#PLENK2010 PLEs and learner autonomy

PLEs. Concept or Technology -This was the title of the presentation by Sebastian Fiedler in the final week of the PLENK course. This was a particularly stimulating session as you would expect from the title.  I haven’t had time to read Sebastian’s article yet – so everything in this post is based on my perceptions, understanding, and interpretation of what happened in the Elluminate session.

It was quite a difficult session to follow – should I listen to Sebastian, or follow the chat, which was very active due to the stimulation of Sebastian’s presentation – but it modelled exactly the sort of learning environment we can expect when learners are autonomous in an open course.

Sebastian started by saying that PLE is a counter concept arising from discontent with centralised course management. This is certainly one way of understanding why there is currently such interest in PLEs – but is it perhaps too narrow a view of PLEs?  As I mentioned in my last post, they have always been around, it’s just that the wide range of open source tools available at the moment, means that learners now have greater opportunity to learn independently and autonomously than ever before. Howard Johnson has, though, made the interesting comment that we may be evolving in the direction our tools are leading us.

Sebastian was concerned that we focus only on the personal learner model for adults – which he suggested was one where adults are self-functioning, self-co-ordinating, self-controlling (self monitoring), self-developing and self-projecting. It reminded me of the first headteacher I worked for, who told me that to be a good teacher I would need to first learn how to teach very young children. I was not happy at the time, but I have always been grateful to him for insisting that I do this. And having had that experience, I know that Sebastian’s personal learner model for adults can apply just as well to young children, who can be taught to be self-functioning, self-co-ordinating, self-controlling (self monitoring), self-developing and self-projecting and in small ways can achieve all of these. At the time that my headteacher insisted that I work with 4/5 year olds, in the UK teachers of young children were being urged to take on the High Scope approach which originated in the States. In this approach children planned their own daily curriculum. Their choices were of course monitored. If they were choosing to play in the sand every day without doing any other types of activities, then they would be gently steered to make more balanced choices, but they were beginning to work as autonomous learners.

Which brings us to the question of what we mean by autonomy.  It seems to be agreed that autonomy is a recognised element and outcome of personal learning environments, but whose personal learning environment and what type of environment? One outcome of this PLENK session was that further work is needed to define what we mean by learner autonomy in relation to PLEs.

Hopefully the recording of this session will be posted soon. The thoughts in this post only represent a fraction of what was discussed and a very personal and ‘off the top of my head’  perspective at that.

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