Mohamed Amine Chatti's ongoing research on Technology Enhanced Learning: Towards a Personal Learning Environment Framework

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Towards a Personal Learning Environment Framework

Responding to Stephen Downes and Wolfgang Greller:

Ina recent post, Wolfgang writes "Many PLE discussions seem to suggestthe creation of a one-stop-shop portal application for life-longlearning organisation (e.g. PLEX). The aim is to bring a variety ofdispersed web services together for the learners benefit andself-organised by the learner. Does this actually require aplatform?...The question therefore is: If learners are totally capableof blending various environments together, be it flickr, VLEs,messaging tools, mobile phones, television, etc., why would we wantsome middleware to do just that?". In the same direction Stephen asks"What, indeed, is the value-add of the PLE?".

I totally agree with Wolfgang and Stephen that we don´t need a top-down integration of different services into a centralized platform like PLEX and Elgg do. In my opinion, PLEX is not more than a desktop application and Elgg is just another online portal or a new centralized LMS. We do however need a learner-driven bottom-up integration of different services into a unique PLE. In this sense, we don´t need a trusted site that supports OpenIdand acts as an identity provider, our PLEs will be our identities. Iargue here that we do need a learner-controlled unique integratedenvironment bringing together multiple services into one place. Weliked and widely used RSS aggregators which collect RSS feeds from manysites and present the content on a single page. We would alsolike a federated search engine that allows searching of distributedmultimedia repositories with a single query and present the result on asingle interface. We tend to like all-in-one devicessuitable for every purpose. I´m sure many of us will like Apple iPhonewith a widescreen iPod, multi-touch display, digital camera, mobilephone, Web browsing, maps, searching etc. integrated into one device.

In an earlier post, I suggested a new learning approach based on "personal environments, loosely joined" and mentioned that aPLE is characterized by the freeform use of a set of lightweightservices and tools that belong to and are controlled by individuallearners. Theidea is to provide the learner with a myriad of services and hand overcontrol to her to select and use the services the way she deems fit tocreate her integrated PLE better adapted to her own situation and needs.

Tothe technical question of how PLEs can be best deployed, I believe thatthe challenge is how to design a PLE as an extensible framework thatcan be complemented with different supporting components. In a softwaredevelopment context, a framework is a collection of abstract classesand interfaces that are used to express abstract design. The developercan then implement the interfaces and abstract classes provided by theframework and create her own extensions. The design of a PLE can besimilar to the design of an integrated development environment (IDE)such as the EclipseIDE. Similar to Eclipse which has plugins for different programminglanguages such as C\C++, Python, Perl, Ruby, PHP, design tools and manymore plugins, a PLE can be designed in such a way that it can easily beextended with new learning services and tools. Learners should be ableto copy&paste, drag&drop and mash third-party services directlyinto their PLEs based on their needs and with a minimum effort.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.