Monday, March 29, 2010

LaaN vs. Actor-Network Theory

Actor-network theory (ANT), also known as the sociology of translation or sociology of associations, proposes a socio-technical account that makes no distinction in approach between the social, the natural and the technological (Callon, 1986; Latour, 1996, 2005; Law, 1992). ANT is based upon the principle of generalized symmetry employing a single conceptual framework when interpreting actors, human and non-human. Latour (1996) writes "an ’actor’ in ANT is a semiotic definition -an actant-, that is, something that acts or to which activity is granted by others. It implies no special motivation of human individual actors, nor of humans in general. An actant can literally be anything provided it is granted to be the source of an action" (p. 370).

However, ANT has several limitations to be applied as a framework for dealing with complex learning environments. ANT explores the ways that heterogeneous networks of both human and non-human actors are constructed and maintained and focuses on tracing the transformation of these heterogeneous networks (Latour, 2005). Central to ANT is the concept of translation which is the process of creation of an actor-network and generation of ordering effects Law (1992). The main problem of ANT’s heavy emphasis on the construction, maintenance and transformation of actor-networks (i.e. translation) is that it reduces all actors into black-boxes, and thus ignores internal actions which are crucial for the creation of PKNs, and hence learning, such as seeing patterns, reflecting, (self-)criticizing, and detecting/correcting errors. These actions build the cornerstones of LaaN.

Moreover, according to Callon (1986), the translation process consists of four major steps: problematisation, interessement, enrolment, and mobilisation. However, the creation of knowledge networks cannot be dictated by a predefined process. It rather requires self-ordering and self-organization. Law (1992), while exploring the strategies of translation, acknowledges the self-ordering nature of knowledge networks. As he puts it: "translation is contingent, local and variable" (p. 387). In contrast to ANT, in LaaN, the creation of knowledge networks is rather undetermined, often unpredictable internal process within the knowledge ecology which is, by definition, a self-controlled, self-maintained, and self-organized entity.

Another limitation of ANT is that it does not distinguish between complex and complicated systems. ANT, particularly in Latour’s work, refuses to make the distinction between human and non-human actors i.e. between complex and complicated entities (Williams, 2007). ANT’s strong emphasis is on the heterogeneous nature of the actor-networks. Latour (2005) stresses that, in ANT, non-human actors, similar to human-actors, are treated as mediators rather than intermediaries. Latour makes a strong distinction between intermediaries and mediators. He writes: "For intermediaries , there is no mystery since inputs predict outputs fairly well: nothing will be present in the effect that has not been in the cause ... For mediators, the situation is different: causes do not allow effects to be deduced as they are simply offering occasions, circumstances, and precedents. As a result, lots of surprising, aliens may pop up in between" (pp. 58-59). Treating non-human actors as mediators makes from them complex entities where cause and effect are intertwined and cannot be separated. Non-human actors, however, are rather complicated entities - or in Latour’s terms intermediaries. All the components of a non-human actor are knowable and cause and effect relationships can be predicted. In LaaN non-human "actors" are just an enabler. At the heart of LaaN lie individual learners and their PKNs.

Another point where it also becomes clear that ANT does not make a distinction between the complex and the complicated is the ANT’s concern with the way in which the social is constantly reconfigured, or in Latour’s words ‘reassembled’ (Latour, 2005). Law (1992) stresses that the core of the actor-network approach is "a concern with how actors and organisations mobilise, juxtapose and hold together the bits and pieces out of which they are composed ... and so turn a network from a heterogeneous set of bits and pieces each with its own inclinations, into something that passes as a punctualised actor" (p. 386). Latour (2005) uses the verb reassemble to describe the same effect. He specifies five major uncertainties (p. 22):

• the nature of groups: there exist many contradictory ways for individuals to be given identity;

• the nature of actions: in each course of action a great variety of agents seem to barge in and displace the original goals;

• the nature of objects: the type of agencies participating in interaction seems to remain wide open;

• the nature of facts: the links of natural sciences with the rest of society seems to be the source of continuous disputes;

• and, finally, about the type of studies done under the label of a science of the social as it is never clear in which precise sense social sciences can be said to be empirical.

Latour argues that if the social is based on layers of uncertainties, then the social needs to be reassembled. However, in the new knowledge intensive era, the relationship between different knowledge nodes or in Law’s terms ‘heterogeneous bits and pieces’ is becoming flexible and is changing rapidly; thus, it cannot be captured through a reconfiguration process. Reconfiguration, or in Latour’s terms reassembling, works well for complicated systems in which different components and associated relationships can be identified and managed. Reconfiguration, however, cannot work while dealing with complex knowledge systems comprising many interacting identities. In the latter case, networking is the solution. In complex knowledge systems, the way the knowledge nodes network with each other results in unpredictable movements in the knowledge ecology. Knowledge ecologies lie at the heart of LaaN.

Furthermore, Latour (2005) claims that "it’s possible to render social connections traceable by following the work done to stabilize the controversies" specified above (p. 16) and that the role of ANT is to trace actor-networks (p. 128). To note here that ’network’ in Latour’s vocabulary means something different. Latour points out that ’network’ is an ambiguous word meaning "a string of actions where each participant is treated as a full-blown mediator" (p. 128). To avoid this confusion, Latour suggests using ’work-net’ rather than ’network’. He writes: "Really, we should say ’work-net’ instead of ’network’. It’s the work, the movement, the flow, and the changes that should be stressed" (p. 143). In complex knowledge systems, however, there is no chance to trace social connections, nor is it possible to follow the actors or their actions. Latour himself acknowledges that following the actors themselves is not an easy task since, as he writes, "the actors to be followed swarm in all directions like a bee’s nest disturbed by a wayward child" (p. 121). Thus, there is no means to trace actors’ actions and connections because their actions are uncertain, unexpected, and often hidden; and their connections are varied, ubiquitous, and open. The role of LaaN is neither to follow actors nor to trace their actions or connections. Its major role is to help learners build and nurture their PKNs and to foster connections between different PKNs in order to form a complex, adaptive, dynamic, open, and living entity; i.e. a knowledge ecology.


Callon, M. (1986). Some elements of a sociology of translation: Domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of st brieuc bay. In J. Law (Ed.) Power, Action and Belief. A New Sociology of Knowledge?, (pp. 196–233). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Latour, B. (1996). On actor-network theory: A few clarifications. Soziale Welt, 47(4), 367, 369–381.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network- Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Law, J. (1992). Notes on the theory of actor-network: Ordering, strategy and heterogeneity. Systems Practice, 5(4), 379– 393.

Williams, R. (2007). Managing complex adaptive networks. In Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management & Organizational Learning, (pp. 441–452).

Related Posts:

- LaaN vs. Situated Learnig

- Knowledge Ecology vs. CoP

- LaaN vs. Activity Theory

- LaaN vs. Social Constructivism

- LaaN Revisited

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Role for the Learning Institution?

In the new networked world, wouldn't it be better to think of the learning institution in a way similar to Amazon Marketplace. In that sense, the learning institution would step back from its traditional role of command and control and act as a hub connecting third parties providing personalized learning experiences to the learners?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

TEL is NOT a Technology Issue

In this ebook, Terry Freedman provides a nice compilation of 87 classroom projects using Web 2.0 technologies.

The projects listed in the ebook are quite interesting and almost all contributors stressed the benefits of using Web 2.0 technologies in their teaching activities. However, these projects - and all current Web 2.0-based classroom projects - share a common emphasis on how to best integrate the emergent Web 2.0 technologies into the learning process without influencing the traditional pedagogical principles and policies imposed by formal educational institutions. The result is that technology is often applied in the existing institutional context of learning controlled by the institution and organized into courses with preselected tools and predetermined learning outcomes.

In my eyes, the challenge is not to mimic old ways of doing things with new technology, based on traditional institutional norms and values, but to first test, challenge, and eventually change the norms that govern our educational models before introducing new technologies. The problem of TEL is not a technology problem, but rather a cultural and pedagogical one.

Monday, March 22, 2010

PKM as Seek-Sense-Share?

Another attempt by Harold Jarche to describe Personal Knowledge Management (PKM); This time as a Seek-Sense-Share process. Harold previously used other sequences to explain PKM as Sort-Categorize-Make Explicit-Retrieve; Connect-Contribute-Exchange; or Aggregate-Filter-Connect.

For Harold "PKM consists of practical methods for making sense of the increasing digital information flows around us". In my eyes, this definition of PKM is simply (personal) information management under a new label. Information, however, represents only one side of the knowledge equation, namely explicit knowledge. In the KM literature, there is wide recognition that explicit knowledge represents only a small fraction of valuable knowledge and that there is a huge mass of high-quality knowledge embedded in people. This type of knowledge is what Michael Polanyi called tacit knowledge. Thus, I believe that PKM should involve a combination of explicit and tacit knowledge and that the major challenge is to properly address the tacit dimension of knowledge (i.e. people).

I cannot understand why Harold still insists on describing PKM as a predetermined process such as seek-sense-share. The focus on PKM as a predetermined process conflicts with the complex nature of knowledge. Seek-sense-share represents only 3 processes that PKM can be in, and misses other crucial processes. This explains why Harold always comes up with a different sequence to explain PKM. Moreover, seek-sense-share is a clear view of PKM as a linear process. This linearity is not well adjusted to describing what is actually going on in PKM. In each new context, PKM is a unique process and is the result of personal and emergent processes that do not follow any particular order.

I totally agree with Harold that PKM is the future of KM, but I don't agree with his strong emphasis on how to "standardize" the PKM process. Harold commented on an earlier post in the same context saying that a definition of PKM, based on a 3 components would make his clients remember them. That might be true but in my opinion it would be better to just help them define their PKM processes themselves. In the end it should be "personal"…

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Germany’s education system is a work in progress

Via Jochen Robes.

A special report in "The Economist" on Germany's educational system.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

EC-TEL 2010 Call for Workshops

EC-TEL 2010
Fifth European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning
Sustaining TEL: From Innovation to Learning and Practice

28 September - 1 October, 2010, Barcelona, Spain

Description and scope

EC-TEL 2010 will bring together people researching, working on and working with technological developments, learning models, and implementations of new and innovative approaches to training and education. The conference will explore how the synergy of multiple disciplines, such as Computer Science, Education, Psychology, Cognitive Science, and Social Science, can provide new, more effective and more sustainable technology-enhanced learning solutions to learning problems. The conference welcomes researchers and developers from all countries and all industries to present their recent advancements from technologies, applications, and learning models in all areas of technology enhanced learning.

In addition to the main program, EC-TEL 2010 will host workshops on topics related to the conference theme. Workshops promote scientific exchange amongst junior and senior researchers from different settings (i.e. universities, high-school, lifelong learning institutions, foundations, SMEs, companies, technology platforms). The workshops provide a face-to-face meeting point for exchange of information and experiences (i.e. project results, ongoing research, outstanding topics) related to Technology Enhanced Learning and the many sub-topics which embrace it.

General Information and Criteria

* Co-located workshops should cover topics falling within the general scope of the EC-TEL conference (refer to, in September 28th, 29th
* Face-to-face contributions are encouraged. A workshop is not intended to be a paper session, symposium or set of slideshows. The more that people contribute in a pro-active and inter-active way, the more chances to get a highly successful workshop. Organizers should explicitly indicate in the methodology section how to support this interaction and active contribution between participants
* You might consider online contribution from people abroad. Should you have this setting in mind, please indicate technical requirements and you will elicit contribution from this group
* The minimum number of participants, including organizers is 10
* There is a clear main focus-topic, in addition to a well-defined target group
* Workshop duration can be either a half day or a full day
* Furthermore, as organiser, please provide detailed information about the review process, the name and affiliation of the reviewers, and the kinds of submissions you expect from participants (i.e. abstracts, short papers, full papers). In addition, suggestions and contacts of scientific journals to publish the workshops proceedings are welcome. Participation without a submitted paper is also possible
* In order to ensure the quality of the workshop contributions and their alignment with the general conference, we will follow a two-step process: 1) When an individual workshop is approved, the workshop organizers will manage the submission and internal review process of its participants and submitted papers; 2) All accepted papers in a workshop should be submitted to the workshop chair before the workshop so that they can be accessible on the website
* The most relevant papers will be invited to submit an extended version for further publication in a scientific journal

Submission process

1. Write a 2-page proposal with the following sections: Title, link (if appropriate), duration (half day, full day), main person responsible (full name, email address, phone number, a 2-line CV), other organizers (full names, email addresses, phone numbers, a 2-line CV), reviewers (full names and affiliation), workshop description, main topic, expected number of participants, target group (i.e., participant profile), expected outcomes, methodology, timetable, technical requirements, other considerations (e.g. related to a project or association)
2. Make a PDF-DOC file. Only PDF or DOC files will be accepted
3. Go to the EC-TEL 2010 website -> Submissions -> Workshop Submissions:
* Watch: there is a separate submission website for papers, posters and demonstrations at:
4. Register at the EasyChair System.
5. Login with your EasyChair username and password
6. Choose "New Submission" in the top menu
7. Fill out all details in the form
8. Please specify all the required fields
9. Upload your workshop proposal as a PDF or DOC file; you can add an attachment too
10. Register into the conference

Important dates

1. Workshop proposals: 11 April 2010
2. Workshop acceptance: 11 May 2010
3. Paper deadline submission to workshops: 27 June 2010
4. Final paper acceptance: 31 July 2010
5. Workshops: 28, 29 September 2010

For more information

Contact the Workshop chair:
Daniel Burgos, TELSpain/ATOS Origin, (subject: [EC-TEL2010] Workshop + your reference)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tim Berners-Lee on Open Data [Video]

In this video, Tim Berners-Lee talks to the TED audience about Open Data and shows some results when the data can be mashed up. In a TEL context, this data can also be leveraged to build mashup personal learning environments.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

LaaN as a Bridge between KM and TEL

LaaN represents a vision of learning, where the line between Knowledge Management (KM) and Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) disappears. In LaaN, work/learning is viewed from a knowledge worker/learner perspective, and KM and TEL are seen as being primarily concerned with a continuous creation of a personal knowledge network (PKN). This ensures that the differences between KM and TEL are converging around a knowledge worker/learner-centric work/learning environment and makes that the roles of KM and TEL are blurring into one, namely supporting the knowledge worker/learner in continuously creating and optimizing their PKNs. In this sense, KM and TEL are not the two ends of a continuum but the two sides of the same coin.

Moreover, LaaN enables the seamless integration of work and learning. The view of learning as the continuous creation of a PKN makes learning and work so intertwined that learning becomes work and work becomes learning. As illustrated in the figure above, TEL in LaaN is no longer regarded as an external online training activity separate from the work flow, but rather as a learner-controlled evolving activity embedded directly into work processes.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


As illustrated in the table above, In contrast to Learning Management Systems (LMS), Personal Learning Environments (PLE) have the following characteristics:

  • Personalization: A LMS follows a one-size-fits-all approach to learning by offering a static system with predefined tools to a set of many learners around a course. A PLE, by contrast, is responsive and provides a personalized experience of learning. It considers the needs and preferences of the learner and places her at the center by providing her with a plethora of different tools and handing over control to her to select and use the tools the way she deems fit.
  • Informal learning and lifelong learning support: A LMS is not supportive of informal or lifelong learning. It can only be used in a formal learning setting, managed and controlled by the educational institution. And, in a LMS, learning has an end. It stops when a course terminates. A PLE, however, can connect formal, informal, and lifelong learning opportunities within a context that is centered upon the learner. A PLE allows the learner to capture her informal and lifelong learning accomplishment and develop her own e-portfolio. In a PLE learning is fluid. It continues after the end of a particular course.
  • Openness and decentralization: Unlike a LMS, which stores information on a centralized basis within a closed and bounded environment, a PLE goes beyond the boundaries of the organization and operates in a more decentralized, loosely coupled, and open context. A PLE offers an opportunity to learners to make effective use of diverse distributed knowledge sources to enrich their learning experiences.
  • Bottom-up approach: Within a LMS there is a clear distinction between the capabilities of learners and of teachers, resulting into a one-way flow of knowledge. In contrast to a hierarchical top-down LMS, shaped by command-and-control and asymmetric relationships, a PLE provides an emergent bottom-up solution, driven by the learner needs and based on sharing rather than controlling.
  • Knowledge-pull: A LMS adopts a knowledge-push model and is concerned with exposing learners to content and expecting that then learning will happen. A PLE, however, takes a knowledge-pull model. Learners can create their very own environments where they can pull knowledge that meets their particular needs from a wide array of high-value knowledge sources.
  • Ecological learning: A PLE-driven approach to learning is based on personal environments, loosely connected. A PLE is not only a personal space, which belongs to and is controlled by the learner, but is also a social landscape that offers means to connect with other personal spaces in order to leverage knowledge within open and emergent knowledge ecologies. Rather than belonging to hierarchical and organization-controlled groups, each learner has her own personal environment and network. Based on their needs and interests, different learners come together for a learning experience. They work together until the learning goal is achieved and thereby do not have a permanent relationship with a formal organization or institution. The distributed PLEs can be loosely connected to build a knowledge ecology. Unlike LMS- driven groups/communities, which are closed, bounded, structured, hierarchical, and organization-controlled, a PLE-driven knowledge ecology is open, distributed, diverse, emergent, self-organized, and learner-controlled.

Monday, March 01, 2010

CfP: EC-TEL 2010

EC-TEL 2010
Fifth European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning
Sustaining TEL: From Innovation to Learning and Practice

28 September - 1 October 2010 in Barcelona, Spain

The last decade has seen significant investment in terms of effort and resources (time, people, money) in innovating education and training.
The time has come to make the bold step from small scale innovation research and -development to larger scale implementation and evaluation. The time has come to show the world (government, industry, general population) that we have matured to the stage that sustainable learning and learning practices – both in schools and in industry – can be achieved based upon our work.

What not long ago was seen and experienced as a novel technology (Internet and WWW) has become for much of the populace mundane and commonplace (Web 2.0 and social software). What not long ago was expensive and exotic (computers and broadband computer networks) is now inexpensive and ordinary (netbooks and omnipresent wireless). And what in the past was proprietary and inaccessible (information and learning
materials) is now generic and open (open educational resources).

The TEL community is faced by new research questions related to large scale deployment of technology enhanced learning, support of individual
learning environments through mashup and social software, new approaches in TEL certification, etc. Furthermore, for new approaches are required for TEL design, implementation, and use to improve the understanding and communication of educational needs among all stakeholders, ranging from researchers, learners, tutors, educational organizations, companies, TEL industry, and policy makers.

ECTEL 2010 will bring together technological developments, learning models, and implementations of new and innovative approaches to training and education. The conference will explore how the synergy of multiple disciplines, ranging from Computer Science, Education, Psychology, Cognitive Science, and Social Science, can provide new, more effective and more especially more sustainable, technology-enhanced learning solutions to learning problems. The conference welcomes researchers and developers from European and Non-European countries and industries to present recent advancements from technologies, applications, and learning models in all areas of technology enhanced learning.

From both research and experience perspective the following topics of interest to the conference include, but are not limited to:

Technological underpinning
* Large scale sharing and interoperability
* Technologies for personalisation and adaptation
* Context-aware systems
* Social computing and web 2.0
* Semantic web and web 3.0
* Mobile technologies
* Intelligent games
* Network infrastructures and architectures for TEL
* Sensors and sensor networks
* Roomware and ubiquitous computing
* Data mining and information retrieval
* Natural language processing and latent semantic analysis
* eLearning specifications and standards

Pedagogical underpinning
* Problem- and project-based learning / Inquiry based learning
* Computer supported collaborative learning
* Collaborative knowledge building
* Game-based and simulation-based learning
* Story-telling and reflection-based learning
* Instructional design and Design approaches
* Communities of learners & Communities of practice
* Teaching techniques and strategies for online learning
* Learner motivation and engagement
* Evaluation methods for TEL

Individual, social & organisational learning processes
* Cognitive mechanisms in knowledge acquisition and construction
* Self-regulated and Self-directed learning
* Social processes in teams and communities
* Social awareness
* Knowledge management and organisational learning
* Sustainability & TEL business models and cases
* Business-learning models

Learning contexts and domains
* Applications of TEL in various domains
* Formal education: initial (K-12, higher education), post-initial (continuing education)
* Workplace learning in small, medium and large companies
* Aggregated learning at the workplace Distance and online learning
* Lifelong learning (cradle to grave)
* Vocational training
* Informal learning
* Non-formal learning
* Ubiquitous learning

TEL in developing countries
* ICT Inclusion for learning
* Digital divide and learning
* Generation divide and learning
* Education policies
* Rural learning

TEL, functional diversity and users with special needs
* Accessible learning for all
* Visual, hearing and physical impairments
* Psycho-pedagogic support for users
* Educational guidance for tutors
* Adapted learning flow, content and monitoring process
* Standards about accessibility and learning

The EC-TEL Demonstration is your chance to fully engage EC-TEL attendees at a personal level by letting them see, touch, squeeze, or hear your visions for the future of TEL. We expect that your Demonstration will be a reliably running prototype of your vision ready to be tried out, questioned, interacted with, … In particular, we encourage Demonstration submissions that complement an EC-TEL Paper submission, so that attendees can get a direct experience of your work in addition to the scientific presentation.

Demonstration submissions consist of three parts: (1) short paper, (2) video trailor or remote access to prototype, and (3) description of
technical requirements (see website for more details).

EC-TEL 2010 offers the opportunity to host several workshops. Parties interested to organize a workshop are asked to submit a proposal of
max. 4 pages outlining the theme of the workshop, workshop format, expected participants and domains addressed, dissemination activities,
programme committee, and organizational requirements. A separate call will be published in parallel. Proposals should be submitted via the EasyChair system of ECTEL.

Paper & demonstration submission:
11 April 2010
Paper & demonstration acceptance:
31 May 2010
Camera-ready final papers:
30 June 2010
Workshop proposals:
11 April 2010
Workshop acceptance:
11 May 2010
28/29 September 2010
30 September /1 October 2010

All papers will be reviewed through a non-blind review process. Accepted papers will be published in the conference proceedings. Proceeding will be published by Springer within their “Lecture Notes in Computer Science” series which is ranked in the ISI Web of Knowledge.
The use of supplied template is mandatory:

* Full Papers (max. 16 pages)
* Short Papers and Posters (max. 6 pages)
* Meetings: contact the local organisation chair

General chair: Vania Dimitrova, University of Leeds, UK
Programme chairs: Martin Wolpers, Fraunhofer FIT, Germany; and Paul A. Kirschner, Open Universiteit Nederland
Workshop chair: Daniel Burgos, TELSpain/ATOS Origin, Spain
Poster and Demonstration chair: Stefanie Lindstaedt, Know-Center Graz, Austria
Industrial session chair: Julio Alonso, TELSpain/International University of La Rioja, Spain
Local organization chair: Marta Enrech, TELSpain/Open University of Catalonia, Spain
Doctoral Consortium chairs: Katherine Maillet, INT, France; and Ralf Klamma, RWTH Aachen, Germany