Martin Weller has recently commented on his Ed Techie blog that there has been a lot of discussion about PLEs (Personal Learning Environments) recently, and the relationships between PLEs, VLEs, TLEs (Teacher Learner Environment) and DPLEs (Default PLEs). Andy Powell has also discussed PLEs and PREs (Personal Research Environment) is a recent post on P vs. P in a user-centric world: the first of three posts he has written prior to our joint UCISA presentation.
This made me think about what I understand by the term PLE. And I realised that my first experience of a PLE was in primary school in the 1960s – back then a PLE was a Pen Learning Environment! And I was around at the time of several technological innovations as well as different ways in which the Pen Learning Environment (which in this post I’ll refer to as PLE 1.0) was used to support my learning. When I started at school I have vague recollections of using a ‘scratch pen’ which we dipped in the ink well on our desk. However this was soon made obsolescent by the ‘biro’ technology. But when I passed my 11-plus and went to grammar school I remember one teacher who didn’t approve of ‘biro; technology and insisted that all of his homework had to be submitted using a fountain pen. But such technological luddism wasn’t sustainable, and I think that only happened in my first year. By the time I was a teenager I was free to use a biro.
The initial focus of control was clearly on the technology itself. But I have only recently realised the different pedagogical approaches which accompanying PLE 1.0. In some classes the PLE was used to write down what the teacher had written on the blackboard. However other teachers (or did this reflect other disciplines) the inefficiencies of the teacher having to write on the blackboard were removed, and we had to copy directly from our text books.
It was only later on the the teachers seemed to lose interest in controlling the technologies used and allowed me, the learner, the flexibility to make notes as I preferred.
What can PLE 2.0, the Personal Learning Environment, learn from my experiences in the 1960s and 70s? I think our institutions are still focusing too much on the technologies themselves and ways in which the technologies should be used – scratch pens, biros and fountain pen debates revisited. And there seems to be a tendency to be seek the best solution and make that the norm for all students – a Parker pen for all! But what we learnt from our writing instruments was the advantages to be gained when the technology became invisible, and we were free to make our own choices. (but when, I wonder, did personalised pens become prevalent?)
The ideal PLE (to drop the versioning I introduced in this post) should surely follow the pen in becoming technologically invisible, and just something that the learner uses to support their tasks? And, perhaps more importantly, the institution’s response should be to provide the flexibility needed to support this approach.