Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jumping into Personal Learning Environments, Networks and Knowledge 2010

By tsakshaug
Although I had signed up for a free, online course called Personal Learning Environments, Networks and Knowledge 2010 (PLENK 2010) facilitated by George Siemens, Stephen Downes,  and Dave Cormier, I hadn't had a chance to jump in until today.
On reading about various features of a Personal Learning Environment  (PLE) in an EDUCAUSE  brief, I found these two quotes particularly salient. A PLE ... puts students in charge of their own learning processes, challenging them to reflect on the tools and resources that help them learn best. This way of looking at learning changes the role of the teacher who then becomes a real facilitator instead of a provider of information to be learned.  As expressed in the article, ... [T]eaching is less a matter of data transmission and more a collaborative exercise in collection, orchestration, remixing, and integration of data into knowledge building. I have seen in the university courses that I teach, that graduate students can take charge of their own learning when given the opportunity.  I also assume (but haven't researched) that the idea of self-directed learning is the basis for Montessori schools.  What I am wondering is if this same process works in middle and high school.  Is it possible?  Is it being done?  Who's doing it?

In Learning networks in practice, Stephen Downes explains how the PLE allows the
learner not only to consume learning resources, but to produce them as well. Learning therefore evolves from being a transfer of content and knowledge to the production of content and knowledge. Now as far as producing is concerned, students have always produced things ranging from illustrating a story  in elementary school to writing a thesis in high school.  How does the use of a PLE change that?  The answer is in the formation of learning networks which become the basis for continuing the learning after producing something.  The feedback from others can lead to refinement of both products and ideas.

Learning, in other words, occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in
the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community. This conversation, in the Web 2.0 era, consists not only of words but of images, video, multimedia and more.

According to Downes these communities should display four essential characteristics:
1.  Diversity - This means being exposed to a wide spectrum of experiences.  Diversity allows us to have multiple perspectives, to see things from a different point of view. These views moderate each other, and prevent us from jumping to a conclusion.
2.  Autonomy - This means that each learner operates according to an individual and internal set of
principles and values.
3.  Connectedness -The knowledge produced by a network should be the product of an interaction between the members, not a mere aggregation of the members’ perspectives.
4.  Openness - Each participant in a network must be able to contribute to the network, and each ...needs to be able to receive from the network.

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