Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 2010, 26(1)
prepared to accept and face the reality that learners’ needs, preferences, perceptions and mental models will contribute significantly to the dynamic process that is learning design. This implies that pedagogic change and greater personalisation of learning are both necessary for student centred, self regulated and independent learning.
Personalisation and personal learning environments
Although many CMSs and VLEs used by institutions as platforms for e-learning delivery permit each student to have a personal view of the courses they are enrolled in, many do not accommodate the social connectivity tools and personal profile spaces that students might choose, and that would assist them to integrate their experiences. Many CMSs and VLEs replicate traditional models of learning and teaching in online environments, conforming to a classroom or lecture hall metaphor, which may have a limiting effect on self directed and self regulated learning as tasks are pre-selected and resources are prescribed rather than negotiated (Hotrum, 2005; Lee, 2005; Sheely, 2006; Lane, 2008). Green, Facer, Rudd, Dillon and Humphreys (2005) summarise four key areas pivotal to enabling personalised learning through digital technologies. According to them, pedagogy must:
ensure that learners are capable of making informed educational decisions;
diversify and recognise different forms of skills and knowledge;
create diverse learning environments; and
include learner focused forms of feedback and assessment.
Linked to these principles is the concept of the PLE, defined by Siemens (2007b) as “a collection of tools, brought together under the conceptual notion of openness, interoperability and learner control. As such, PLEs are comprised of two elements – the tools and the conceptual notions that drive how and why we select individual parts” (para. 2). Downes (2005) describes a learning environment as an approach, not an application, one that protects and celebrates identity, supports multiple levels of socialising, and encourages the development of communities of inquiry. He asserts that PLEs affirm the role of the individual in organising, customising and shaping his/her own learning environment. With PLEs, in contrast to the traditional approach whereby learning content is composed, organised and packaged, it is instead syndicated. From there, it is remixed and repurposed (‘mashed up’) with the student’s own individual application in mind, the finished product being further syndicated to form inputs for other students’ consumption and use, which may include further remixing, repurposing and redistribution. Rather than being an agreed upon concept, there are however, two quite different interpretations of PLEs. The first entails the understanding of personalisation as the need to embrace a learner centred but provider-driven approach to education; the second adopts the view of a wholly learner-driven approach that transcends the walls of any classroom, institution or organisation. The idea is for learners to exercise ownership and control over their experiences, rather than be constrained by centralised, instructor controlled learning based on the delivery of pre-packaged materials.
One exemplary approach of a provider-driven PLE can be seen in the work of Aviram, Ronen, Somekh, Winer and Sarid (2008), who describe the design and implementation of iClass, an innovative “Self-Regulated Personalised Learning Environment” (SRPLE), as part of a project funded by the European Commission. iClass is intended to cater to individual learning needs by adapting education and learning in European societies to