This paper explores some of the ideas behind the Personal Learning Environment and considers why PLEs might be useful or indeed central to learning in the future. This is not so much a technical question as an educational one, although changing technologies are key drivers in educational change. The paper starts by looking at the changing face of education and goes on to consider the different ways in which the so-called net generation is using technology for learning. It goes on to consider some of the pressures for change in the present education systems. The idea of a Personal Learning Environment recognises that learning is ongoing and seeks to provide tools to support that learning. It also recognises the role of the individual in organising his or her own learning. Moreover, the pressures for a PLE are based on the idea that learning will take place in different contexts and situations and will not be provided by a single learning provider. Linked to this is an increasing recognition of the importance of informal learning. The paper also looks at changing technology, especially the emergence of ubiquitous computing and the development of social software. The paper believes that we are coming to realise that we cannot simply reproduce previous forms of learning, the classroom or the university, embodied in software. Instead, we have to look at the new opportunities for learning afforded by emerging technologies. Social software offers the opportunity to narrow the divide between producers and consumers. Consumers themselves become producers, through creating and sharing. One implication is the potential for a new ecology of open content, books, learning materials and multimedia, through learners themselves becoming producers of learning materials. Social software has already led to the widespread adoption of portfolios for learners, bringing together learning from different contexts and sources of learning and providing an ongoing record of lifelong learning, capable of expression in different forms. The paper considers how Personal Learning Environments might be developed through the aggregation of different services. The final section provides examples of practices that show how PLEs may be used in the future.
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