Whither PLEs

I thought I’d share this diagram of a PLE from a session at ALT-C this year; people went off into groups and each came back with their vision of what a PLE should be. I think this is a nice model, but what screams out at me is that all the components already exist. RSS, calendaring applications, generic storage … these are things that are all out there and can already be aggregated. So why on earth would you want to waste time building one?

Granted, none of these standards came from academia, and the applications that support them are largely out in the wild. But students can build this system themselves, right now, by signing up to a handful of services. This is much more of a Personal Learning Environment than trying to construct an aggregator for people: students choose exactly what they want rather than being constrained by a framework decided by someone else.

Far better than spending millions of pounds on applications that will always be inferior to ones that already exist would be to further web standards and educate people (both those building tools and using them) about how they can be used. Giving learners the power to pick their tools and truly have their own learning environment is surely the best option. And it wastes far less money that could be better spent on other things.

Feeds aren’t a hard thing to grasp, and before long they’ll be integrated into every single web browser a student could possibly use. (Internet Explorer is the straggler here, but IE7 is just around the corner.) Entire businesses exist around syndicated content and aggregators, and as the formats become more ubiquitous there will be more and more. It’s in the interests of those companies to create marketing and information around feeds; they want people to use them. Those materials, at least in part, will exist of their own accord.

Look around at the web in general – all this is already out there. Educational technology is currently a catch-up game; let’s not reinvent the wheel, and instead look to use what exists as a basis to create something really innovative.

(Photo ripped from the AOC Nilta Flickr stream.)

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