Having played my role of a learning technologist, I am quite familiar with the concept of the virtual learning environment (a.k.a learning management system). It’s quite a controversial topic these days. Sclater provides a nice overview of the issues being raised by both sides of the growing debate.
My experience has afforded me with proof that VLEs can work – students get more (but not always easier) access to resources, students and teachers can communicate with one another outside of a classroom, and the institution has control over who accesses what information (a neat and tidy way of managing the copyright dilemma). However, this sensitive point about control also forms the basis for an argument against VLEs. Some argue that VLEs fundamentally represent the opposite of what the web is all about – freedom to access, share and create whatever content you want. Enter the Personal Learning Environment (PLE).
Similar to Martin Weller, I did not start off by thinking about what elements I needed to include in my PLE in order to make it work. I’m conscious that the integration of technologies is a continually evolving process. Some tools have become part of the foundation of my PLE, while others didn’t quite seem to fit and were subsequently dropped. I’ve noticed that this evolution is made more and more complex as collaborative technologies get better at ‘speaking’ with one another.
When creating a map of my PLE, I have to admit that I had a hard time separating the technologies that I use strictly for ‘learning’ (the definition of which I’m still not clear about!) from those that I also use for plain old socialising or getting around in life. And then there are the ones that I use to build my professional online brand which also didn’t quite fit into the learning or socialising categories. That’s why I’ve chosen to kind of bunch up every technology I use into one overall picture. This way, it seems a bit more reflective of the interconnectedness that many of us are experiencing.
Looking at my PLE map, you’ll notice that I’ve included the software applications I use, as well as the web-based technologies to which I subscribe (is subscribe the right word here?!). I don’t think that a personal learning environment has to necessarily be ‘connected’ at all times, so I didn’t want to limit this map to just the tools that are fashionable now, or that focus strictly on the social aspects of the web. The more I think about it, the more I’m discovering that I tend to collect information from various corners of the web, but most of my reflection (or digestion) actually takes place using disconnected tools like word documents or plain text files. Whether I choose to share these reflections is another story, but when it comes to my process of developing understanding, it often starts with the web, then goes into software applications, and then sometimes flows back out into the virtual space.
Although challenging, it would be interesting to have a snapshot of my PLE at different points in time. For example, prior to starting my MA with the OU, I didn’t even know what FirstClass was. Today, it represents a very powerful connector to my classmates and tutors. It would also be interesting to see a map of the tools that didn’t make it into my orbit – and consider the reasons why they failed to make the cut.
Who knows what my PLE will look like even a few months from now!? For example, I can only imagine how it will change once I finally get an iPhone and the world of developer’s apps opens up to me!
Oh, and yes, I’ve also include a MMORPG in my PLE because sometimes, learning how to take a break is part of learning how to learn!