PLE vs. LMS…

In thinking, reading and more thinking about the PLE and LMS, the central concept, for me, is control.  And while some at this point will raise their fists and shout something about freeing the people, I sit back and ask why.  Why does it have to be about control and in what ways could control be good.

LMS = Control, Why…

LMS or Learning Management Systems are a search for order.  I do believe that most human beings do desire order, whether they achieve it or not.  There are certain expectations from students, faculty, staff and the public when an individual enters any educational institution.  (Now that is a word that has some heaviness, but I won’t go there at this point.)  And while many of these expectations may be based on outdated ideas or conventions, the expectations still remain.

Some of those expectations that drive an LMS adoption are

  • Students will receive the education “advertised” by the school
  • Faculty will be supported
  • Staff will have the tools they need to do their jobs
  • The community will benefit from the school, education – through events and alumni

Cutting edge education – theories, practices, ideas, tools, etc. are exciting, but they are so new, there may not be solid research and support.  For many the resistance comes in an attitude of “Don’t experiment on me or my kids.”  Which is understandable and yet completely impossible due to the nature of humans to be so different.   As a someone who supports faculty with technology, an LMS helps my department provide better support.  I can’t imagine having to have all my student workers up to date on every possible technology all the time in order to maintain our high level of support for whatever help request come in.  I also see every level of faculty, we even have a handful who still refuse to use email.  There needs to be scaffolding for faculty and students to bring them to the understanding and technological literacies needed to be successful.  I see the LMS as a scaffolding technique – more so for the faculty.

As a tangential note: I worry that those wise and ethical faculty who do not embrace technology will be seen as “outdated” and will be rejected by the upcoming students.  I also worry that the incoming students, with their seamless technology integration will not have the moral, ethical standards or even questions because some of the older generation are not “connected”.

PLE = Personal

I think the key in the PLE is the “Personal”.  I like the shift of having students move to a PLE.  I like the idea of students managing, directing and in a very real sense controlling their education.  This however requires a shift, that I don’t know if everyone is ready to take just yet.  Questions of assessment and expectations come into the discussion.  How do we “ensure” that the learning happened?  Isn’t that the really question underlying ALL education?  I do believe that in the end it truly is the learner, the student who decides what is learned.

The Support Standpoint

I believe the best part of my job is when an instructor comes in and says, “I would like to do “x”. Do you know of something that will accomplish that for me?”  I realize that I like this because the “learner” has already come to a variety of conclusions about how his/her class needs to go.  They come ready and willing for information.  I get to ask clarifying questions to make sure I understand their need(s).  We have a discussion.  I like to meet the needs of these faculty and then give them a “teaser” about another possibility or the next possible step.  It is exciting and fulfilling.

When the support requested resembles more of “The on button is on the bottom left…”  I get frustrated and depressed.  I understand the need for support at this level, but it is not a very fulfilling nor enriching conversation.

So, while I believe that PLE is the better way in terms of true learning.  I think the LMS has it’s place to help transition some instructors and simply pick up the rest.


PLE and PLN = Personal Learning Ecologies

In reading articles, blog posts, discussion boards and perusing diagrams I find the fine points of defining the difference between PLE (Personal Learning Environment) and PLN (Personal Learning Network) a small portion of the dialogue.  Especially when you add the information that one term evolved in America and the other evolving from Europe.  In  Emerging Technologies for Learning, Stephen Downes states that it is not in the technologies themselves, but in the thinking that underlies the concept.

It is the idea of “rich tapestr(ies) of resources, dynamic and interconnected” (Downes, 2007) that draws me to the term suggested in Dave Cormier’s blog post 5  points about PLE’s PLN’s for PLENK10 and also introduced by Josh Underwood in the PLENK2010 forum of Personal Learning Ecologies.

As I see it some of the key concepts of the PLE/PLN conversation are

  • People being accountable in their own learning
    • The idea of responsibility/accountability of one’s own learning.  The willingness to change, grow, adapt. An understanding of and a drive for knowledge acquisition; not simply for accumulation but to modify, connect and create new personal knowledge. As Downes (2007) states, “The idea behind the personal learning environment is that the management of learning migrates from the institution to the learner…Learning therefore evolves from being a transfer of content and knowledge to the production of content and knowledge.”
  • People connecting and forming communities
    • The key use of the online tools mentioned below is the ability to network.  To create webs of connections between people which can then be leveraged for learning.  The mentoring, partnership, criticism all come to play as connections are strengthened and learning increases. “Learning becomes as much social as cognitive, as much conrete as abstract, and becomes intertwined with judgment and exploration.” (Graham Attwell , quoted in Downes, 2007)
  • People using online tools, as well as others
    • “.. the heart of the concept of the PLE is that it is a tool that allows a learner (or anyone) to engage in a distributed environment consisting of a network of people, services and resources. It is not just Web 2.0, but it is certainly Web 2.0 in the sense that it is (in the broadest sense possible) a read-write application.” (Downes, 2007)
  • Personal knowledge and learning growing and expanding
    • One of the amazing things of a community of learners is the capacity to increase knowledge.
  • A life-long portfolio of learning
    • In reading through the articles this idea of PLE/PLN vs. the LMS – student centric vs. institution directed – freedom vs. controlled – dynamic vs. static.  It would appear that if one’s PLE/PLN were maintained it could become a life-long portfolio of a learning journey.

There is more to come on the Personal Learning Ecologies.  The living, breathing, adapting, sustaining nature of a system, an ecology.

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