The personalisation of a learning environment: student-led connections online and offline

by Derek Morrison, 1 June 2011

Hugh Davis and Su White led an interesting and challenging session at an invitation only workshop organised by the UK’s Higher Education Academy as part of their Enhancement Academy initiative. The meeting was hosted by the Learning Societies Lab at the University of Southampton last Thursday (26 May 2011). Hugh and Su’s session was titled The Personalisation of a Learning environment: Student-led Connections Online and Offline. It certainly demonstrated a welcome potential to begin the process of stimulating a much needed deep reflection about escaping from the gravity exerted by what are still fundamentally first generation virtual learning environments being employed by HEIs and other educational entities – albeit with some Web 2.0 bells and whistles added.

One of the questions posed was why did VLEs in that form gain traction at all? The answers are many but the replication in the online context of the “traditional” content-delivery approach to teaching rides high. Plus it was easier than struggling with FTP, HTML etc and it felt controllable and safe. But now along comes the potential disruptions of the participative, socially networked web and multiple highly mobile ways of accessing it and the safe content delivery way of doing things doesn’t look so safe and predictable any more. To that we add a growing recognition about the importance of informal learning and how the development of digital landscapes and a range of flexible tools for navigating them could enable this. But to extract maximum benefit from such landscapes perhaps needs us to reflect also on how we can develop and enhance a range of scholarly literacies and learning environments that can no longer be predicated on assumptions of a relatively stable HE demographic and a traditional face-to-face pedagogy.

Hugh presented an example of the personal learning environment he had assembled in support of a wine tasters’ course he was undertaking and how this contrasted with the “official” learning environment he was expected to use, e.g. RSS and Podcast aggregations, an online forum, Twitter, a Wiki, an ontology site, social bookmarks, expert sites, and specialist search sites.

The University of Southampton’s journey in developing its iPLE (institutional Personal Learning Environment) as part of a wider strategic development will certainly be a valuable case study for the sector and readers may be interested, therefore, in the resources on this topic available via the University of Southampton eprints archive.

Readers may also be interested in the PLE Conference 2011 which is being hosted by the University of Southampton (11-13 July 2011).

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