Personal Learning Environments: blurring the edges of formal and informal learning. An experiment with Anthologize.

After Deconstructing the Book: The Drumbeat series as a Pliego, here comes another experiment on open content and self-publishing.

I am preparing a support material for a conference on Personal Learning Environments due in Barcelona next February 2011. The material is going to be based on a series of writings I recently made on the topic of the Personal Learning Environment and, more specifically, on the Hybrid Institutional Personal Learning Environment as a bridge between educational institutions and online informal/social learning.

That was the perfect excuse to test the possibilities of Anthologize with a practical exercise.

At first sight, Anthologize just saves you some of the old copy-and-paste by making it easier to merge several (WordPress) blog posts into one. After working with it, what it really does is making really easy to engage in a simple but real editorial process, which includes selecting the appropriate articles, make changes in them (without altering the originals!), and seeing how they best fit together by selecting their order or grouping them into sections or chapters. If you’re not happy with the result, the output can be exported to an RTF file which you can afterwords thoroughly edit in any text editor. Simple as it sounds, it’s an awesome and very useful tool for quickly making deliverables out of your blog.

Here’s what came out of my experiment:

This final version was deeply edited after the Anthologize process was over. It was, nevertheless, a very personal decision and there was actually not a real need for it but a matter of taste.

Deconstructing the Book: The Drumbeat series as a Pliego

My colleague Enric Senabre, with Adam Hyde and Patrick Hendricks are organizing the Printing Lab at the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival.

One of the things they’re presenting is PliegOS, which is like a Twitter for books.

To make a demonstration of PliegOS, Enric is taking the first three out of my four-post series for Drumbeat, that is:

and turnging them into a pliego.

The result is surprising to say the least. You can download the pliego in the following link:

And you can also watch how a pliego is built and used in the following video:

Learning assessment and accreditation in the Information Society

At the risk of oversimplifying, we can say that there is a paradigm shift in the transmission of knowledge in the Information Society, following the digitization of information and communications.

Because of this digitization , storing and distributing content is virtually at no cost, as well as happens with accessing experts in a particular discipline or knowledge.

The concentration of knowledge and its transmission (in libraries, schools, universities), especially for reasons of efficiency is no longer critical. Thus, it is possible that education exits the institutions, that non-formal learning acquires greater relevance or that learning can be supported with new content and different platforms as usual.

Historically, training has focused not only been concentrated in space but also in time. There was a place and an age for learning, for education. This made it possible to assess the acquisition of knowledge in relatively simple ways: the evaluation process began at the final stage of education, in the place where education took place, and it then ended with the corresponding accreditation. We could, in turn, have periodical assessments to avoid a single assessment at the end of the stage, but the accreditation did remain for the end. And we had exams and titles with which we abandoned forever the education system.

When learning (there has always been learning, but it has now become more necessary, intensive and extensive than ever) no longer has a place and, above all, ceases to belong to an age: do we have the necessary tools for assessment and recognition? Examinations and qualifications, are they still valid?

Without willing to be exhaustive — how could we be in such an open question? — let us point at some key (in my opinion)
issues.

A first need is to decouple the evaluation from a specific time period. If we believe that learning is something that will happen throughout life (or life-long), we should quit the evaluation systems that focus on vital stages. e-Portfolios or virtual learning environments can help to trace the itinerant learning over time.

A second need is to decouple the evaluation from a particular place, meaning “place” the institutions of formal education. Although the terms are still quite preliminary (if not confusing), digital identity, digital presence can contribute to (dis)locate the learning that happens outside the walls of the school and that (fortunately or unfortunately) leaves indelible trace on the network and its non-spaces.

A final issue concerns the flexibility of learning, the total customization of learning processes that questions the generic solutions for evaluation. The higher this customization, the greater the need for new forms of assessment, new ways to accredit expertise. We should probably move from knowledge to competences, from content to continents.

Reputation, as something that is built little by little and, above all, in relationship to others and not to some predefined syllabuses may be both something to be assessed an a tool for assessment. In this sense, it would also enable a way of assessing that is not only vertical, held by institutions or individuals of a “system”, but rather horizontal, among peers, performed every day, wherever we are.

Article originally posted as Nuevos contenidos y nuevas plataformas de aprendizaje for a set of articles for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, taking place in Barcelona in 3-5 november 2010:

New learning contents and platforms

In an interview with Jaron Lanier, the author of (very) interesting You are not a gadget, he claimed to be surprised by the still high level of passivity of people on the Internet, as well as with digital technology in general.

According to Lanier, big mass media, because of their particular nature, had alienated citizens as creators and had made them become spectators. Information and Communication Technologies, with their versatility and very low cost (both in matters of access to infrastructure and, relatively, in terms of learning curve to master their usage) should have brought a creative and communicative shock that would turn upside down the pre-digital landscape of television, radio or the printing press. However, despite the undeniable revolution of the Web 2.0, in most cases we have but changed of screen which we now use for the very same purposes as before.

In educational environments, it is quite true that we talk more about interactivity than about creativity, and the difference is not a minor one.

Historically, learning by doing has always been very expensive. Sometimes because of the materials: carving a marble David is a task that leaves little room for corrections. Sometimes because of time: managing a database with thousands of records on paper and producing the basic statistics manually entails hours and hours of calculations. Sometimes because of the risks: how many casualties adds up the history of aviation? And yet there seems to be consensus that learning by doing is how people learn best, especially if we add to that explaining how things are done.

Digital technologies in knowledge-intensive areas (such as teaching and learning) have cut down to the minimum the cost of building, testing, trying, simulating, of being wrong. In his Carta a los editores de libros de texto (letter to the textbook publishers), professor Jordi Adell argues why the textbook as a closed and immutable object is at odds with a society (and a school) where digital content is created, transformed and constantly destroyed.

In a similar train of thought, the advisory board behind the Informe Horizon: Edición Iberoamericana 2010 (2010 Horizon Report: Iberoamerican Edition Released) identifies six major trends to watch in the future of education:

  1. Collaborative environments.
  2. Social Media.
  3. Open content.
  4. Mobile technologies.
  5. Augmented reality.
  6. Semantic Web.

Amongst these six, two of them (#3, #6) are closely related to the openness of the contents, two (#1, #2) to collaboration in creation and co-learning, and two (#4, #5) to new platforms and educational spaces.

Thus, it is not only about being possible a certain de-institutionalization of education to regain the attention to the learner, a non “industrialized” learning; or about being possible capitalizing the learning that takes place outside formal channels: the question is that it already is technically possible… though the road still to go (having the will to do it, getting an agreement) is yet the most complicated.

Initiatives such as those presented in the Open Content Studio, Video Lab, the lounge or the Wikimedia learning Local incubator of Mozilla Drumbeat Festival may be more or less replicated, more or less representative, but certainly point in the same direction, so that change is possible and, moreover, it is happening.

Initiatives such as those presented in the Open content studio, the Video Lab, the Wikimedia lounge or the Local learning incubator of the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival may be more or less likely to be replicated, more or less representative, but certainly point towards the same direction: that change is possible and, moreover, that it is happening.

Article originally posted as Nuevos contenidos y nuevas plataformas de aprendizaje for a set of articles for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, taking place in Barcelona in 3-5 november 2010:

From non-formal learning to casual learning

Education has two main purposes whose natures are very different.

On the one hand, education should train the people that are in the labour market, it should train people as workers (let us note here the surprising expression of “training the future employees”, which excludes all present workers from the need of further education).

Moreover, education should train people as people, If you’ll forgive the repetition. That is, it should train people as citizens responsible for their actions and free to do them upon the agreed social contract.

Both have been solved traditionally with a combination of school, professional training and universities. With a variable combination according to the needs, but all in all within a common set of possibilities.

In a future that is already present, the possibility of deinstitutionalizing education (especially in regard to educational institutions) is likely to enable a demand and supply of trained workers that would have its equivalent in a demand and supply for labour training more fit to the labour market needs. The historical claims of employers (“we want the universities to produce more specialists and fewer generalists”) will have a logical answer: “let yourselves also invest in human capital from which you will profit later on, as it is now easier than it was before”.

In the case of education as a builder of people as citizens, things get more complicated: because of its nature as a public good (we all want it but we have no incentive for bearing its cost), demand for it will probably not increase. And, as it is divorced from the demand for education as workforce training, it will be even more difficult — in this short-term- and economics-focussed world — justify the investment in training for citizenship.

To add up to this problem of underestimating the training for citizenship vs. the training of workforce, we find that the changing environment brought about by the digital revolution makes the need for training — as citizens, as workers — something that ceased to be part of a stage of life to become something that takes place all throughout life.

Before these challenges, we should start to consider how to get education to citizens anytime and anyplace.

It might well be that after a first step (or expansion) of formal education into formal education, be followed by a second stage that goes from non-formal to informal education, to casual education.

If museums, libraries, workplaces, communities of practice, etc. are now part of non-formal education, thanks to the technologies that enable the learner’s mobility, the ubiquity of content and experts, the possibility of an augmented reality, semantic contexts and artificial intelligence… it should be possible to anticipate the citizens’ training needs (and even training wills) and situate education where it is going to be required.

Strategies for product placement or contextual advertising have evidenced their power to sell products and services. Why not trying training, citizen training? Why not integrating it into the daily life, in the everyday life of citizens?

Article originally posted as Desinstitucionalizando la educación for a set of articles for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, taking place in Barcelona in 3-5 november 2010:

Deinstitutionalizing education

In 1971, Ivan Illich published Deschooling Society in which he criticized the creation of “educational funnels” through which all students do have to pass to receive universal education (universal in many ways).

While the industrialization of education has had positive effects, it is also true that its origins belong to a specific place and a specific time: the industrial society.

In the new digital economy, many of the ancient physical barriers have disappeared. Digital goods are not scarce, but can be created, copied and distributed with little cost. Also, transaction costs, coordination between agents have also fallen to negligible levels in recent years. And many institutions are faced with the dilemma of whether to adapt or become extinct. Educational institutions — schools, universities, professors, publishers of educational materials, etc. — are some of them.

While on an industrial society, knowledge was embodied in (a) books and (b) “wise men.” The first ones were scarce, as reproduction was expensive. Furthermore, accessing each and every one of them was too expensive, so it was decided that it would be more efficient to group them in places that would make travelling to consult a book worthwhile: and we got libraries.

As people that consulted the books travelled to libraries, it became obvious that it was better that people should live (and work) around them. Schools and, above all, universities were built around the books that contained all knowledge. The next logical step was the concentration of trainees (students) around the wise men who were concentrated (in turn) around books.

If we have schools and universities, among other things, it is because it is an efficient way to distribute knowledge: by physically concentrating it concentrate.

In a digital economy, neither the books are rare (because they can be copied virtually to zero cost), nor access to them is costly (because we do it by browsing the Internet from home in our slippers). And the same with access to the “wise men”: we’ve got their classes and lectures on YouTube, their presentations on Slideshare, their articles on their websites (and everywhere else), their e-mail addresses just a click away…

Is it still the concentration of the educational system in schools and universities the most efficient option in a digital society?

It is likely that educational institutions must change and not only their model, but their very same role in the society. When the role to concentrate and distribute knowledge is no longer relevant as a matter of costs, both model and role should probably change. And probably by taking a more qualitative turn.

Nowadays, it is not only feasible but easy to learn from home, from one’s workplace, anywhere. Informal learning can be so intense and effective as formal learning, the one that takes place in educational institutions: student-centred learning, peer learning, learning by doing, collaborative learning environments, personal learning environments, communities of practice…

Should we start a debate?

Article originally posted as Desinstitucionalizando la educación for a set of articles for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, taking place in Barcelona in 3-5 november 2010:

Also about this topic: