Dead personal

Since I posted the 'Two fingered salute' earlier this week several people have asked me what I meant by 'personal web'. I was also asked why I didn't use the term PLE (Personal Learning Environment). The two are not to be confused. The authors of the 2009 Horizon Report (I cannot recommend this document highly enough) succinctly define the personal web as "a term coined to represent a collection of technologies that confer the ability to reorganize, configure and manage online content rather than just viewing it". The report goes on to define personal webs as self created and consisting of online tools that suit each individual's unique preferences, styles and needs. Sound like a PLE? Almost, but not quite.

I deliberately avoided using the term PLE because I believe the PLE extends beyond personal web tools to encompass other tools and resources, such as paper based resources and broadcast media such as television and radio, as well as conversations with other people and so on. Having said that, each and every one of the above could be mediated through web tools, but they are not exclusively so.

At its core, the personal web is also very proactive: The Horizon Report gives an excellent, if somewhat idealised conceptualisation of the personal web: "Using a growing set of free and simple tools and applications, it is easy to create customized, personal web-based environments — a personal web — that explicitly supports one’s social, professional, learning and other activities via highly personalized windows to the networked world. Online material can be saved, tagged, categorized, and repurposed without difficulty..." I know there is a problem here, and this has been pointed out by some of those who have responded to my Two fingered salute post. It is this: Not everyone has the skills to use, or is willing to use the web tools that are referred to above. For those who don't, the institutional VLE (or perhaps no web based use at all) is an option.

This may sound like a climb down from my position on the death of the VLE, but It is not. I have always believed in a hybrid solution and indeed use one in my own professional practice, but for the sake of the polemic momentum, I'm advocating that institutions seriously reappraise their use of the VLE (read 'managed learning environment'). Much of it is dross, creative thinking is stifled, true collaboration is constrained, many students hate it, and many of the staff are not all that keen either (because it creates a lot of hard work with very little pay-off). The institutional VLE cannot by any stretch of the imagination, be perceived as a personal web - it is often too sterile and homogenised - but it can be a useful, safe and content rich starting point for those who are embarking on learning through the web.

The debate on the future of personal webs, VLEs and PLEs will continue online no doubt, but we also intend to conduct a face-to-face dust-up at ALT-C in Manchester this September. There should also be plenty of opportunity during the Fringe (F-ALT) sessions - see the F-ALT website for more details on these informal discussions.
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It may be useful to make a distinction between a mashed up PLE, and an integrated PLE. The former is a collection of web tools. The latter provides a user-centered environment where the learner is in control (of his/her educational process). Integrated PLEs are thin on the ground, Elgg is one, the forthcoming mPLE is another.

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