McLoughlin and Lee
distribution tools incorporating text (blogs, wikis, Twitter), audio (podcasting, Skype), photo (Flickr) and video (vodcasting, YouTube) capabilities continue to grow, tertiary education institutions are faced with ever expanding opportunities to integrate social media and technologies into teaching, learning and assessment. If employed in conjunction with appropriate strategies, learning technologies are capable of supporting and encouraging informal conversation, dialogue, collaborative content generation and the sharing of knowledge, thereby opening up access to a vast array of representations and ideas. Many social software tools afford greater agency to the learner by allowing autonomy and engagement in global communities where ideas are exchanged and knowledge is created as students assume active roles (Lee, McLoughlin & Chan, 2008; Ashton & Newman, 2006).
The learning experiences that are made possible by social software tools are active, process based, anchored in and driven by learners’ interests, and therefore have the potential to cultivate self regulated, independent learning. Self regulated learning (Biggs, 1987; Zimmerman & Schunk, 1989; Simons 1992) refers to the ability of a learner to prepare for his/her own learning, take the necessary steps to learn, manage and evaluate the learning and provide self feedback and judgment, while simultaneously maintaining a high level of motivation. A self regulated learner is able to execute learning activities that lead to knowledge creation, comprehension and higher order learning (Stubbé & Theunissen, 2008) by using processes such as monitoring, reflection, testing, questioning and self evaluation. The quest for learning to be ‘student centred’, self directed and self regulated has long been a pursuit of educators, and recent reports from various countries including the UK (see Owen, Grant, Sayers & Facer, 2006; Bryant, 2007; Minocha, 2009; CLEX, 2009), USA (see New Media Consortium, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009; Salaway, Caruso & Nelson, 2008) and Australia (see Fitzgerald & Steele, 2008) indicate that the integration of social software into learning design can make a qualitative difference to giving students a sense of ownership and control over their own learning and career planning. However, universities and colleges still tend to rely on conservative, established course management systems (CMSs) and virtual learning environments (VLEs) that do not fully capitalise on the potential of social media that enable participation in global learning networks, collaboration and social networking. Of late, the personal learning environment (PLE) has emerged as a concept associated with the adoption of a raft of Web 2.0 tools that serves to integrate essential learning outcomes such as lifelong learning, informal learning and self directed learning.
The most compelling argument for the PLE is to develop educational technology which can respond to the way people are using technology for learning and which allows them to … shape their own learning spaces, to form and join communities and to create, consume, remix, and share material” (Attwell, 2006a, “What about educational technology?”, para. 8).
In this article, we consider issues pertaining to the design of personalised learning spaces, resources and environments using social software and media, and how they might be used to promote and achieve learner self direction. Of crucial importance to attaining the longstanding goal of student centred learning is the need to acknowledge the importance of including informal modes of learning in the learning experience, to realise that learner needs and preferences cannot be addressed as static constructs during the design and development phases of instructional design, and to provide suitable scaffolds to support the learning outcomes to be attained. Educators need to revisit socially based, conversationally driven designs for self directed learning and be