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?)

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