#PLENK2010 Thoughts on Fiedler and Väljataga’s Paper, Personal learning environments: concept or technology?

I agree with Sebastian and Terje’s paper on this point:

“The development of Personal Learning Environments represents a significant shift in pedagogic approaches to how we support learning processes” . . . “(and it) is not a separate space on the internet, it is an essential part of the users’ workspace”.

As S&T point out, many people are already experiencing a self-directed life in the digital realm, often with an essential PLE workspace, and they are finding that traditional institutional power and pedagogical relationships are incompatible with this new world.  Just from a practical point of view, PLEs are usually embedded in users workflow and daily routine.  Classroom activities are not and can seem contrastingly irrelevant to one’s daily activities.

In addition to the specific socio-historical incompatibility that Sebastian and Terje point out, I also think that there are more incompatibilities lurking behind the academy’s veil.  Higher Education pedagogy was never intended to be vocational training in line with the expectations of most students.  (Professional schools with substantial practice components, like medical schools with residency requirements are the exception.)  Higher education was designed to make a class distinction, whether you were headed for the nobility or the clergy.  Higher education in modern times made entry into business management or the military’s officer corp the primary path for graduates.  Those with less education were expected to do the grunt work.  This changed when college degrees became common and the diploma no longer assured one of entry into a “high class” well paying job.  To that extent, higher education no longer serves the same goal and people are not willing to submit to something that no longer has a traditional end-game.  In contrast , PLEs are a natural adjunct to one’s everyday activity systems and in some ways may prove more directly relevant to people’s life goals when compared to traditional pedagogical forms.

I also agree with their concluding remarks:

A simple collection of potential resources (artefacts, natural objects, people) does not make a “personal learning environment,” if there is no personal model of intentional learning activity in the first place, or if people run on out-dated models from previous times.

So we need to move toward a learning model that is appropriate for the digital realm, one that re-envisions how learning functions in our everyday lives and how we are able to grow our ability to act in productive ways.

P.S. A small pet peeve.  I don’t like the way they refer to (adult) learning.  We can speak of adult activity systems, adult expectations for learning, or how learning occurs in adult activity systems, but I’ve never seen a convincing explanation of how the process of learning differs by age.  See Wikipedia’s critique section on andragogy.

Knowles himself changed his position on whether andragogy really applied only to adults and came to believe that “pedagogy-andragogy represents a continuum ranging from teacher-directed to student-directed learning and that both approaches are appropriate with children and adults, depending on the situation.