School and PLEs – Chalk and Cheese!

26 03 2010

After reading Steve Wheeler’s blog post I feel compelled to respond to some of the assertions he has made.

The PLE as a concept seems to have evolved in a very short time. One of the main problems is that there is no universal consensus about what it actually is. In fact, it isn’t anything: it is a term used by lots of different people to describe lots of different things. Some interpret a PLE as the collection of web tools that a learner uses, whereas others would describe this as one’s ‘personal web’. I subscribe to the notion that the concept of one’s Personal Learning Environment is not intrinsically digital, so can include things in the real and offline world, such as paper and personal connections with others.

But I do have some concerns. We have created and maintain an education system in which learners are not necessarily motivated to learn; it isn’t always the most pressing concern in their lives. The danger of identifying such a concept as a PLE is that it assumes that the learner knows the best way to approach their own learning. Similar to the problem faced by trying to identify one’s optimum learning style, learners may not yet have been exposed to the best approaches. Therefore, they may not yet be in a position to make those kinds of choices.

The PLE screams that learning is personalised and informal. However, schooling is often formal and teacher-led (even if you believe that there can be aspects of informal learning within a formal learning situation). It is easy for us to tie ourselves in knots trying to encourage the use of a PLE in school. Surely this is not possible? School may be a small part of a learner’s PLE. You simply cannot ‘implement’ a PLE in a classroom as Steve suggests. However, you can use formal learning within a classroom to influence a learner’s PLE, but it is their choice whether or not it is influenced.