Saturday, 31 October 2015


Watch this video by Stephen Downes on PLEs, in which he clearly describes the difference between PLEs and VLEs and the pros and cons of each. Make a note of the key points he mentions

  • The difference between the learner-centred PLE and institution centred VLE are clearly shown although in reality, the two can combine with a central VLE and each learner having that as one node of their PLE. 
  • Our institutional approach is to put a stripped down service at the centre, essentially the identity management/ profile/ directory system with a few core tools such as email and recommended third party ones - and allow the learner to build their PLE from a portfolio of suggestions and ones they discover themselves, linked together through that identity management. The key is to make the single sign on between all the parts fit together. This is like the LMS Collab diagram shown in the video although perhaps more stripped down.
  • The problem highlighted - that people may not have an account to the LMS to join the collaboration environment is a desirable feature in a school setting - where ensuring that the people within the learning community are known and managed. for a school the PLE-Collab model would contain many risks to mitigate against.
  • Again the argument presented about LMS Federation is very real for some contexts (such as HE or Adult Ed), but where we need to know who is engaged in learning and collaborating with who - and that identity needs to be managed by a trusted source, a strongly federated approach is not optional. We operate a federated network with 30+ sites, each managing who locally is who and granting them access to the wider (M)PLE (managed personal learning environment).
  • A PLE-Network (or federation) is an exciting, flexible approach for contexts where trusted relationships can be managed in a robust way (my tutor introduces me to person A so I trust them, that person introduces me to B and C so I trust them). Such networks could become massive with a low (but finite) number of 'bad connections'. It would be dangerous in a school context for pupils but wonderful for staff development and other processes where eSafety were lower priority than agility and freedom.
  • Ownership of data is clearly an issue and the way that the institution owns the learners data with an LMS both a blessing (allowing response, validation, accreditation) and a curse (lock out, privacy). Models like Open Badges where the institution can award against a trusted identity, but the data then resides outside are really exciting approaches in this area (at this point I really want to go back and rewrite several earlier posts to mention Open Badges). Within our own approach most of the data is decentralised within the services connected to by the learner (which on ending their course they can transfer to a personal account) but that data which we are responsible for sits on our system.
  • The argument that in a PLE you have better control of your data is wonderful but flawed. It depends on the knowledge of the individual. I would contend that there will be at least as many, if not more, cases of data breach and loss through a model where the individual is left to their own devices. I prefer that approach for myself, but to characterise institutions as irresponsible and untrustworthy when they are likely to be competent and are legally accountable, to me comes over as a cheap ideological jibe rather than a pragmatic and realistic position.

I'm being unfair on Stephen Downes in the above. The video provokes and informs and in reality whether we like it (as learners) or not (as institutions) this landscape of people with their own rich PLE (which of course is much more than just a "Learning Environment" - it's a social, entertainment, business one too) is the future. The challenge for institutions is to be ready with a structure that allows people to connect into their offer on fair terms. Another good example of where learning will be transformed (like it or not) rather than institutions themselves transforming learning.

This is how our organisation approaches a mix of PLN and LMS - the core is identity management - to work with a member of staff or student we need to be able to be confident who they are and what their role is - as much else as is practical is distributed to other services, many of which allow the user to make their data portable - so for example if a member of staff leaves us they can transfer their Google Drive documents to another account, but anything stored on our own file servers remains with  us.

Click on diagram to expand

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