Ego tripping or ego shrinking

Awhile back, Michele Martin wrote a wonderful post: Ego-Blogging, where she reflected on the contrasts between blogging for her ego or for us. Since then, I've been utilizing that distinction in other contexts. This post is a summary of my recent reflections about the limitations of ego tripping and the value of ego shrinking.

Our egos chase after rainbows in search of pots of gold that never satisfy us. This trait has been psychoanalyzed as neurosis or symbolic gratification. We get seduced by the package and dismayed by the real experience inside. This is a reason why we fall for useless educational experiences, the accumulation of countless friends in networking sites and the acquiring of so many things we almost never use. When we shrink our frantic egos and listen to our serene feelings, we find what we're looking for and get satisfied with those finds.

Our egos have high associational barriers. When we're ego-tripping, "it cannot be both", "there's no two ways about it" and "there's one right answer". We're devoted to expertise, objectivity and clear definitions. With shrunken egos, mash-ups work for us. It takes both to make up a winning combination. We free to flow with unstructured, evolving, and chaotic happenstance. We take things as they come and see ways to use what shows up.

Our egos maintain a sense of identity. When we're ego-tripping, we are constantly threatened by people: making us wrong, puncturing our pride, tarnishing our brand or disagreeing with our self-righteous stance. When we shrink our egos, we find a sense of balance, timing and compassion within us. We become clear of fear as our identity is up for grabs and changing from day to day. We cannot be made wrong because we feel like a work in progress. We give up on pride to see others eye-to-eye, in the same boat, and on the same team.

Our egos are devoted to making things happen. On an ego trip, we're pushing the river, opposing natural processes, taking control of situations and insisting on delivering product. With egos shrunk to an appropriate size, we naturally trust the process and allow for emergent outcomes. We see ways to bring about what cannot be forced and accommodate what needs space to realize it's potential.

Switching from ego tripping to ego shrinking occurs naturally as we discover:

  • what really satisfies us
  • what works when interacting with the rest of us
  • what happens when we identify with all of us


Information is not knowledge

We can be well informed while we are also incompetent and ill prepared to respond effectively to unfamiliar situations. We can say the right thing but not do it. We can be twice as smart as we act because we're "book smart" but not "street smart". We're good to go on quiz shows, but not capable of handling real world challenges. We shortchange ourselves and think we're rich. Information is not knowledge.

There's at least four aspects of knowledge creation that information cannot provide:

  • Providing Intention: What are we questioning and wondering about? Which objective are we pursuing by acquiring this information?
  • Providing Context: How is this information useful to us? In what situation are we going to apply this content to solve our problems, make a difference, or help others succeed at something?
  • Providing Connections: How does this information tie into what we already know, reveal a similar pattern or overlap our current map? What sense  emerges from this information by containing it in our overall perspective, predictions and potentials?
  • Providing Meaning: What spin are we putting on this information with our worldview? How are we inserting this information into our idiosyncratic story about who we think we are and how the world works according to us?

Content delivery systems only provide information. We can become dependent on these systems and assume it's enough to get informed. We don't know what we're missing. We then cannot provide for ourselves what it takes to create personal knowledge from delivered information. We gorge ourselves on data and wonder why our lives seem so meaningless, hectic and desperate. We figure the evidence of ineptitude and incapacitation is somebody else's problem.

It's easier than ever to get caught up in thinking that getting information is enough. We can get informed through URL page loads, FTP downloads, WIFI connections, GPS satellite data, cell phone connectivity, mobile broadband networks and satellite TV. We can access information 24/7 that used to only be available sitting in seats at a certain time, looking at pages with ink on them, or inserting recorded media into some kind of player. Content delivery systems want us to think that information is all we need for now. Why bother doing the heavy lifting of creating knowledge when we're drowning in lightweight data? We think we need somebody to give us a break, an escape or new toy, not the created knowledge that nobody can give us.

In a world that's well informed, but lacking knowledge, reliable systems quit working. Products get recalled in staggering numbers and services quit serving their customers' real concerns. Corporations do more harm than good to individuals, communities and the environment. Governments deplete their treasuries in endless conflicts and neglect the maintenance of their societies' infrastructures.

Creating knowledge from information is an inside job. It takes intrinsic motivation to pursue the intrinsic learning that provides intrinsic rewards. The process is autonomous and social. We do it on our own and together, outside the confines of control systems. We provide for ourselves what cannot be delivered to us. We make up for the shortcomings of information with our own reflective practices.

PLE's are working when they support this heavy lifting, intrinsically-motivated personal reflection that creates personal knowledge. Otherwise, PLE's are mere "content management systems" consistent with the well-informed ineptitude that serves all customers poorly.


Using our sense of wonder

In Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning, Karl Kapp reveals some of the wonderful ways his "Gamer 4.0 son" plays computer games. His son wonders if he has to fly the jet off the aircraft carrier or whether he can taxi all the way across the water. He wonders if the customer satisfaction rating in Roller Coaster Tycoon can be amped up by drowning the unhappy customers in the theme park pond.

This sense of wonder is usually schooled out of us. Control systems breakdown when the participants operate with a sense of wonder. The system can only handle our conformity, compliance and consistency. We get punished for pushing people's hot buttons and penalized for finding out how much we can get away with. We're taught to "be nice", "stop asking so many questions" and "not wonder about that thing that seems wrong".

A sense of wonder inspires us to test the limits, explore the consequences and look for loopholes. We wonder how far we can go like this, what trouble we'll get into if we try that and which deviant maneuvers have been overlooked by the system. We use a sense of wonder to think outside the box.

Our sense of wonder is also called possibility thinking or finding freedom within constraints. It's the way innovators create opportunities and change the status quo. When we wonder, we stop assuming and "expecting the expected". We challenge our preconceptions and doubt the sanity of our consensus with others. We think "why not?" instead of "why it has to be this way".

Unlike schools and control systems, games reward us for using our sense wonder. We find the exit, defeat the opponent, or achieve a higher score when we fail to assume the obvious. We reach higher levels, face bigger challenges and control more territory when we proceed with curiosity and suspicion.

Our sense of wonder has a dark side. A scam artist looking for the next sucker uses a sense of wonder. Rather than assume that people have the sense to not fall for the scam, the rip-off racketeer simply wonders who is sufficiently naive, gullible or needy to ignore the signs of deception, exploitation and betrayal.

A sense of wonder also makes us indignant at getting gamed by the system. We wonder where people are coming from and see their subtle intentions to control us. We feel we're being played like a pawn on a chessboard and wonder why this seems like a good idea to them. We become antagonistic and alienated by using our sense of wonder in a system that penalizes it.

I'm now wondering if times are changing. Perhaps a new generation will enter the workforce in another decade with their sense of wonder intact. I wonder if stupid games will come to an end as Gamer 4.0 employees will expect authentic challenges and rewards for using their sense of wonder like games have done all their lives?


Building bridges to gamers

Welcome to Day Thirteen in Week Three of Karl Kapp's Virtual Book tour that Gordon Snyder and I are hosting. Last weekend, I journeyed through Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning (3G4L) from cover to cover and became delighted with what I discovered. I was already sold on the value of what we learn by gaming from my own experiences. I've already blogged about that some here in the past few months. Karl goes beyond the value of gaming to build bridges between opposing stances about gamers. 3G4L can be used like game cheats to get to higher levels of play in the management and education of the workplace.

You may have noticed three separate islands where you work. There's an island of senior executives with their top-down, bottom line, control-freak approach to the other islands. There's a far away island of gamers thriving on fun challenges and immersive gameplay. In between, there's an island of trainers, instructional designers and content developers struggling to reach out to both of the other islands.

Without 3G4L to give us cheats, each island will continue doing what already looks necessary, productive and goal oriented. No bridges will get built between the islands. Exec Island will continue to act like bosses and Gamer Island will "rage against the machine", "cheat the system", and "stick it to the man". Instructor Island will deliver long sequences of formalized material and gamers will be "bored out of their gourd". Instructor Island will persist in trying to establish legitimacy and credibility with Exec Island by taking their side in the battle against the alienated gamers.

In the post 9/11 world on Exec Island, far off Gamer Island appears to be a terrorist training camp and the gamers look like enemy combatants. The typical MMORPG players' devotion to stockpiling weapons, annihilating NP characters, engaging in PvP combat and conducting death matches -- eliminates any prospect of constructing a bridge between those islands from the exec side. Exec Island feels fully justified in launching attacks on Gamer Island. Likewise, Gamer Island is alienated by the Exec Island's insistence on "gaming the player" without greater rewards, access or challenges. Playing the exec's game is no fun for gamers.

Building bridges is a higher level of play on each island. It's not an option without finding other resources and changing strategies at work. The best chances are building bridges started from Instructor Island. It's positioned in the middle between the execs and gamers. Yet the instructors will think siding with gamers at all will undermine their credibility and nuke the pylons of a bridge to Exec Island. Without the cheats in 3G4L, the instructors will continue to formally deliver long sequences of content and make no use of handheld gadgets, tournament events or teamwork.

Formulating sales proposals for eLearning projects is a great way for instructors to get into the minds of execs and gamers. Winning acceptance of proposals requires understanding the buyers' needs, situations and conflicts. 3G4L helps everyone on Instructor Island get their heads in the game of mapping the other islands and seeing their own island from the other vantage points.

The next level of play on Instructor Island builds the pylons in the water for a bridge toward Gamer Island. 3G4L is loaded with great game cheats for:

  • matching the kind of game getting created to the kind of competency getting cultivated
  • using handheld gadgets to access real time readouts and the workplace database
  • parsing long sequences of instruction into short segments of automation
  • converting compliance learning into F2F peer collaborations

The instructors' next level of play bridges to Exec Island. While execs insist on their view of gamers, no pylons can be built. It helps the execs to see the gamers as :

  • thriving on increasingly difficult challenges and hidden clues
  • improving their gaming experience with the use of cheat codes
  • making complex, strategic choices while having fun
  • realizing the consequences of their decisions experientially

When gamers look to execs the way they are portrayed in 3G4L, execs can change the control-freak game they've been playing. Rather than continue to boss the gamers around, it will make sense to advise the gamers on changes in their strategies at work. A bridge can be built between Exec and Gamer Islands on pylons of mutual respect and insight.

In Karl's mind and in Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning, these bridges are already well in view. It's apparent how all three islands can make valuable contributions to each other. Gamers are not all the same and neither are the execs or instructors. Getting bridges built allows for appreciating unique capabilities and outlooks. Stereotypes will be replaced by more refined perceptions of individuals. Gamer 4.0 players will be challenged by Exec 4.0 and Instructor 4.0 maneuvers to up each other's game. Thanks to what Karl has given us, everyone's potential will be more fully realized while having more fun at work.


Two decades of gaming

In advance of reviewing Karl Kapp's Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning tomorrow, today I'm revealing some of my own experiences as a computer gamer of sorts. My first "game" that I played repeatedly was Microsoft Flight Simulator on my Compaq "luggable" circa 1983. I still recall the spellbinding, immersive experience of landing a small Cessna plane at O'Hare Airport. The screen was green and black, but that did not detract from how captivating it seemed to be in complete control of the plane at a location I had flown into countless times on management consulting gigs.

Next I was introduced to SimCity 1.0 after dinner at friends I was visiting in 1989. The first time I looked up after being immersed for awhile, it was 12:45am! Beyond the spellbinding quality of the gameplay, SimCity offered emergent, nonlinear phenomena. I could build roads, real estate and city services. I could change the tax rate and add mass transit. That much conformed to straightforward, make-it-happen, cause-effect dynamics. However, I could not directly control whether a neighborhood turned into a slum, what happened to the crime rate, how snarled traffic congestion became or the ways voter approval of me fluctuated. I was fascinated by the recursive complexity of what was occurring and the surprising feedback I was getting. I was compelled to play that game repeatedly to try different strategies and see what evolved from the indeterminate model in the game engine.

Next I was spellbound by Tetris and a LucasArts derivative called Pipe Dream. Both of these games were gaming me. Both had AI (artificial intelligence) to recognize patterns in my maneuvers and deprive me of future opportunities to score in the ways I had become accustomed to. I was being taught to "up my game" by having my successful routines eliminated. I found myself getting smarter by getting out-smarted. Both games had that addictive reward of breaking into a higher level with different music and graphics. Both increased the pace of action coming at me as I became more proficient. Both redefined "learning from experience" as a very different endeavor from learning to ride a bike or to use a new tool. Changing challenges attuned to my understanding assessed by the thing being learned -- had entered into the mix.

Finally I've been enraptured by Railroad Tycoon II a decade ago and the 3D version more recently. The last time I played it was two nights ago. Like most RTS games (real time strategy) there are long lists of different scenarios with specific objectives to accomplish. Any scenario can be played repeatedly to fine tune the strategy deployed. The process of building networks of rail lines between cities has eventual effects on rail traffic, revenue, profitably, and stock valuation. The game includes rival railroads building networks and unpredictable variations between different cities' economies and growth. As I've reflected on the kinds of learning occurring as I've played this game, I came up with the following list:

  • A small change in strategy can yield an enormous impact on outcome measures - e.g. starting with several disconnected routes instead of one continuous rail line, building large stations initially instead of later.
  • The AI rivals have limited objectives that can be baited or neutralized once they no longer appear intimidating, overwhelming or unlimited, as-if fear is our worst enemy.
  • There are better ways to spend the money, use the available time frame and generate additional revenue-- that can only be discovered by running the same scenario several times to play out the consequences of different strategy mixes.
  • Success and failure are cyclical and self-reinforcing: success breeds success and patterns of failure are very costly to turnaround and often unproductive
  • There's an unstated need to focus one's endeavors with no clue how to avoid: getting spread too thin, distracted by easy wins, fooled by apparent shortcuts or set-up to pursue dead ends.
  • Rewards are more likely to be achieved by slow build, indirect and long term strategies, than by get-rich-quick, straightforward and short-sighted maneuvers.
  • The best alternatives are not obvious and require the mind of a detective to uncover them, recognize what's missing, challenge the obvious evidence and suspect oneself as overlooking subtle clues.

The value of this breed of learning to the successful operation of business operations is potentially huge.


Eating and PLE's

If something is eating you for very  long, your PLE is not working. PLE's naturally complicate a positional stance, bring in other viewpoints and change the debate in the process of juxtaposing different contexts. PLE's provide lots of food for thought. You're the one who should to be eating, not the one getting eaten up inside. Perhaps your PLE has been co-opted into a job requirement that takes making yourself work at it. Perhaps it feels like you're always giving and getting nothing back. Maybe you're always searching for answers without getting that feeling of succeeding. If that's the case, your PLE is junk food and you're only snacking. No nutrition for you.

If you're feeding your face, your PLE is not working either. If you're feasting on a bounty of content, links, and subscriptions, you're missing the point. It's good that you're eating and getting fed beyond your wildest expectations. There's more to this PLE process, however. What about dietary balance, nutritional effects and your eating patterns? How are you benefiting from all this food for thought? What difference is it making in your life? Are you taking time to digest the feast? If not, you're caught up in some kind of rat race, chasing after carrots on a stick and jumping through other people's hoops. It's time to switch to intrinsic motivation and personally significant questions to explore. Take it at a pace of your choosing. Listen to your body's signals and changing inclinations.

If you're obsessed with the value of what you're getting from your PLE, you're on the right track headed in the wrong direction. What about all the rest of us on common ground with you? Have you noticed our strange tastes and peculiar appetites? Have you made any sense of when we're hungry, how often we feel like eating, what we're hungry for, what seems distasteful to us and what different foods for thought we think go together really well? Are you seeing any benefit to you in entertaining such a diversity of hungers. Have you noticed which atmosphere make us lose our appetites or make food for thought seem repulsive? If not, it's time to care for us, serve our interests and relate to our diverse preferences.

If now you're cooking, your PLE is working great. You're creating environments for us to feast on how you're learning among us. You're creating dining experiences where we can feed on what you've cooked up for us to consider and use in our own contexts. You're immersing us in shared events of feeding on food for thoughts. Thanks for the good time and great memories!


Talking about PLEs

PLE's are loaded with potentials and possibilities. When you listen to people talk about PLE's or read their writing about PLE's, you can discern how many of those kinds of possibilities they are saying "Yes!" to.

Some people say "yes, no, no, no" to PLE's. Most of these people don't have PLE's themselves and don't feel successful at finding what they really want to learn. They may help you set up a tiny PLE and that can be a very big deal for you. If all you've learned is what somebody else wanted you to learn, changing to your personal interests is huge. It's like a seed that has not sprouted roots or a stem, but is loaded with enormous possibilities for growth.The PLE is "tiny" because it only explores questions that interest you and misses out on most of things a PLE can do for you. But your PLE does explore your interests with your motivation to make you happy with what you're learning. YES!

Other people say "yes, yes, no, no" to PLE's. They've discovered that PLE's change their mind about learning. They we're thinking that learning is a thing we can make happen and be done with. Now they're realizing learning is a process of continually changing and evolving. Learning stretches out like anything that takes a very long time. One of the ways PLE's gave them this other idea is their learning from other writers, reflective thinkers and sense-makers. It's obvious these writers are changing their minds every day, often coming to new realizations, or frequently rethinking something they had already figured out. Once learning seems like it's never done and it's always a mystery, a PLE becomes a life long journey and a never-ending story. YES YES!

Some other people say "yes, yes, yes, no" to PLE's. They've discovered how PLE's let them look in on other learners and care for them. They realize how other learners are having problems with sorting out what they want to learn, finding what they're looking for, changing their minds about something or realizing a better way to get something done. Their PLE becomes an environment for learning from other learners. Problems with learning, situations and bad experiences get solved together. Thinking together gets helpful ideas to come to our minds that would not occur to us when we're researching topics of interest. YES YES YES!

A few people say "yes, yes, yes, yes" to PLE's. They've discovered how to learn from everything that happens. They see a way to say "yes" to everything, like it's all good and getting better too. They've realized how much they get out of giving to others. They are generating content for others in so many ways that cannot deplete what they've already got. They wonder what to say that could be helpful for others. But they find what they give answers their own question, changes their own mind or lets go of a crazy idea. YES YES YES YES!

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What is a PLE?

Setting up PLE's for students appears to be the latest meme spreading around the K-12 schooling world. Contemplating all those new PLE's just starting out brought me back to a "beginner's mind" where I could wonder what a PLE is.

First there's the definition in the Wikipedia:

Personal Learning Environments are systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to:

  • set their own learning goals
  • manage their learning; managing both content and process
  • communicate with others in the process of learning

and thereby achieve learning goals.

Then there's the idea that a PLE is a cobbling together of online resources into a dashboard that is continually updated, perhaps like Netvibes or Pageflakes.

There's the possibility of sharing items with other learners, as Karl Fisch mentions in his switch to Google Reader with that capability. Sharing also occurs by subscribing to other learners' RSS feeds if they blog, edit a wiki, routinely update a web site or revise their public content in Web 2.0 sites like, Bloglines, Facebook, Flickr or YouTube.

A PLE can be the kind of learning we do when the content comes to us per our search, request, inquiry or discovery. This learning is intrinsic, self motivated and inherently more satisfying. When get a feeling of "successful finding" from learning this way.

A PLE might be something that grows in an environment of curiosity, wonder and fascination from seeds of personally meaningful questions. Likewise, a PLE is something that withers and dies in an environment of conformity pressure and obedience to imposed rules.

A PLE seems more like a process of successful exploration and personal reflection that identifies with our questions, than the actual resource environment that gets explored by identifying with our learning.

Finally there's the working definition I've come to with all my reflective practice about PLE's lately:

A PLE is the environment we create, for other learners to benefit from our ongoing learning processes, whenever we are:

  • intrinsically motivated to question, explore and discover more of what we are looking for
  • learning from sources who are changing and revealing their process of making sense
  • serving others who are facing problems with learning from their situations and experiences
  • generating content that benefits those others and ourselves in the process of giving on common ground
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Learning from not really learning

Have you noticed people who speak of learning as a thing to manage and control? Does it bother you the way it does for Mark Oehlert? The word "learning" gets used as a noun. Have you caught yourself thinking that way about learning? Can you switch to another way of thinking when you start making a thing of learning?

There's another way to think about learning. The word "learning" changes into a verb. Learning is not a thing; it's a process that is continually happening, growing and changing. You might be in the process of learning right now as you read this. Learning is different every time and different for each of us all of the time. Unfolding developments and realizing insights are subjective and deeply significant to us personally. Our ongoing process and value from changing is idiosyncratic, contextual and emergent from our previous experiences. This is the PERSONAL Learning that PLE's are really about. PLE's are a big no-thing.

Switching to learning as a verb appears to be difficult. We've been spellbound by delivery systems selling us content. We've internalized the idea that we can be given learning, made to learn, spell out our learning and measured to see how much we've already learned. There's a pervasive consensus trance that it works to make a thing of learning and understand it objectively. We're threatened by learning as no-thing -- that cannot be controlled, sold, packaged or made to happen.

Have you noticed what happens when we make a thing of learning? Do you see any harm being done, learners getting damaged or outcomes appearing bogus? Does it make sense to you that "mistaking learning as a noun" could create problems for learners, educators, instructional designers and managers?

Are you seeing yourself or others who are not really learning? Do you see signs of going through the motions, pretending to get value, faking the a-ha experience? Does it seem to you that people are content with pseudo learning in order to stay out of trouble, avoid criticism or play along with the crowd? Could we products of a system that failed to provide us with a real education?

Why do you suppose it is so difficult to switch to learning as a verb? Does it take letting go of ego, all fear and any sense of separation from all of us? Does the use of learning as a verb mean we're being vastly accepting and inclusive of all experiences? Can we think of learning as an out-of-control process without falling into terrifying chaos, the existential void and overwhelming anxieties? Can learning be a joy and mystery without losing our grip, identity and comfort zone?

Maybe "learning as a process" is simply what comes about from innocence? What-if this blog post is a process, not a thing? What would happen if we identified with our questions instead of our learning? What could come about from approaching the next upsetting thing with curiosity, fascination and wonder? What am I really creating with your Personally by posing all these questions?


PLEs in common

In a comment on If PLEs became bulletproof, Alex Hayes left a very useful comment that puts PLE's down under in a context of urgency:

PLE's as a job requirement are already a predominant feature of "unemployed" job seekers in Australia......

That's why we are hell bent as a sector on re-positing the term in order to roll out products and licences to use products that build PLE's for students......much like we've done with LMS's and CMS's and VLE's and a number of other unhealthy acronyms.

In Australia, PLE's are used to credential job applicants. In this context, they can be audited and cross checked by employers. There are questions of ownership rights and of the transferability of the content by the applicant. This raises the similar issues about PLE usage as our "inside the firewall" questions we explored awhile back.

If, or better when, we address the PLE issue on common ground, changing this debate will be easy. We will all have PLE's in common. It will be commonly understood what comes from having too small or no PLE. It will be obvious to us when someone's PLE is lacking the longitudinal or depth dimensions:

  • Their own  life long learning will not factor into their decisions or definitions of problems 
  • They will not be considering the effects of their actions on us or even see us on common ground
  • They will fail to learn from lessons brought on by their extreme, harmful or single minded actions
  • They will have no use for feedback, other viewpoints and insights into their blatant ambitions
  • They will be obsessed with pointing their fingers at us, not at themselves, as if they are standing on a battle ground facing dangerous enemies

Those of us on common ground will see all this differently:

  • Our life long learning will factor in to our PLE's as we learn of other possible decisions and definitions of the problem.
  • We will become much more sensitized to the effects of our actions as we reflect on those hidden dimensions among us
  • We will learn from crises and setbacks to be more effective, strategic and responsive as our understanding evolves among us
  • We will incorporate feedback, other viewpoints and insights into our ambitions as we continually learn from our experiences
  • We reflect on our own conduct, point fingers back at ourselves and realize we are all in the same boat.

How will we be able to respond so much more gracefully to evidence of pending disaster? By having PLE's in common and learning non-stop from everything.


PLE's down under

I had a wonderful time and learned a lot from my online participation in the New South Wales Learnscope Event yesterday. Having previously uncovered the fact they've been talking about PLE's down under for years, I was very curious about their understanding. Much to my surprise, Personal Learning Environment has a very different connotation in the vocational education and certification community. PLE is mentioned in the same breath with job interviews and ePortfolios.

I've been thinking of "learning" as a verb and a PLE supports processes of continual learning by exploration and discovery. Down under learning is a noun and a PLE reveals what learning has already been identified and completed.

For me, most of the learning supported by PLE's occurs during employment, as a facet of learning organizations, communities of practice and coaching models of leadership. Down under the PLE's serve job applicants and present their learning that's been accomplished prior to employment.

I've been assuming learning would increase exponentially as a result of PLE usage, both longitudinally in life-long learning and in depth from learning about the significance and value of happenstance. Down under, the learning can be decreased by successful capture of latent or tacit competencies already acquired, but not consciously realized by the "portfolio worker".

For me, PLE's are unique creations of individual learners who's personal curiosity, questions and passions would shape the subscriptions, explorations and realizations. Down under, PLE's are being considered as a government program to extend support for job seekers beyond the skill training and placement services.

I see PLE's as movies that constantly change over time and keep us fascinated with their continual surprises and developments. Down under, PLE's are snapshots of what's occurred that could credential the learner as a worthy candidate for employment if the established content was cleaned up and made "less personal".

I've been expecting that utilizing a PLE could serve as a wonderful credential. A PLE demonstrates the learner's ability to increase shared knowledge in an organization, rebound from mistakes or setbacks, identify unfamiliar trends in customers or the industry, deal with conflicts and learn to think through problems from other team members. Down under, the credentials have focused on job skills; what has been learned rather than how the learner continually learns and benefits the employer by learning.

This is a different contention from the LMS/VLE vs PLE  debate I've explored. I learned a lot yesterday about the value of ePortfolios and digital credentials for employment. I'm seeing yet another perspective to include in my evolving big picture of PLE possibilities and success factors. As always, I'm learning from what happens.


Learning in public view

Back in the days of learning from authorities who appeared to us as ink on paper, we learned in private. No one could really see what we were thinking or how we were changing our minds. Those few people who could give us grades, evaluate our performance or correct our mistakes -- could only assume what we must have been thinking. The only evidence was our final product and the content we learned from seemed like an expert's final say.

Of course there are exceptions like newspaper columnists daily writing, draft submittals of works in progress, and the corpus of an author's lifetime work. Yet the dominant impression from "ink on paper" was to be silenced in the presence of authorities. We were learning by internalizing content, not realizing insights on our own.

Now that we've liberated to generate unique content, express our own voice and join in unexpected conversations, our thinking is on display. Instead of making isolated pronouncements (like memos, reports, papers) we are making sense that connects from day to day. People can see us evolve our understanding and change our minds. Our thinking is obviously being affected by others' thinking. We are combining ideas, incorporating other concepts and integrating opposing viewpoints.

With our thinking on display, evaluation can become more balanced and evidenced based. Other's can see where were coming from, how we routinely react and what confines our options. We may even get feedback on how we connect the dots, make sense of the facts or define the problem we're facing. Evaluation of us may eventually lose the chronic problems with rater bias (demonizing) and false positives (halo effects).

As we learn in public view, others can learn from how we learn. We can provide examples of learning from what happens to us or shows up as a big lesson in our life. Other's can make better sense of how we make sense -- because our learning appears as a process of continual adaptation and evolution. Instead of fixing an isolated error, helpful advice will work with our processes of reasoning.

With people seeing how we're changing, we may even benefit from a few others taking an interest in our learning. We may get mentored by someone who is fascinated by our thought processes. We may get a different way of seeing ourselves from someone who has watched our thinking evolve.

PLE's dramatically increase the chances of all these improvements occurring. By generating content that others can subscribe to its RSS/Atom feed, we set up our learning in public view.


Come inside the PLE arena

One of my favorite aspects of learning from other bloggers is realizing my assumptions from others using different premises. The more this occurs, the better overview I get of the entire arena of possibilities.

This morning I imagined a picture of four entrances into the PLE arena. I see my favorite and the chosen access points of others. Together we cover many of the premises for exploring this vast realm of possibilities.

Freedom entrance: Most educators and advocates of PLE's come through this access point. The value of PLE's appears to dwell on the freedom from indoctrination, passive acceptance of expertise and coercion to comply with uniform requirements. PLE's are portals into any free ranging exploration of online resources. Look for Stephen Downes to show you a way into the PLE arena from this perspective.

Life-long learning entrance: PLE's are attractive to educators who support those facing workforce reentry, rebounding from technological obsolescence, upgrading skills levels in their current trade and choosing a career change. PLE's empower the more confident and self-selective learning that grows outside school environments. Check out Michele Martin to get a handle on this door into the PLE arena. 

Community development entrance: PLE's are powerful vehicles to come together to move issues forward, synthesize combined alternatives, or join forces in shifting the narrative in larger contexts. By consciously learning from each other and the processes of interaction, the ensuing realizations create bonds, common ground and collaborative possibilities. Set your coordinates for the Future of Learning in a Networked World to come into the arena on this basis.

Reflective practice entrance: PLE's endlessly juxtapose frames of reference, underlying assumptions and conflicting priorities. There is an amazing supply of issues to reconsider, view from other perspectives, and combine into more inclusive understandings. Observing others gaining new insights fuels this ongoing reflective practice. Here's lookin at y'a kid. Welcome to my door.


IF PLEs became bulletproof

Scott Wilson (University of Bolton UK) is a proponent of PLE's. He admirably seeks middle ground between closed and open systems or IT Departments and student learning processes. Scott is in tune with my recent Changing the Debate post.  In a paper (MS Word doc) he wrote this year with others, Scott proposed the use of PLE's to avoid the calamitous excesses of any typical IT Department in pursuit of a bulletproof, stable infrastructure.

This week Pete Reilly coincidentally provided context to this issue of IT department excesses. Pete enumerated how a bullet proof infrastructure for a K-12 school system feels like a "prison lock down" to its users:

Is it success to tie down a network to the point where teachers and students can't use the A: Drive; can't load software on the C: Drive, have the "right click" mouse feature disabled, can't attach peripherals, can't use applications like Skype, have little storage space for projects, cannot create and/or store podcasts, videos, blogs, and wikis; while having little or no access to "approved applications" and files from home or locations outside of the school?

In his paper: Preparing for Disruption, Scott referenced one of my all time favorite books: Systemantics - How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail, John Gall (1975) I seem to read that book once every ten years or so. I reread it last weekend for the fourth time with all these PLE issues on my mind. I came to lots of new realizations by juxtaposing these two domains in my mind. PLE's could operate in failure mode if they get tainted by effects of large systems and became a job requirement:

  • The PLE would be taken as an accurate representation of the person, (the chart is the patient, the personnel file is the employee)
  • The PLE would be monitored closely to know the person, evaluate job performance, decide on raises/promotions, and reassign to other jobs
  • The PLE would necessitate a large reporting commitment, filed on schedule (number of feeds added/deleted, number of items written, number of links/comments received, etc)
  • Those inputs to the PLE monitoring system would be regarded as the outputs of the system; a good week of PLE measures would show impressive increases in the number of feeds added, posts written, comments received, links made.
  • Questions about personal learning would be disregarded as: beyond the scope of the PLE monitoring system, mere speculative concerns or unsubstantiated opinions that spawn disunity.
  • The PLE's would generate a new set of problems and layer of management to oversee the meetings, training programs and policy revisions to deal with those problems. 
  • Those new PLE problems might include:
    • certifying the quality of PLE's
    • terminating substandard PLE's
    • limiting the scope/depth of PLE topics to align with system goals
    • offering incentives to get apathetic employees to keep their PLE up to standard
    • confining PLE endeavors to planned goals and program objectives
    • reprimanding creators of deviant PLE's who indulge in serendipitous  developments
  • The devoted keepers of PLE's would become delusional about their value, assuming they must be doing good to get so much attention from management, failing to notice that no personal learning was actually occurring.

In other words, that same pattern of destructive excess that IT Departments exhibit in making an infrastructure bulletproof, could destroy the value of PLE's if management adopts them as a job requirement.


PLEs - Getting it together

Having come from so many different angles to comprehend PLE's recently, a comprehensive picture has emerged in my mind. I now see the challenge of creating a successful PLE as combining and balancing four different processes. While we are starting these processes initially, PLE's appropriately seem like actual things to work on. Once we get it together, a PLE becomes a fascinating, complex process to continually nurture and explore. It works because it's comprised of processes that reverse and evolve in context.

Intrinsic motivating: PLE's involve a big switch from our relying on extrinsic motivations. We stop seeking approval and maintaining dependencies on other's validation. We abandon the "carrot on a stick" or "free prize inside" to do our own thing. We get in touch with our feelings and pursue what we feel like exploring, changing and creating. This is a transition from captivity to freedom and from toxic dependency to self reliance. In our PLE's, we are motivating our endeavors from within.

RSS feed learning: PLE's involve a different approach to learning from what we're accustomed to. We've been bred to learn from ink on paper put there by authorities. We expect to learn the final say from experts who are qualified to tell us what to think. When we learn from subscriptions to RSS feeds, we can see how people (authors and regular commenters) think over time. We watch them change their minds, extend their understandings and create new insights. We get a sense that learning is a process of continual evolution, not a procedure of internalizing established information. We learn from how the learning unfolds in our feed reader and how successful we are at finding what we want by subscribing to feeds.

Common grounding: What comes to mind changes with the ground we stand on. PLE's make it easy and expected to come from common ground. We relate to other learners on an equal basis, as a "work in progress" and "continually evolving". We relate at eye level and see the validity of other points of view. We stop looking down on inferiors or putting superiors on a pedestal where power struggles ensue and debates degenerate into stalemates. Our considerable successes with intrinsic motivation and amazing finds puts in a position to contribute generously. The more we succeed, the more we have to share and give to others' journeys. Our PLE's give us experiences with the power of reciprocation, community and shared interests.

Content generating: If we've been silenced or inhibited by a system of domination, expressing our own viewpoint is a big change. We find our voice is legitimate and useful to others as we speak out and speak of others' voices. We join the conversations and explorations with content we generate. The more we give, the more we get a sense of what we have to give. We see what we can say that makes a difference and serves a larger purpose. We contribute to common ground indirectly by becoming self motivated and learning from others' learning. We contribute directly by generating content.

All four processes are highly inter-dependent. Each affects the other three. We cannot have a successful PLE is we are dependent on a reward system or only assimilating information. Our PLE will break down if we are only taking from others and not giving back. The content we generate will serve neither ourselves or others if our motivations are conniving or we're coming from battlegrounds. Getting it together is essential for each of the components to function effectively.


Successful finding and feeling

My critical reflection on PLE's has finally caught up with Leigh Blackall's. PLE's don't exist! They appear to have substance for a good reason. The urgency to speak of them passionately makes lots of sense too. But in fact, they don't exist. PLE's are a reification to capture "successful finding and feeling".

When we think of PLE's as things, we are operating in failure mode. We cannot get the PLE to work like we want it to. We are failing to find what we want to learn, connect to or simply come across serendipitously. We are feeling like this PLE thing is too much trouble or does not reward us for the effort involved. We cannot fix the PLE thing so it does work because it's not a process.

When we think of PLE's as processes, we are operating in success mode. A PLE is a big nothing and our process works great. We effortlessly succeed at finding what we want to learn, connect to or come across by chance. We are feeling this learning is very enjoyable, this freedom is very significant and this process is very effective. If we get into something that does not feel right, we can put this baby into reverse. It's a process that can go backwards as well as forwards.

The more we succeed at finding exactly what we want, when we want it for our own personal reasons, we find several other ways to reverse any learning endeavor that is not working:

  1. We find that seeking is a flawed concept. There is only finding what we want or not. The more we find, the more successful we get at finding more. Anytime we realizing we are seeking, or chasing after something we're not finding, we turn that around and go with what we're finding.
  2. We find that delayed gratification is unrealistic. There is only immediate satisfaction or not. The more satisfied we are, the more we become rewarded, fulfilled and grateful. Anytime we're not satisfied with our learning, finding or intentions, we can turn the process around and be immediately  appreciative of the turnaround and more.
  3. We find that going against our feelings is clueless. There is only alignment with what feels right to do and intrinsically motivated. The more we succeed at feeling aligned with our inner prompting, the more we will feel that way without trying. Anytime we're going against what we feel inspired to do, we can reverse that process and follow our intuitions.
  4. We find that learning is not a thing to measure, account for or substantiate. There is only continual learning from everything that happens. The more we evolve from our experiences, the more evolved we become naturally. Anytime we are making a thing of learning, we can reverse that misconception and learn to dismiss any misplaced concreteness.

We make a thing of PLE's to do battle on the same turf as LMS/VLE things. We speak passionately about PLE's because they represent freedom from failure mode. But PLE's perpetuate unsuccessful finding and feeling until they are regarded as a process and no-thing. How is your finding and feeling going right now?


If this is your first PLE

Yesterday, Kevin Prentiss asked me to provide some concrete steps for launching a PLE. In one sentence, I'd say "think up some personally meaningful questions, search for some juicy RSS feeds, subscribe to them in your feed reader and set-up access to that reader for when you're wireless or on your cell". Here's a longer version of some concrete steps to launch a PLE:

Personal learning environments are very different from completing school assignments or complying with a job description. A PLE is something we make up on our own because we feel like doing it. We learn what we want to learn without formal instruction or training. PLE's are not about jumping through hoops. When we figure things out on our own, they make much more sense to us than something we were taught.

I hope it seems really strange for me to tell you how make a PLE up on your own. Why not just wing it and discover what works for you? All I can contribute is my familiarity with what you can look forward to and what's important about different steps you can take. Your PLE is entirely up to you and depends on how you feel for it to work like it should.

Start with your vague and scattered interests: Most learners I've known have very clear ideas about what is expected, graded, or required to learn. They have much more vague ideas about whatever really interest them. Those personal ideas don't get developed equally because they don't count for whatever hoops they're jumping through. So an online search is going to be difficult and possibly unproductive with these personal, yet scattered ideas. Early searches will mostly about which keywords work best, not what's available to learn that looks interesting. By refining which tags, phrases, people and books -- relate to your vague ideas, you'll get an initial sense of how to successfully load up your PLE with fascinating resources.

Check in with your feelings: While your exploring which keywords work best for your scattered thoughts, notice how you're feeling. If the interest you assumed was yours personally has you feeling energized and more curious than before -- it's the real deal. If you're finding this topic is boring or something you're making yourself explore, forget it and try a different idea. PLE's are self propelled. Unlike homework and jobs, PLE's only happen when they energize and fulfill you. The thing you're learning has to be your baby, not somebody else's that you're babysitting.

Search for RSS feeds to subscribe to: PLE's are different from hanging out in a library or searching archived web pages. The sources for personal learning are alive and growing. The people to learn from are expressing themselves and changing their minds every day. They may link to and quote inert text, but they wrap it in paragraphs about what it means to them, how they find it useful and what else the text ties into. Most everything that changes regularly has an RSS feed to add to your PLE. You can even subscribe to an RSS feed of searches for text or tags in web sites, blogs, wiki and bookmarks. Your feed reader will have new stuff to read and think about every day. You'll get the idea that learning is a vibrant process that defies prediction and control. You'll realize that disagreements and contrasting viewpoints induce more realizations for you than consensus and confirmations of one right answer. You'll discover you're learning from the combination of RSS feeds in your feed reader, not just one subscription at a time or each feed in isolation.

Interact with your best finds: After watching your RSS feed subscriptions for several days or weeks, you'll get a sense of your favorite contributors. You may admire how they think, become fascinated with how they learn, or get inspired by how they continually change. Writing to them or about them online will start a conversation and inspire you with more to write about. Notice how your learning doubles when you start expressing yourself, joining into dialogues and sharing your insights with others. You'll gain confidence in what you've learned, value your process more than before and want to go deeper in this direction because it's so rewarding. You'll appreciate your PLE as a process that continually unfolds and surprises you.


PLEs come in sizes

When we think of Personal Learning Environments as things, we are on the same page as construction workers, factory stewards and warehouse operators. We are dealing with the components to assemble a PLE. We describe the PLE as "what we've got in it" like Web 2.0 tools and archives of our own creations.

When we think of PLE's as processes, we're on the same page as designers of architecture, software interfaces and customer experiences. We're dealing with what components do, how they function, what purpose they serve, and which difference they make. These intangible qualities are more difficult to visualize.

When PLE's are comprised of tangible components, there's a limit to how big they can get. We can only handle so much information before we go into overwhelm, denial or dissociation. When PLE's are appreciated for intangible functionalities, there's no limit to their scope, impact and value. When I speak of PLE's coming in different sizes, I'm addressing these intangible qualities.

Tiny PLE's - PLE's can be limited in scope to a research project. This is most common in academic settings where the PLE needs to "fit under the nose" of the instructor giving grades. The research can be of a personal interest and personal selection of resources, but it cannot get more personal than that. This is the kind of research that journalists do for their next story, legislative analysts use to draft new policies and academics rely upon to create new articles for their journals.

Elongated PLE's - PLE's can last a lifetime if they serve continual competency development. Networks like TENCompetence support personal career changing, reentry to the workforce, closing skill gaps and life long learning. The focus on personal skill development is a much larger scope than any research project. It builds on previous learning and requires more intrinsic motivation to succeed. The personal context involves more issues like financial obligations, social acceptance, personal confidence and family commitments. The PLE reaches into the past and extends into the personal future.

Deep PLE's - When PLE's explore why things happen and what they mean personally, they take on an enormous, new dimension. They becomes a source of anxiety relief, comfort and personal growth. The continual contrasts of personal perspectives with others' frames of reference clarifies one's own voice and gifts for the world. We find how we differ that then serves as the basis for how to contribute in ways that are deeply satisfying and significant. We construct "mental models" that gives us ways to accept, forgive and even utilize what happens in our world. We bring compassion and deeper understandings to dramas, conflicts and breakdowns of dialogue.

Infinite PLE's - When a deep PLE is sufficiently robust, we are set-up to learn from everything that happens. We become fascinated by occurrences and open to life's mysteries. "Life is our PLE" because everything imaginable is welcomed as something to possibly explore, reflect upon or incorporate into our understanding. Our reflective practice becomes more significant than acquiring new information. We learn as much or more going within meditatively.

In discussing portions of this with a colleague over the weekend, we concluded that a deep PLE can be started at a young age. His experiences with elementary school children has revealed the ability to "go deep" after the primary grades. The sooner we establish that tradition of personal meaning, the more likely the learners will develop the habit of graciously  "learning from everything that happens".


Nice questions!

When our PLE's are working to our satisfaction, we're finding what we are looking for. We frequently discover what we want to learn right when we need it. Our curiosity seems to be successful at connecting with exactly what we were recently wondering about. Our life long learning takes on a life of its own and we go along for the joyride.

A PLE that is functioning like this is usually running on great questions. The personal inquiries go off in fruitful directions. The explorations are focused by productive queries. We're wondering with questions that lead to new ideas, better approaches, different diagnoses and more valuable explanations.  

Questions that derail a PLE are too smart. They merely confirm what they already know. They seek validation, not exploration. They assume what's true and simply verify the assumption. These questions establish the facts of what is. Questions like these come to mind when we want to be right or show off how smart we already are.

Questions that empower a PLE are innocent. They wonder with fascination about a panorama of unknowns. They explore avenues and directions that may not pay off. They expect to change questions as more is learned and simply begin with tentative formulations to look into. These questions play around with what-if's to better grasp different possibilities. Questions like these come to mind when we want to learn and discover more than we already understand.


Growing PLEs from seed

Yesterday Patrick Higgins posed a wonderful question to me that has spawned a barrage of reflective insights this morning (thanks Patrick!):

My idea is to surround them (the students) with a network, much like how you have described PLE's, that will give them access to information, allow them to create content on the fly, and truly give them the freedom to pursue what interests them by making meaningful connections. My question to you is, how does this process start?

PLE's propagate from seed. PLE's cannot be successfully manufactured or constructed. They are organic by nature and need to be nurtured with attentive care. The growing conditions vary so dramatically that success is an adaptation to the particular context, not compliance with rules or recipes. Giving students the picture of "gardening their PLE" will help them to understand the complex challenge, to avoid trying too hard or not enough, and to recognize self-inflicted problems.

PLE's require balance to grow. PLE's are a vibrant combination of frameworks and freedoms. The structure of Web 2.0 tools and connectivity provides space to move about freely. Neither the freedom or the framework is a enough on it's own. They are like plants that die from excessive sun or insufficient water or vice versa. Too much and too little of either freedoms or frameworks proves lethal to the PLE. Other names for PLE's that capture this synergy include: "independently networked learning", "autonomous social learning" and "self-inspired immersion in others' learning".

PLE's blossom after other growth stages. PLE's take root in a soil of personal passions, motivations and interests. When a PLE is grounded in these personal feelings, it can take off and flourish. When PLE's try to sprout in the muck of class requirements or imposed expectations, they whither and die off. The urge of learn more, connect more, see more, explore more -- comes from within the sprouting seed. The growth is "self propelled" and cannot be controlled. Blossoming follows cycling through processes repeatedly. The growth is energizing, satisfying and developmental.

PLE's are contagious:  Learning to be curious, courageous, reflective and passionate comes from others exhibiting those qualities in our presence. We catch on to PLE's like fads and viruses, by immersing ourselves in the processes of other successful learners. We benefit from what they are finding through their PLE that they can, in turn, give to us and strengthen our PLE. We "come down with" the propagation of mutual benefit, reciprocities and emergent solutions.

It takes a PLE to grow another's PLE. When the others are obviously learning about OUR OWN exploratory processes, experimenting with affecting OUR learning outcomes, and nurturing OUR development in desired directions - our growth takes off. Their PLE's nurture the development of our PLE's. Together we realize what works, what interferes with results and what makes a bigger difference than something else.


Changing the debate

Debates like the one I've characterized between LMS's & PLE's naturally gravitate toward impasses. The debate becomes too serious and frightening for the participants to explore further. A stalemate ensues as the dialogue breaks down. George Siemens suggests that edubloggers are headed toward such a standoff with opponents to Web 2.0 -- in his: Pots Kettles and other small appliances of like appearance.

The language and imagery of conflict resolution helps to avoid stalemates. Reactions are more easily reconsidered. Process observations can be made about the misunderstandings and labeling. Both sides function with more self awareness. The debate changes through further dialogue without escalating tensions or sacrificing objectives.

Acknowledging the opponent: Practicing empathy de-escalates the adversarial context. We admit we understand the others' objectives, commitments and concerns. We see how they are: making sense to themselves, worthy of respect and engaged in a valid pursuit.

When we cannot be understanding, we are conceited. Our hubris blinds us to other viewpoints. We're stuck on being right at all cost.

Showing an interest in their interests: Beneath every stance, demand and tactic is an underlying concern. Seeing through the obvious drama to the hidden issues makes it possible to find common ground.

When we cannot share interests or see things eye-to-eye, we are encased in our own fortress mentality. We are defending ourselves from changing our minds. Our positional stance makes enemies of anyone with a different outlook. We are "the pot calling the kettle black".

Shooting ourselves in the foot: When we can admit our error, find fault with our oversight or be open to others' criticism, we transform the conversation. Our humility makes us approachable. Our vulnerability diminishes other's vehemence. We bring out the best in others by relating at a human level.

When we cannot find fault with ourselves, we shoot the messengers delivering corrective feedback to us. Our opponents take a bullet that shoots them down as defective, deviant and deficient.

Formulating win/win solutions: When we're thinking there's no escape, we float all the boats. We see there's no way to take advantage of the others without it coming back to haunt us. Since everything must come back around, we sow seeds of compassion. We want collaborative victories and reciprocal working arrangements. We work with, instead of against, our opponents.

When we cannot benefit from mutual satisfaction, we need a good fight. We want to make enemies to burst our balloon and shatter our idealism. We only feel safe in self-righteous isolation. We distance ourselves in order to survive foolishly.

With these frames of reference, we can see more clearly what we are doing to ourselves, the context, the dialogue and the likely outcome. It becomes easier to change our approach by changing our outlook first. We realize what to see differently and then act accordingly to change the debate.


The LMS vs PLE debate

Those of us who are articulating the value and uses of PLE's seem like freedom fighters to me. We are liberating the learners from getting dominated, coerced, and damaged in the process of getting instructed. We are "user-centric" because our priority is the experience of the learners. We seek to adapt the system to the user, not the user to the system.

Tony Karrer recently added to this liberation movement with his post: Horizontal Learning which quoted Dicole Oy's post Horizontal Technologies for Learning. Vertical technologies are top-down structures which deliver consistent, reliable products (content). I've been characterizing these technologies as delivery systems, short tail economics, categorized expertise and factory models. I've compared horizontal technologies to discovery systems, long tail economics, miscellaneous expertise and organic models.

Last week, I found an online panel discussion transcript: Open complementing closed - PLE and LMS - why, what for and how? The pro LMS side is much better represented and articulated than I've found it to be previously. Learning Management Systems, like Blackboard, WebCT or Moodle, limit learning to what is covered in existing modules. From the pro-PLE standpoint, this amounts to a loss of freedom, violation of rights and lousy service for the customers.

As I reflected further on the pro-LMS side of the debate, I realized they are addressing two valid problems (#1, #2) that are undermined by PLE's. Their side is a mirror image of the pro-PLE side's focus on two valid problems (#3, #4) which are undermined by LMS's.

Problem #1: Chronic shortages of certified trades people; insufficient numbers of reliable personnel to perform hands-on tasks effectively.

Problem #2: Costs of admitting unqualified people into the labor pool; presenting under-skilled individuals as certified to perform jobs adequately.

Both of these problems are made worse by letting people learn what they want, feel like or find fascinating. The freedom in PLE's interferes with the solutions provided by LMS's.

Problem #3: Psychological damage caused by passive learning, systems of domination and enforced conformity; loss of self reliance, reflective practice, curiosity, creativity and complexity.

Problem #4: Dangers of docile citizenry, compliant with exploitative policies and easily subjugated by corporate greed; loss of societal resources to innovate, disrupt the status quo and create sustainable models of habitation.

Both of these problems are made worse by putting learners through LMS modules. The LMS's adherence to quality standards undermines the liberating and restorative intentions of PLE's.

Welcome to the middle of the debate.


Are PLEs low maintenance?

Last week Alex Hayes in New South Wales, Australia invited me to present online at an upcoming conference there. In recent blog post, he characterized my perspective on Personal Learning Environments with his wonderful possibility of "plug and play" convenience. Over the holiday weekend, I generated more than 30 pages of new insights into how PLE's could alleviate problems, have greater impact and function more effectively than they currently do. I explored how PLE's differ and serve different purposes. I came to the realization there are cheap and costly PLE's -- low and high maintenance PLE's.

Cheap PLE's don't ask much of the learner and don't give much in return. Their impact on problems in minimal. The genre of learning they generate is the kind people keep to themselves or show off without much effect. The learning can be characterized as "nodes without links" or as "facts without meaning". They are low maintenance because they merely accumulate information.

Costly PLE's ask a lot of the learner and give much in return. Their impact on problems is significant. The genre of learning is rich with insights into the underlying dynamics of problems, people's reactions and innovative solutions. The learning can be characterized as "forging the links between nodes" or "playing with different meanings for the facts". They are high maintenance because they call for considerable personal reflection brought on by conflicting viewpoints and positional stances.

Cheap PLE's feed conflicts and arguments. They can only take sides and validate one position in a debate. Costly PLE's gravitate toward the middle of debates. They naturally see how every side has a piece of the puzzle, some validity to consider and an eye on the winning combination of solutions.

When we're in the middle of a debate, it's clear to us there are no easy answers. Everything depends on situations and the people involved. Several of my posts last June provide ways to consider how "it depends":

When we take all this complexity into consideration, we are paying a price. We are investing our time and energy into a kind of learning that is not passive consumption of content. We are reflecting on our personal practice in our own situations and learning from like minded practitioners in their contexts.


The E word in PLE

The E word remains to be explored, having previously done the P and L words in PLE. An awesome comment left last night got me started thinking about the E word.

My concept is a lifelong project with metaphors of toolkits, backpacks, storage vaults in use. The environment, terrain, place where the project is developed will change & change & change. And some of those changes will arise from the constructions & connections made by the projecteer...I just don't want to trap the kids in AN environment even if it is theirs & they are learning something.

If the environment is something we're given, our PLE is in trouble. Our PL Environment is something we create and change as our interests evolve. We bring avenues of exploration into our PLE. We choose to receive RSS/Atom feeds in our environment. We delete and unsubscribe to directions we're no longer pursuing. Environment is a better word than confines, desktop, dashboard or planner because the range we encompass is more vast and encompassing of alternatives.

Our PL Environment is necessary limited to our current focus of interest, community of colleagues, complex issues under consideration. If it feels limiting, like a trap or an "illusion of freedom", something is wrong. The environment ought to feel focused, productively confined and organized. - not oppressive or contrived.

The imagery of "free ranging exploration" and "unlimited expanses" of learning environments relate to three recent developments:
1. The increasing availability of quality content online suggests a freedom from the confines of top-down, expert content, seat-time delivery systems
2. The empowerment of self exploration from handheld technologies and online activities -- provides a freedom from "by the book" activities
3. The subscriptions to chosen feeds, searches and aggregations of other's bookmarks encourages each learner to look within for personal questions, motivations and pursuits to make those choices

When we are in a certification program, completing matriculation requirements or qualifying for other privileges, our PLE will look like captivity to outsiders. Others will see a "lack of freedom" where we see an expanse of challenges before us. Our plate is full of unresolved issues, open questions and unclear avenues of development. We don't know what will come of all these hurdles. We are learning "under our own steam" and gaining confidence in the process. Our roster of pursuits has not killed our curiosity or creativity. We are coming up with inventive ways and intrinsic motivations to handle the requirements. Our environment has the "right amount of expansiveness" for this phase of our development.

So in my mind, the E word is expansive and confining. The creation of the environment is a combination of our choices and contextual limitations. We are free to move about within the range of our focused explorations. That's plenty of freedom and good for our life long learning.