I have always wanted to “live venturously”, (Virginia Woolf like), “plucking the wild goat by the beard, and trembling over precipices”, I liked to imagine that an individual’s complexity meant unpredictability so that rather than others suspecting that I had “lost the plot”, it would be more the case that no plot could find me.
Is why when I read (e)thusiasms for personalisation in education associated with the eLearning Action Plan and elsewhere I felt unthreatened. The prospect of co-constructing extensive user data profiles in education left me strangely unmoved – I was smugly confident that however "personalised learning environments" are defined and however "personalised learning environments" are designed – (adaptive personalisation: institutionalised provision and procedure/ customised personalisation: enabling the learner to engage with institutional provision/ dynamic personalisation - the institution engaging with the learner) they would always misrepresent the complexity of the individual and his or her learning interactions, and thus ultimately disappoint. So even though I knew personalisation was being touted as a “education’s Killer app” I filed all stuff on PLE’s into a My Documents folder labelled “This too will pass”.
I expected the PLE thing to froth and subside much like the development profile of personalisation in commercial environments outlined in David Walker’s post Personalisation goes one-to-one with reality
“The technology called "personalisation" had its genesis in a 1993 book by marketing experts Don Peppers and Martha Rogers called The One to One Future, a tome about the possibility of selling in a different way to each different customer. Around 1995, technology-oriented marketing types put Peppers and Rogers together with the Internet in one of those mad-scientist lab-explosion moments. When the smoke cleared, they had decided that online commerce would be one-to-one marketing's killer app.”
"We built a personalization-engine service, and it turns out people didn't have much interest in personalizing content. They are happy going on and reading what's on our front page and navigating their way through it. About 1 percent of our users used it. We spent $200,000 and ultimately canceled it."
“The results are in from the Web's great experiment with one-to-one marketing. Verdict: personalisation suits only a small minority of sites”.
I can see why we like to talk up personalisation in education, and why ICT is being promoted as a significant player. In truth personalisation represents a much needed opportunity to rark up the need for ICT in schools - a purpose other than that overly vague “integration” stuff.
Claims to be meeting the learning needs of each individual 21st Century Learner is the classic “No sparrow falls unseen stuff” of our schools. And in the West we do like to think that we are individuals – different from others - unique in thought – autonomous and independent. But I reckon this PLE stuff is geared wrong. For starters I suspect that all this talk about personalisation fails to acknowledge how unlikely it is that students will ever consider an environment designed by others and owned and controlled by the institution as their personal environment.
I also struggle to understand how we can use a PLE to “place the learner at the centre of the education system” and at the same time determinedly pursue pedagogical approaches that embrace collaborative and cooperative learning. There is a deceit in here. How can we support the individual with a “where you've been, where you are, and where you're going” PLE map, when the journey has been a collective crusade. How valid is any attempt to assess the contribution of the individual within the collective contribution of a group?
Seeking individuality in education has its own issues, its own social cost. As Teemu cautions
Behind the PLE there seems to be a strong ethos of individual right to choose to study whatever they want, with who ever they want. I guess this is what makes it “personal”. The ultimate freedom to choose also means that there can’t be a request of commitment.
I am afraid that behind the PLE concept there is actually the metaphor of learning as a knowledge acquisition, and not only knowledge acquisition, but also community (or people) acquisition. Communities share. individuals consume. With PLE students will consume information and each other.
Given all this restless thinking I was surprised to discover today that that personalising me is going to be dead easy – It seems that I am not unique at all – quite knowable and effortlessly profilable in fact. My character summary fits Somerset Maugham’s
"She plunged into a sea of platitudes,
and with the powerful breast stroke of a channel swimmer,
made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the obvious.
A simple inquiry over where I am staying in Rotorua for the Learning@School 07 conference in February made me realise that my life does not involve trembling over precipices, and plucking the wild goat by the beard. I am not arriving in Rotorua in a recklessly bohemian, careless and carefree fashion in February - armed only with a change of knickers, a toothbrush, and vague plans to sleep on the sofa of any new friends I make. Like a thousand other conference attendees my sensible accommodation has been booked for yonks.