Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Duality of Personalization and Participation in PLE

Just came across this post while browsing through Stephen’s blog. Stan Stanier from the University of Brighton has introduced a new concept of “Shared learning Environment”. He writes “the PLE concept focuses on the individual learner. All well and good, but the concept (or perhaps just the name) doesn’t give great emphasis to the fact that individuals contribute to the learning of others…At this point I’m not completely sure whether I’m introducing a new concept here or simply posting a plea for help but it does strike me that there’s a wider entity beyond the PLE and VLE – the idea of sharing learning – helping others in a mutually supportive community to foster learning and encourage participation – to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts – a shared learning environment.” Based on Stanier’s post, Dave Tosh depicts a concept diagram from the SLE model.

However, I think that both Stanier and Tosh are missing the point that a PLE is more than just a personal environment where “the learner has their tools that form their PLE”, as Stanier writes. In an earlier post, I mentioned that PLEs serve as the edge between the personal and the social and revolve around 2 core components:

Personalization: A PLE is characterized by the freeform use of a set of lightweight services and tools that belong to and are controlled by individual learners. Rather than integrating different services into a centralized system, the idea is to provide the learner with a myriad of services and hand over control to her to select and use the services the way she deems fit.

Participation: A PLE driven approach does not only provide personal spaces, which belong to and are controlled by the user, but also requires a social context by offering means to connect with other personal spaces and networks for effective knowledge sharing and collaborative knowledge creation.

In this sense, the individual and the collective and consequently the PLE and “SLE” concepts are just two sides of the same coin. I would like to argue here that there is a very close relation between the individual and the social. I will first point to Etienne Wenger in his famous book “Communities of practice” where he writes (p. 146):

I would like to discard at the outset two common assumptions about the relation between the individual and the social.

  • The first assumption is that there is an inherent conflict between the individual and the collective:
    1. that the two are fundamentally at odds, representing inherently diverging interests and incompatible tendencies, and consequently
    2. that human life is a compromise by which each makes concessions to the other.
  • The second, related assumption is that one is good and the other bad, one a source of problems and the other a source of solutions:
    1. that the individual is the source of freedom and creativity while the social is the source of constraints and limitations, or (conversely)
    2. that the social is the source of harmony and order while the individual is the source of discord and fragmentation.

In my opinion, there is no divergence between personalization and participation (the individual and the collective). Personalization and participation cannot be considered in isolation. They complement and enhance each other. They interplay with each other, but cannot replace each other. They form a unity in their duality. We cannot have the collective if we do not assume the individual as a point of departure. And, we cannot have the individual if we ignore the collective since learning and knowledge are social in nature.

The bottom line is that the PLE concept doesn’t only focus on the individual learner. It also focuses on the collective so there is no need to introduce a new concept that is basically telling the same.

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