PLE Architecture

Rita Kop mentions Stephen Downes’ charter/vision for a PLE extending on from a discussion of critical literacies and the eXtended Web, building on Steve Wheeler’s Web 3.0, George Siemens’ xWeb and Stephen’s Web X, to which I would add some of my own thoughts from a couple of years ago on Learning X.0:

The components that were formulated in Stephen Downes’ vision for a PLE at the start of the PLE project of the National Research Council of Canada are the following: 1. A personal profiler that would collect and store personal information. 2. An information and resource aggregator to collect information and resources. 3. Editors and publishers enabling people to produce and publish artifacts to aid the learning and interest of others. 4. Helper applications that would provide the pedagogical backbone of the PLE and make connections with other internet services to help the learner make sense of information, applications and resources. 5. Services of the learners choice. 6. Recommenders of information and resources.

Interesting. Without really attempting to reverse engineer or second guess Stephen’s thoughts, I think this is an evolutionary approach to design the PLE. By that I mean, an approach that says, look at the emerging technology, networks and way people are learning and sharing, and create a solution that would mashup or cross-pollinate technology and context sensitive “intelligent” recommendations.

I have mixed thoughts about this approach. On the one hand, the cross-pollination is a perhaps inevitable in a personal learning environment (to various degrees as evidenced by that discussion on xWeb…), but for me it doesn’t feel like it captures the entire scope that we are confronted with.

Rita points to one such “leak” in terms of critical literacies.

The reality, however, is different and research is available to show that not all adult learners are able to critically assess what they find online and might prefer to receive guidance from knowledgeable others. There is also research available to show how difficult it is for anybody to reach and access a deep level of information by using search engines.

I have not seen the research, but it seems to be confirmation to an intuitive feel that I have. Particularly in India, there is a culture of a very strong “touch and feel” in almost all spheres of life – difficult to substitute the “guru” as the guide. And since search engines are what they are, architecturally, the latter finding also seems intuitive.

The other “leak” I feel is fundamental. “Helper applications that would provide the pedagogical backbone” does not sound quite right. These need to be “core” infrastructure for the PLE inasmuch as pedagogy needs to equally reside at the core as technology and the learner. Of course, what the pedagogical backbone consists of is of prime importance – the reason for building  a PLE as opposed to a PageFlakes.

One more concern is with “personal information”. How is personal information defined? Is it defined as your core demographics, interests and preferences, or is it defined as your actions as implicitly recorded by a search engine, or is it defined as the log of your learning activities captured explicitly by an intelligent system, or is it a combination or extension of that into your professional lives? As a corollary, in the context of the PLE, how is that information useful for recommender systems except in an information management and presentation algorithm?

Again, integrating “services of the learners choice” presents problems. Its like saying, I could add-on a service without worrying about how it helps integrate with my learning in a particular context – sort of like a widget that displays an aggregated feed. To have context built-in and some pedagogy to be in place within the context of a PLE is important and it will determine rules that services will have to follow if they want to integrate into the learning experience. Otherwise, it becomes just a site where various services coexist.

I am not sure what the alternative is to Stephen’s vision, but the above comments have been my starting points when thinking about PLEs.

3 thoughts on “PLE Architecture

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  1. Viplav;
    I also have been thinking about the intersection of learning and architecture. Inspired by the writings of John Hagel, and Richard Florida, I’ve been thinking about how to create educationally relevant physical and social spaces for networked everyday learning. The similarity is in the importance of physical space and tacit learning. I agree that cultural differences are important, but I think tacit learning is even more important.
    One way to think of it how the evolution of our species developed to take in a tremendous amount of information for decisions and learning, much of it unconscious and processed in parallel by our brain. Social media has been a tremendous boon to learning, but it does not yet get at the experience in the presence of other people acting. In one example aspect, sometimes it is not just the what you do, but the attitude with which you do it that make it effective or successful. Also, I agree with Rita that our social connections (including casual connection) help to deepen our learning in many different ways.
    So . . . how do you think that architecture can help design diverse boundary social spaces where learning can occur in everyday and serendipitous circumstances.


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