The Personal Learning Environment. Moving beyond the VLE and SharePoint Learning Platform.

Over the last decade we have seen an enormous growth in use of technology within education. From the use of laptops and digital projectors to smartboards and VLE’s all of which have been aimed at improving learning. As a relatively new teacher I was shown my first ever VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) in early 2004, a moodle system which we began to use at my second school. We often joked that as teachers we sat spellbound by a flash animation as the presenter seemed to promise us that the system would cure all educational problems and perhaps world famine at the same time. Previous blog posts have covered the features of a VLE and if you are unfamiliar with them you can catch up here and see the diagram below.

Since this time I have moved on to a third school and was involved in the original development of the SharePoint Learning Platform which has developed a significant reputation at Twynham School. You will notice the change in terminology and Tony Parkin once commented to me that over a number of years from 2007 the term VLE fell off the ICT Register tag cloud as the term Learning Platform rose to the top. Why did the idea of the VLE lose popularity? The original vision of a system which could assign track and grade assessment has proven largely elusive beyond predominantly simple ‘multiple choice’ and’true/false’ style questions to identify understanding. As a result educators have created a vision for a Learning Platform which contains a VLE but at the same time carries a wider range of other learning attributes which centre around the platform. The diagram showing a SharePoint Learning Platform can be seen below and has more detail about it is in the blog post here.

Amidst all this development and millions of pounds of investment within schools a key question is increasingly being asked. What has the impact been on learning? In the case of Twynham School we have certainly seen a positive impact through the Learning Platform. Students describe the availability of resources in an ‘anytime, anywhere’ environment as a real benefit to learning and especially revision. Our SharePoint 2010 Learning Platform also contains a rich range of features from streaming media and podcasting to rewards systems, performance tracking and integrated learning modules. Our work with the Learning Platform over the last 4 years has undoubtedly added value to our school community and supported learners with resources, input and guidance. Despite this over the last 18 months there has been an increasing view that it is time for us to move beyond this current work and begin a new adaptation of our online learning model with a renewed focus.

Having spent considerable time on this line of thinking a blog post popped up on the radar late last week which helped clarify our thinking. The post from big think reflected on the 2011 K-12 Horizon report and challenged the level of percieved progress we have made with our use of technology and its impact on learning. In the second half of the post it identifies something we know to be true: most of the investment in technology made in education has been in the area of ‘replicative technologies’. These are commonly technology tools which are teacher centric and replace traditional educational practice. The list of replicative technologies in the blog post is worth repeating here as it does bring the context into stark focus:

Replicative Technologies: from 'Big Think'

In the case of our Learning Platform we can certainly see elements of replicative behaviour as paper resources move to the file share and then to the subject gateways of the SharePoint Learning Platform. So is this all doom and gloom? As the post goes on to say the move to replicative technologies is an understandable first step for educators who move educational practice to technology in a way which is most familiar to them. The key challenge for us all at this moment is best summed up at the end of the post. In it the author rightly asserts that, ‘ The question is whether educator adoption of replicative technologies eventually will lead to more transformative, student-centered uses of digital learning tools or whether the current wave of educator tool usage simply will be replaced by whatever is the next generation of replicative technologies’.

Refelcting on these ideas it is clear to see that the best practive we currently identify by those at the cutting edge of technology use within education has one key attribute in common: it is student centric. It is for this reason that we should all ensure our VLE’s, MLE’s Learning Platforms, Learning Gateways and whatever it is we want to call them increasingly become one thing. A personal learning environment where students can add, edit, tag, comment, search, share and review their learning. This is surely the reason behind our use of technology within education: to promote independance and interdependance amongst learners and instant interaction and feedback with students and teachers to ensure we are engaging in meaningful learning.