PLEs are an Operating System for Learning

This is my first post for PLENK2010 and I am glad to be involved in this discussion. Thanks to the MOOC organizers for setting this up.

I think of PLEs as Operating Systems just like regular operating systems are for computer users. In fact, I call the PLE a LearnOS.

Thinking of a PLE as a LearnOS helps me also get by the initial comprehension of what it can contain, such as tools, resources and connections, as also how it is deployed – PC, mobile and cloud. I can then move on to think about how learning will occur in this LearnOS by asking not only how the LearnOS can be organized to support my learning (feed aggregation, twitter tags and the like) in a given context, or how my LearnOS is connected to other LearnOS-es out there (PLNs), but also to thinking how my LearnOS can adapt to my learning contexts and my learning needs.

That is basically asking questions such as those relating to personalization (both the how can I personalize question and the how can the system know who I am question), learning environment configuration (how can I configure the environment to learn and perform in the best possible manner) and assessment (how can I assess my learning within a distributed environment of LearnOS-es).

Stephen’s take on it is to put together some fundamental dimensions of the PLE – resource profiles (profiling multiple data attributes), personal identify (linked to resource profiles), communities (that together create a combined description of an object), resource aggregators (which combine resources based on configuration of parameters to present to the user), repositories (moving beyond DOI registries and repositories to contain just educational objects) and resource production (authoring tools which may be multi-user and collaborative to create new content). These would come together in a PLE environment where rights, syndication (and things like authorization?) need to be common service level affordances. To achieve these, Stephen has identified six components – profiler, aggregator, editor, scaffolds (ways to design new forms of content potentially from existing sources – maybe go beyond just mashing content to create complex content such as games and simulations), services and recommender – each performing a distinct role in the PLE architecture.

Of these, scaffolds are a structured representation of content, a sort of database architecture of data constituting the content in such a way as to yield one or more representations of content (visually or otherwise). It is like saying if I had the sequence number,  title, predecessor sequence number fields in a database (table), I could easily generate a process workflow in many different visual formats. If I was to add a start date and an end date field to the same table, I could get a Gantt Chart from the “data”. This is “data” but about content and you are putting together content in new forms, not directly but through views to the fields constituting a form of content.

By Services, he means the relationships between PLEs, which when built over the scaffolds, can give rise to multiple types of collaboration. This part interests me significantly because at least a part of it implies that structured collaboration techniques could perhaps be accommodated in this layer. For example, what happens when your content table/database (definition of content elements) starts interacting with mine – it’s a new shared vocabulary necessary for collaboration (the promise of the semantic web).

I think it will be worthwhile to think of PLE servers, which as part of their job of bringing together communities among other things, reconcile these folksonomies as well.

Recommenders are going to be extremely important, both in terms of what they recommend and what they do not! And I think it makes sense to try to incorporate changing personal profile or resource profiles as an input to this system, not just look outward to the network, in the interests of personalization.

Wilson et al, make a reference to existing ADL standards like SCORM. I think it is important to think about whether there can be standards (like DITA or S1000D or SKOS) that can be evolved for complex content in this framework. Connection coordination, symmetric relationships, individualized contexts, open standards, lightweight integration, open content, repurposing/re-use, and the personal & global scope characteristics are all important when thinking of an alternate design. I would think the PLE is improperly or inappropriately compared with VLEs  (its like comparing apples to oranges, a better comparison would be a PLE or LearnOS server with a VLE).

I read Alec Couros’s distinction between PLE and PLN. To me it is rather like the difference between the Internet and the Web, inter-related and inter-dependent concepts. For Dave, it is rather the reverse, with PLEs being the holding environment for PLNs.

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