Monday, October 18, 2010

Talkin' about (educational) revolution

Saw on The Daily today Linn’s post of a talk by Sir Ken Robinson on the need not for reform of education but rather for its (utter?) transformation.

It seems there is some synchronousness going on, as i discovered the same video yesterday. But I discovered after another video, which does a great job of adding visuals to a different talk (on the same topic) from Sir Robinson:

While I was at it, I also discovered a great interview of the great Isaac Asimov, in which he describes the emergence of the internet, and its impact on education. 

I think those last two links are must-see for #PLENK2010 participants.

Interestingly, both make a very strong point of individualizing education. Both acknowledge the value of educative processes (which involve having a teacher, whether presential or virtual), but denounce the industrialization of education and plead for the mass-customization of education (in my words).

Obviously, part of the solution for the need to deliver specific contents tailored to each individual’s needs are to be found in the Information and Communication Technologies, and fit perfectly with the idea that each individual has to go about his business of creating his own Personal Learning Environment.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Where is the MOOC’s Social Network?

One of the goals of the MOOC (or was it just in my mind?) was to generate a community of participants, and Dave Courmier’s post on surviving the fourth week goes on to say that participants should now enter a stage of clustering, where we form stronger ties between peers that have common interests, or at least enjoy each other’s artifacts.

Eventually, i believe we need some unifying tools to get around the MOOC. Allowing the participants to do their own thing on their own corner of the net is great, but I can’t help myself think: “if only we knew what we know”, a saying that every person that has dabbled in Knowledge Management (KM) will recognize. What it means is that within an organization (such as our MOOC) there is often more knowledge than the individual participants of the organization are aware of. Knowledge Management therefore tries to increase the knowledge that is available to most participants by various means and strategies. 

What I think is needed, in the case of the MOOC, is a ‘social network’ functionality. I am grateful that the course is wide open (and free!), and that I have the liberty of using the tools I want to do what I want with the course. But the presentation forum is not fulfilling the function of allowing me to know who’s who and who’s what, and more specifically, where they are storing+sharing their artifacts (at least for those who are hanging them on the ‘net). I’m thinking for a Facebook profile styled thing, which would link to the key things participants would want to share, and allow for a more effective clustering by specifying interests. Tags (Delicious or Diigo style) would be a must where one could describe himself and his work and interests, and allow others to tag him or her with what they see fit. 

Yes, again for those that have some background in Knowledge Management (KM), I’m talking about the good’ole Yellow Pages, where experts can identify themselves and identify others, and which’s ultimate goal is making connections easier and faster. “If only we knew who we know” is very often the first step in KM. We need this for the MOOC to take shape, and more specifically for our PLNs to get jumpstarted and conform themsevles. In a previous post I described my PLN as the group of people I collaborate with to learn and develop new concepts. These people play a key role in helping me understand and achieve new things. I know there must be lots of new people that can help me, and possibly a few that could benefit from what I can offer. However, the MOOC, given the very philosophy that animates it, should make this easier and not so random.
Every informal education specialist will tell you: When you start a workshop, you need some ice breakers, or at the very least have people present themselves somehow in order to facilitate integration, and setting (hopefully shared) expectations. I once asked my professor of Organizational Psychology “how do we get people to open up in a group activity?”, which he answered “By sharing something intimate”. [No, it probably doesn’t have to be as ‘intimate’ as you’re thinking of right now]. ‘Personal’ might be a better word in English. When this introduction exercise is done, the facilitator probably has an idea about who’s who and who wants what in the course. 

Our little “hello world” in the forum are not quite enough. From what I observed, we mostly got locations out of everyone, but a more detailed profile would go much deeper in order to start forming the ‘clusters’ as early as possible. The course’s organizers must have their own expectations of what is going to happen in the course, and who the ‘types’ of participants might be, so adding a few related good questions would help the participants get a sense of who they are and where they stand in regard to the other participants. Obviously, the self-descriptions will change over time, so those changes should be embraced as a design feature.
It might be apparent (and a tad repetitive, but this is "learning theories week, after all?) by now that what I am asking for is a ‘social network’: Facebook style, LinkedIn, Ning, whatever. Each participant should take a little time to throw a self-description in there, along with a few tags he/she would like to be associated with them, and his links for the course: where his blog is, what his twitter is, and maybe a couple more (social bookmarks, and personal website?). I do realize that not everyone will fill out every single field, and given the libertarian philosophy of the MOOC, why not? If, however, we could display a couple of the person’s RSS feeds right on the same page, this would probably become quite valuable for all the users.

I do realize this is extra work, but I’m pretty sure that more than a few specific research goals from the organizers would be solved there and then.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What i do in/with my PLE

So we were asked to create a concept map representing the tools we use to keep our PLE working. Now that i think i have a working definition for it, representing it should be easy, right?

It turns out that i felt i needed to go through a 'preparatory stage' in which i would identify how i get my learning done, what are the actions i take, before i freely share which tools i use. Out of this reflection came the following map:

It's pretty simple: i take up to 5 general actions to learn about something:

1) search and read about it on the interwebs. If i feel safe enough, or welcome enough, i may post some comment on the valuable things i've found. By reading i also mean watching slides, videos, and in some rare cases listening to some podcasts.

2) i'm a collector at heart, so i have to store/save everything i deem worthy. What i mean is that if i took the time to read it, it probably went to become part of my bookmark library. If there's a chance to download it (in the case of a pdf, or ppt, or such) i probably will. Once i have the link, i may decide i want to share it, either with specific people to whom i consider it may be of interest, or to the general public on some social media service that helps me connect to some kind of public. In the action of storing, it might occur that i comment on the stored resource.

3) When really in the mood, or maybe because something was extraordinarily eye-opening, i might create some artifact (an e-mail, a presentation, a word document, or even a blog post) were i register my experience regarding the topic, make some comments on it, or just present what the topic is to people that may become interested in it.

4) Rarer, but not out of the realm of possibilities, is the chance to get a conversation started on the topic. In a few instances, i was able to find someone's twitter account and was able to have an almost synchronous chat with that person. Great experience. In some cases, the chat is with someone i'm well acquainted with, and then the chat is through a more 'personal' channel (google talk, skype, etc.)

5) When i am really ON with a topic, and i find the 'right' -online- community, i might register myself in, to get a deeper sense of where the discourse/narrative is at regarding the topic of interest. Levels of participation will largely depend on how many questions i have, which answers i can't find, and the perceived probability of being treated with respect i feel i'll get there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

PLN vs PLE, i think i got it (for me, anyways)

This morning, i spotted a post on, which led me to the original post. Eduardo’s post was (in my words) essentially a question about whether The Daily was really needed. I answered that in my view yes it was, and then Eduardo answered back, and then I replied, and we interchanged a few ideas and then turned to connecting on twitter and thank each other for what has occurred. What I got out of that conversation was a glimpse of clarity on what how I can differentiate Personal Learning Networks (PLN) from Personal Learning Environments (PLE).

[I do realize I am a week late in getting this, but I’m getting there, I hope]

To make this introduction longer, allow to explain some of my background: I am a psychologist by training, and have always practiced within the field of Organizational Psychology, and got most of my work experience as a trainer. I wrote my thesis (in Latin America, that’s how we get a degree) on how Organizational Psychology could enhance Knowledge Management. Knowledge Management, as you can guess, has been a field I’ve discovered and enjoyed a lot, and was how I stumbled upon George Siemens’ Knowing Knowledge, which I quoted in said thesis. Within my research, Wenger’s concepts of Community of Practice were also key. If you are starting to see a pattern of emphasizing the power of the group/team to get things done, you’re getting me right. Of course, virtual teams and online collaboration came next, along with a great interest in what was then called “social networks”. I’m referring to those quaint diagrams with dots and lines that portrayed how people related to one another. Networks were where the action was. I actually went as far as trying to describe what my emerging views on organizational design were in here.

With all these antecedents, Personal Learning Networks were necessarily where the action had to be for me. I actually gave a (dis)presentation at the last Quito Barcamp to share my ideas and enjoy a little discussion about the topic. 

One of the key concepts for me in a PLN is that learning is a social activity. The human being learns, and makes sense of the world within a community. And PLNs are the expression of that social behavior on the online world. We connect to people, including their artifacts (writings, drawings, videos, etc.) in order to learn more. The human being is naturally a learner, and this is one of the ways he has to connect to other human beings (within the learning-teaching continuum). PLNs, then, are how we locate the resources we need to learn more, how we achieve interaction with people that can help us learn more. To me, the PLN is this bunch of resources (essentially people, but more practically their artifacts) that I have connected to and that can help me make more sense of the world, possibly even providing me with answers when I need them (or at least good questions).

The key aspect here are the connections, and what I can do with them, in the sense of doing something with them, not just benefiting from them.
The PLN is then more akin to a community, but with much looser connections, described in the literature as “weak ties”. Weak they may be, but if they’re helpful, that’s all that’s needed.

My comprehension of the Personal Learning Environment is now differentiated from the PLN in the following way: My PLE is where I store all my “keys” to the network. The PLE takes me to my PLN through various gates and paths.

This difference is key for me as it means that the PLE is more focused on the tools, whereas the PLN is more focused on the people that can learn from each other and together. PLEs are nice, and useful, but they're the ticket and ride, not the destination. The destination is the PLN.

Back to Eduardo's post: In order to keep a growing productive community, we must help it learning more to achieve more. PLEs are enablers, not doers. What we need is a conscious and active PLN to get things done.   This means facilitating connections (between people, artifacts, and results).

I guess my next question then becomes: why focus on PLEs? Shouldn't we be trying to figure out how to make PLN work better?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Diverging thoughts started by Institutions vs. PLNs debate

Warning: this post got started on one thing, and then went all over the place. It might take some forbearance to go through it all. Alternatively, pick a paragraph or two and then go on doing something else, before you pick your next paragraphs. It's been a long day.

As i am moving forward in my reading of the suggested documents and discussions on the forum, i am struck with the idea that PLE/Ns proponents can go pretty far in their demands: It would seem that through PLNs (i'll just stick to PLN from here on) we don't really need institutions or professors: all we need is love (connections at the very least) :)

I do appreciate the value of informal learning, and i've worked for several years on not formal learning (the NGO type of trainings and such). However, the proposition that PLNs can just emerge out of nothing, or that self-teaching, online, with a few companions can replace completely what learning institutions can offer seems audacious. Yes, being a self-taught person has great great merit. Yes, having the motivation and self discipline will always eventually get you there. And yes, having good friends that are willing to share with you what they know is tremendously valuable. But i think having a teacher you can rely on, someone that can open the path for you to tread on and experiment with remains a critical human experience, in my opinion.

What i am interested in is enhancing what happens in the classroom with what PLNs can bring. I have a hard time with the notion that we can expect to replace the classroom with the PLN, and eliminate the need for a teacher (the subject matter expert that  is always there for you -for a semester at least-, knows how to explain things, and can give you feedback on your progress). Surely, proposing that education is just about meeting  peers to almost randomly figure out the possible paths and dosage to devellop knowledge can't be seen as a move forward.

I am more inclined to look at the PLN as something that makes the class richer, more thrilling, more fulfilling (to the students and their teachers).

Participation is key in human development, and PLNs, by their nature and very definition allow for wide, deep, great, significant participation of all the members that value their own and the other's participation.

Maybe all of the above is why we're hitting the 'curation' concept. Curation by amateurs is nice, but curation by someone that actually takes the time to go through it all, collate it, wheigh it, pick the best of the crop and arrange it in an order that can make sense for new people that run into the subject is a greatly value-adding process. Call him/her a facilitator, mediator, mentor or whatever, that person is a teacher to me.

Back to the topic of PLNs and institutions. It shouldn't be one against the other. The game is how the two work together to provide ever better resources for human development.

One more thing: fully autonomous PLNs can be expected of adults, but taught to children (Do we have a Montessori trained teacher or student in the room?)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

a mindmap on what a PLN is and does

This is where i'm at right now regarding what a PLN is, and what it is good for:

I'm trying to be synthetic here, but would like to know if i've missed anything essential. I do realize that tools, for instance needs more details, and expect to get down to that in the next few days.

Your comments are welcome.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

So, i enrolled in PLENK2010

This morning i found out about a new "Massive Open Online Course", and almost immediately decided to enroll and seize this generous opportunity. When i read that George Siemens ( was involved, i knew i had to take it. I mentionned his pionneering connectivism ebook in my thesis, and thought his ideas were opening a whole new window on Knowledge Management. I've been following connectivism from afar since, and am still enthusiastic about what it can offer.

The course is about "Personal Learning Networks/Environments", and it comes right down my alley as a key component of a project i am working on.

I've been reflecting for a while about the impact Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs, or the  interwebs as it has come to be known to many people) on Education. As a matter of fact, I've published some slides (warning: they're in Spanish) on that topic here:

More to the point, i had also been thinking on the topic of Personal Learning Networks, and gave a presentation at the last Quito Barcamp (also in Spanish, but it shouldn't be too hard to follow):

In short, my hopes are for this course to help me understand more deeply how education can be enhanced with the use of ICTs, and create my own framework on this.