Sunday, November 13, 2005

Die LMS die! You too PLE!

Photo by Huasonic
I've been thinking about the PLE (Personalised Learning Environment) project, and Scott Wilson's recent presentation Architecture of virtual spaces and the future of VLEs

The PLE project recognises the fundamental flaws in Virtual Learning Environments or Learning Management Systems (VLE, LMS), but falls short in its vision of an alternative. At this stage in the project it is suggesting that the PLE be a desktop application for a student (sounds a bit like my old Perfect LMS idea) or a singular portal online.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, I'll have to repeat my defining question about Internet enhanced learning, but this time in response to the PLE.

Question to the PLE: Why do we need a PLE when we already have the Internet? The Internet is my PLE, ePortfolio, VLE what ever. Thanks to blogger, bloglines, flickr, delicious, wikispaces, ourmedia, creative commons, and what ever comes next in this new Internet age, I have a strong online ID and very extensive and personalised learning environment. Actually I think the PLE idea is better envisioned by the futurist concept known as the Evolving Personalised Information Construct (EPIC). I think we already have EPIC, so why do we need the PLE?

To extend the statement: We insignificant little teachers and our out of date schools and classrooms don't need to be investing in media projects like VLEs, LMS and even PLEs. Our dam walls of knowledge have burst! and no amount of sand bagging will stop the flood that is clearly discrediting our authority over learning. Media, and with it communications, will evolve (as it certainly has in the last 50 years or more) well beyond the limitations of our classrooms, with investments and broadcast influence we can't even fathom. Why waste our precious money and time on projects that only serve to suspend our true position within that media scape. The PLE makes me think of ELGG, and it all makes me wonder why it is we educationalists still think we are even relevant anymore. The people (yes that includes us) are learning how to read and write for themselves, and in an amazing act of collective generosity, the people are teaching each other - why do they even need our classrooms... is it perhaps only credentialism that we offer? Or is it also sense of security and safety? Is it false?

Photo by Charybdis
What is it I am missing here that everyone else seems to be getting. Why do we need a PLE? Why are ePortfolios so popular? Why are LMS still not dead? Why are teachers so afraid?

Scott Wilson is more cautious than I am. His presentation attempts to bridge this gap between the supposed radical position I take and the reluctant position of institionalised edcuation. He suggests that it is fear that drives current educational decision making in regards to the Internet. He takes time to explain the division between open and closed systems, but tries to balance between the two camps. And in the end he promotes the PLE with a gentle preference for open systems.

So while I whole heartedly agree with the PLE and Scott's reasoning for rejecting the LMS/VLE, I can't say I'm with them on their alternative. In my view, the VLE, LMS and PLE are the same. A suggestion that the Internet, and informal networked learning are not enough. That people still need to come to school to learn. That people need to distinguish learning from life, that people need to download and install an application that will solve their learning needs.

Photo by StefZ
My thinking is that we need to build media literacy in our institutions, and not prevent it by building replicas. If it is fare to say that the open Internet has liberated information, and to a large extent knowledge, and that media is all pervasive, then we need people working within education who are media and network literate. Such people understand what is meant by liberated information and knowledge, and should be able to comprehend the new relationships between teaching and learning. I would rather see more projects invested in firstly recognising this literacy need (honestly and openly), and then addressing it out in the real world Internet, not with replicas, desktop classrooms, or virtualised portals.

Perhaps teachers are not the best people to be teaching anymore!

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Anonymous said...

Hi Leigh,

Another great post to spark the debate. I've put together a little response over on my blog... care for a little informal, connected debate?



Lanny Arvan said...

Well, that was an interesting and impassioned post. And in many respects I agree.

But let me ask this. Where you work, is there a door to the room? Have you ever had a conversation with somebody else in the room where you closed the door so that somebody else would be comfortable opening up? For me, stronger than your metaphor about the Internet and openess is the metaphor that people will be open when they are safe and comfortable.

So, in teaching, don't we need to create our safe hermetic environments, so the people within will be open? As far as I know, classrooms have doors on them.

Leigh Blackall said...

Safe and comfortable from what? Wouldn't a person be better off if you showed them that there was nothing to be afraid of, or that the things to watch out for are here, here, and here... not everywhere.

So is it a teacher's job to "create" safe environments, or to help someone to be safe in environments?

Where I work, its against the law to close the door, or at least to be alone with a student.

Lanny Arvan said...

Safe and comfortable from the scorn and derision of their peers (and perhaps the professor too).

When I got started with this stuff in 1995 - the issue was getting the students to open up and ask questions in class. A few would ask question but many would just sit on their hands and wait. I interviewed a lot of instructors and many of them reported that was the main teaching issue. I think it still is.

I don't think you can really teach the kids anything till they open up so I was just trying to get at what the stage setting activity would be for that to happen.

Leigh Blackall said...

Fare enough Lanny. Isn't it interesting that those same quiet kids, may just as likely be the loud and outgoing kids when in the safety of their home.

So my thinking is, to bring what is "home" to them, in their digital worlds, into the "classroom" or topics and subjects we teach.

Better still, to get them to take those topics home, or into their online network. Let them have their myspace, blogger, xanga, sites (and their network of friends that comes with it) but try to find ways for them to take what they are learning into that arena. Including you, their teacher.

But then, it all comes down to the sort of relationship the teacher and student have. I can see there'd be plenty of cases where that's not going to happen. Something to do with the power dynamics between a teacher and student prevents it I think.

So much has to change before this could work. That's why I commented "
Perhaps teachers are not the best people to be teaching anymore!"

Thanks for taking me up on this Lanny, and sticking around.

Lanny Arvan said...


It is interesting to me that we agree the issues are fundamentally behavioral and that a lot has to change before we can even approximate this open exchange between students and teacher as the norm.

I am less absolutist about the technology and see a different path (at least at my University and University's like it) for getting there, but since I think now I understand your motivation would be happy if your approach proves the right one.

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks Lanny, but it is sad to realise that we have landed so far from the norm, and that the norm is headed still further away.

I guess that's why I used such a strong title for this post, it certainly had the desired affect - in that a larger number of people have read it and linked to it at least.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree that the LMS is going away - at least in the context that we (University of Pennsylvania med school) are using it. We need to have a HIPPA certified server so that if the state comes into audit us, we will pass. With the vast turnover & school-wide need for HIPPA training & assessment alone justifies our LMS.

Leigh Blackall said...

Sounds to me you are talking about a student management system. I bet you have one of those too? I'm not saying we should ditch record keeping devices like SMS, but to propose that we should conduct our learning (communications around content) in an LMS... well, see above.

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