositories etc. are missing out real opportunities in the peer-to-peer social sharing landscape. Let’s look at this:
Institutions set up expensive and hard-to-fill learning object repositories, when there is very little evidence that sharing does happen on this level and at critical mass. In an early posting on this blog I discussed the informalities of sharing that we encounter every day. How does it happen? Not via metadata form filling, nor via artificially designed workflows with library, copyright, and standards experts!
Sharing happens in a most informal way by e-mail with your “neighbours”. No repository can accommodate this. This leaves me to wonder, has no-one ever thought of integrating content management functionality into an e-mail client? Add metadata to an attachment, copyright statements or DRM, sharing options, cvs, text mining, OAI-PMH discovery, etc… It seems totally feasible to me.
I read a very interesting paper by Norm Friesen and Darryl Cressman about the political economy of interoperability standards. They make it very clear that standards are not pedagogically, culturally, or economically neutral. This explains why universities in particular are so slow in adopting standards-based e-learning.
The question that arises from this is, whether higher education is generally incompatible with industrial standards. Or is it that its pre-industrial organisational structure is outdated? Universities are still largely based on the “single scholar – single expertise” principle, whence there is no room for interchangable teaching personnel or curriculum production units. Curriculum is “hand-made” by individuals rather than team fabricated or pre-fabricated (as in schools or companies).