Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Oh PLEase!
Here we go again. Just as we are getting over the LMS, LCMS. MLE, VLE and a dozen other acronyms for systems that want to command and control learning, we have another; PLE (Personalised Learning Environment). Just as we realise that learning is a highly personal experience, we want to can it, label it and sell it top-down in the straightjacket of a piece of software.
Another top-down initiative
To be fair this is a genuine attempt to look at software from the learner's perspective, all of the previous systems were really top-down, organisational and institutional control mechanisms. However, in this new debate we already have the top-down, middle-out and bottom-up camps.

On this one I'm firmly in the bottom-up camp. We already have our PLE - it's called the internet. I have a desktop, browser, bookmarking, a couple of blogs, and can easily organise sources and tools for my personal learning. In fact, it is important that I stay in this environment as it gives me the necesssary freedom to add, delete and modify in a real and instantly accessible environment. With Firefox and Flock it's even easier - just make your browser a tuned-up learning resource. I do have some sympathy, however, for the middle-out, personalised 'learning' or 'knowledge' home pages. Even this is easy to do - there's lots of tools for personalised home page construction (without the need for any programming).

Death of learning-specific software
What this move does signify is that the first wave of top-down learning-specific software is now in terminal decline. Why buy an LMS, virtual classroom or other learning-specific piece of software when the web has loads of better stuff for free. What we're seeing is the death of top-down, expansion of middle-out and explosion of bottom-up approaches to learning.


David Wilson said...

The death of top-down learning systems. Maybe but the demand on companies to manage track mandate and report is growing at the same rate as the demand from learners for more personalised contextually relevant consumable information and learning. The challenge is on how organisations reconcile these two contradictory needs. You cannot just ignore one of them!

Clive Shepherd said...

I absolutely agree that I don't need or want special software to help me manage my personal learning. In fact even calling it learning puts me off. However, if you do run formal courses (and yes they really do fulfil a useful role), then my experience is that a VLE is an extremely useful tool. You don't have to have one, but you'd need a collection of other tools to perform the same functions and they wouldn't necessarily work that well together. And VLEs are not necessarily expensive - I've been using Moodle and that costs nothing.

David Wilson said...

but clive (still playing devil's advocate here), are you a typical learner or do you work for a large company trying to manage the competency and performance of large numbers of staff and cover its backside from a compliance perspective? Thought not.

Donald Clark said...

You've uncovered an uncomfortable truth here David. Formal training is barely hanging on to its credibility as it is cornered into the dubious game of compliance, which is largely about tracking input (course completion), not outputs.

Meanwhile informal learning (largely but not exclusively online) is growing at an unprecedented pace, driven by real users (let's not call them learners), who are using, and often defining, the content and tools.

Traditional course-driven training is in retreat, both in terms of budgets and reputation. Informal learning, on a broad front, has challenged the old models and is pushing them backwards, as well as underming them. The tragedy is that the training world is not getting behind the obvious wins in informal learning. Rather than embrace the fact that top-down intitiatives don't always work, they continue to bash trainees over the head with crude courses.