Liveblogging Opening Brandon Hall Session--Lisa Johnson
Liveblogging Instructional Design for the Semantic Web

Liveblogging Stephen Downes on PLEs at Brandon Hall

Stephen_downes_altc_4 PLE is a way of viewing learning on the web--we're not centered on one application.

Stephen's PLE:

  • Store photos (Flickr) and video (Google video)
  • Place to work collaboratively through Google docs.
  • Way to stay up to date (Google Reader)--My note--only 4-5 people in this group of about 40 who use RSS!!!
  • Way to save money on long-distance calls (Skype)
  • Knowing where he's staying before he gets there (Google Maps)
  • Way to draw (Gliffy)

What do PLEs mean for learners--A world full of free learning resources. Three major ways to view

  • Can think of them as a "thing" and "object"--books, content, etc.
  • Can think of them as "events"--class, lecture, etc.
  • Can think of them as flow--stresses experience and pattern recognition. This is how we should be thinking of them.

Living in a world of user-generated content. It's personal, opinionated. It's games, comics, photos, etc.

It's a network of interactions--people linking to, connecting to other people

It's immersive--learning follows you. Learning environment should always be available to you inside other environments.

New roles for students as creators of learning, for teachers as coaches and mentors and for the rest of as as teachers.

Because everyone is hyper-connected and can create create content, can do their work in an open and public way. This open way adds value. A welder videotapes himself welding--that creates live, dynamic learning resources for anyone in the world who is interested. Idea is that everyone, not a select set of trained people, becomes a teacher and a learner.

Web of user-generated content. More interesting than Wikipedia are the billions of pages of how to do things.

Your network becomes the filter--they are the ones who act as editors for you. Structure of web of interactions is what creates the filter. How we construct our web will determine how well we can filter.

Learning becomes a network phenomenon. Learning is immersion of yourself in a community of practice and web of interactions. Web is composed of people who are interested in the same things.

Issues--too much info, too many sources to scan, localization/personalization and relevance.

Network semantics--some kinds of networks are more reliable than others. Some can produce "cascade phenomenon" where everyone is doing the same thing (like spread of disease or a rumor).  If your network is too tightly joined so that everyone can be exposed quickly in a short number of hops, then something can spread very rapidly. Need a network that will slow down the propagation of ideas, that will create communities that give enough time for alternative ideas to spread too. This allows for both to have an equal chance of being represented in the network.

Principles of this kind of network are semantic principles--design of networks that are least likely to create cascade phenomenon but more likely to spread ideas. Right now we have too much connectivity.

Semantic Principle--four elements

  • Each person who has a PLE is autonomous. Chooses own software, making own decisions, etc. (Stephen's PLE--gRSSHopper). Not just a place where you consume content--it's also where you create content. PLE aggregates and stores content so that the learner can create own content.
  • Diversity--Goes against our natural inclination. Typically we're told that "sameness" defines community and collaboration. Strength of network comes not from common identity but from diversity. People are defining own perspective and point of view and then communicating with everyone else. Then a perspective and knowledge emerges as a consequence of those conversations.
  • Connectedness--diversity must be connected and interactive. From web of interactions comes knowledge. Small pieces, loosely joined. The network has the knowledge, not necessarily any one individual.
  • Open--No barriers to joining the network. No division points, etc.

(My note--Wondering if this is way beyond a lot of the people in this room--do they know the individual tools enough to get the concepts?)

Stephen is noting that the different ways that people are organizing themselves online for the Connectivism course (i.e., Moodle, Second Life, Ning, etc.) are impacting the quality of the conversation. On Moodle, where things are very hierarchical, there are a few people dominating "conversation" and stifling most other ideas. Bloggers are more open, diverse, etc. (represent more of the semantic principles)--having more "productive" discussions. No one is dominating the conversation--everyone is heard, everyone has a voice. Stephen sees this as a function of the tool. I wonder if certain kinds of people aren't attracted to different kinds of tools. Which comes first? People selecting a certain tool that supports their behavior or people behaving according to how the tool operates?

PLE is a way for each person to have their own presence in the network--to be a node in the network. It means aggregating, networking, filtering and feeding forward the info to other connections in the network.

Key technologies:

  • Tagging--people choose how they will categorize info and the cumulative effect becomes a diverse, autonomous way of referring to the world.
  • AJAX--way for web page to "talk to server without having to reload itself." Works with JSON to create very tight connections.
  • REST (representational state transfer) way to associate a website with data. Key to mash-ups.
  • Open ID--can share data among different sites.

(My note--I spoke with a woman at lunch from Cisco who said she felt this all missed the mark, was too "big picture" and "academic" for her. I think people were more interested in how to construct and support PLEs, rather than delving into the underlying principles. They seemed to want more concrete information from a practitioner standpoint)

UPDATE--For more on personal learning environments (PLEs), check out this post.


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Great work! Thank you for introducing me to PLEs...I'm ridiculously interested in this and will be back on your site later this evening when I can better focus. :)

How can you put something into practice if you don't understand the theory and vice versa? Just because people want a quick fix doesn't mean that is what they need. I'm grounded in the practical (I have to get people to pay for my services) but it's really important to understand the underlying principles.

One example about openness is that it's very easy to post a comment on my blog; without captchas or membership. I think that this has contributed to the number of comments on my blog. All of this falls under the theory of openness. Learning praxis is what it's all about, so I wouldn't give in to comments from people who want a quick fix. They can find many a snake-oil salesman to sell them the latest "PLE in a box" but it's the quality of the foundation (theory) that will last.

I may sound like an idiot, but can you tell me what PLE actually stands for?
I am enjoying your liveblog posts from this conference (your grammar/spelling etc. is remarkably good in the circumstances!) thanks for sharing.

Well, let's see... in addition to slides, which I restricted to only one corner of the screen, I had the live chat they could have used, as well as the live UStream broadcast to the internet at large.

I started by showing the applications that form my PLE and what I do with them.

I left the slides on several occasions, at one point to show how I send my own newsletter, at another to demonstrate the course George and I are running, and at another to point to the software I developed along these lines.

There was a lot of 'practical application' there, and I'm disappointed the woman from Cisco didn't see it.

Harold, I agree with you completely, but I think that a lot of people need to start with application before moving into theory. They need to live for a little while in the concrete before they can move to the key ideas behind it.

Stephen, although I agree that you showed us what your PLE looked like, etc. I suspect that people needed sort of a step-by-step of how to pull together the small pieces, loosely joined idea. Although it was an excellent presentation and for me, very interesting to explore the ideas behind PLEs, I'm not sure that everyone at the conference had a really clear picture of all of the tools and how they could fit together. I did a later session on social media and learning and found that people had some idea of these things, but were not totally clear about how they actually worked and their two-way nature. I could be wrong, but I got the sense that people wanted a recipe for creating a PLE.

And Heather, I'm sorry--I should have put this in the post (which I'll do now). A PLE is a personal learning environment, sometimes also known as a PLN or personal learning network. I'm going to add a link to a bunch of things I've written about them, but you can also find that in the sidebar under Best of Bamboo in the "Exploring Personal Learning Environments" section.

My take away from this session was the huge impact of the word PERSONAL - and how that impacts the traditional corporate learning department (and IT).

The 'conflict' of corporate learning environment and personal learning environment is proving interesting in terms of tools and content. While I sense 'conflict' today, I think the trend will shift toward 'merge' in the future - corporate and personal learning merging into a common interface/approach to learning/knowledge.

The current conflict stems from personal learning on corporate time - without review/approval does this add ROI for the corporation? and without review/approval is the content appropriate? and without review/approval does the different tools/technologies create security threats or help desk nightmares?

Most would agree self-learning has always augmented what the corporate processes provide - whether on the corporate clock or on personal time. And, as we've all seen, incorporating ideas from outside the firewall has proven extremely useful. Therefore, I think self-learning will become more and more of the corporate process.

In fact, I think the advanced corporations will begin to rapidly leverage the learning/content that is available outside their firewalls and link/embed that content into their established curricula and knowledge portals. This will serve as a streamlined process to 'build' content and open thought processes beyond the firewall - in a sense, jump starting what the personal learning environment would hope to do.

What we saw from Stephen, which was very personal in terms of tools and content, points toward the future trend where the individual chooses how their learning environment is constructed. Stephen's PLE was certainly based on both his own technical skills and individual learning requirements.

I think what most people might be wondering is how to provide a customizable learning environment given the average knowledge worker's technical skill set and what the corporation is willing to permit from a 'standardized tools and content' perspective.

Regardless - exciting times and I think the PLE is the statement of the challenge facing CXO's in the next few years - Can 'Autonomous, Diversified, Connected, Open' exist as a corporate standard?

Eric, I think you're right on with everything--it IS about the personal and how do you connect personal learning and enterprise learning. My take is that we will be most successful when we are able to help people construct the PLEs that work best for them, but then help them link to content and networks that are both behind and outside the firewall. I suspect that there will be a lot of birth pangs around all of this but I'm hoping that we land someplace good.

Michele, I've been researching PLE's for a class of mine where we are learning to use technology and web 2.0 tools in our education, and using a blog to communicate what we learn. I found your blog extremely informative and helpful. I can't wait to see what you post next!

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