I agree with Jenny Mackness blog post on Curation and Balance in that it is the process that is of most interest and relevance when trying to explain to staff and students the benefits of 21st century connectivist learning. I think however the terms PLE and PLN are with us to stay and so an appreciation of the differences between the terms is useful. From the various blog posts it would seem that the consensus is that a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is more concerned with tools and technology and that Personal Learning Networks (PLN) are more concerned with connections to people. I agree with these distinctions and I like Vahid Masrour's (PLE, i think i got it (for me, anyways) concise view of their respective functions.
- PLE - "My PLE is where I store all my “keys” to the network. The PLE takes me to my PLN through various gates and paths." and later he says "PLE's are nice, and useful, but they're the ticket and ride, not the destination. The destination is the PLN."
- PLN - "One of the key concepts for me in a PLN is that learning is a social activity.", "The PLN is then more akin to a community, but with much looser connections, described in the literature as “weak ties”. He also states "The key aspect here are the connections, and what I can do with them, in the sense of doing something with them, not just benefiting from them."
Before I move onto the main theme of this post - The role of the teacher in a PLE, I wish to just talk about the context of PLE and PLN use. I can think of three different contexts where a PLE-PLN will be in use:
- Unconsciously - Those who without prior knowledge of the terms PLE and PLN learn from online pursuit of their interests combined with ongoing general social interaction.
- True self directed independent learners who have naturally seen the potential of connective technology to enhance their own learning and understanding OR initially teacher supported users who are now confident working and learning autonomously in a self directed way.
- Teacher supported PLE's and PLN's
Balance and the Teacher as Curator/Facilitator
Jenny Mackness and Wendy Drexler both highlight the issue of balance (in many respects), but notably in the issue of teacher intervention and getting the right balance between supporting and scaffolding the learner experience and letting students independently develop and grow their own PLE's and PLN's.
This excellent post by Leigh Blackhall Regarding George Siemens curators and George's subsequent excellent response breaks down possible roles involved in networked learning that the teacher may be classified as (Expert: Someone with sustained contribution to a field, Teacher: experts with authority, Curator: play the role of interpreting, organizing, and presenting content, Facilitator: able to guide, direct, lead, and assist learners, not necessarily being a subject matter expert.
I note that George in his Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching post likes the idea of curator to reflect the role of network administrators/organisers in a networked learning environment. Previously I have always used the term 'teacher as facilitator'. After reading George's definitions i believe curating is probably more apt. In a teacher supported PLE/PLN the teacher will probably do both roles.
Further to this I see the PLE-PLN as part of a learning strategy that runs alongside a more deliberate and social and active learning approach where more contrived learning tasks and activities are instigated to improve connectedness. It's all about context i think, but I note this may go against the grain of leading connectivist thinker Stephen Downes whose views are explored in this blog post - The groups and networks debate (I shall read more on this later).
I see the role of the teacher as curator/facilitator as absolutely critical to helping students to appreciate and then develop the PLE-PLN approach to learning. It seems natural to me that intervention can be gauged on a continuum whereby new PLE-PLN learners are quite heavily supported and this support gradually diminishes as the learners evolve into confident autonomous and self directed learners.
Making PLE's and PLN's work Better
Vahid Masrour finishes his blog post with these questions/observation. "I guess my next question then becomes: why focus on PLEs? Shouldn't we be trying to figure out how to make PLN work better?"
I think he has a good point. Development of your PLE is about working with technology, refining your use of tools to give you more keys or more efficient access to your network of people and resources. This process alone will enhance connectivist learning skills, but it is in addressing how to make PLN's work better that enhanced learning can occur. i.e how to improve connection making and strengthen connections.
We can explore this more at another time, but the main themes worth exploring in this regard are.
- Learner centered pedagogic development for teachers
- Technological and online skills and practices development for teachers
- Technological and online skills and practices development for learners
- More use of web conferencing for live interactive synchronous learning activities.