VIII Forum on Education (VI). What did it mean to my personal and professional experience belonging to an innovation network

Notes from the Forum on Education. Innovation and networking, organized by the Institute of Education Sciences (ICE-UAB) and the Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP), and held in Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain, in January 10 and 11, 2014. More notes on this event: forumedu2014.

Round table: What did it mean to my personal and professional experience belonging to an innovation network.
Chairs: Miquel A. Alegre, membre de l’Institut Català d’Avaluació de Politiques Públiques (Ivàlua).

Martí Olivella, director de Nova – Innovació Social.

Enabling learning is like being a sower. The teacher seeds and grows seeds of transformation in fields of opportunity and is persistent so that seeds can germinate, grow and produce.

If there is no crisis, there is not an opportunity of change.

Innovation is about making happen things that are statistically unlikely.


  • Fighting against the compulsory military service through objection of conscience or insubmission.
  • For a better quality of democracy. Deliberation is not voting: citizen parlaiament.
  • Rethink cities as transition towns.

Keys for transformation:

  • Social innovation: structural transformation. To ask ourselves what we are doing and why is already an transformer action.
  • Network: a team of teams with synergies.
  • Educational: we transform ourselves by transforming others. Education for transformation = transformation for education.
  • Passion.

Agnès Barba, founder of the Xarxa 0-6 de Bellvitge and director of the School els Encants de Barcelona.

To create a network of schools and all other people outside of schools that have to do, in some way, with education. The goal being how to make a comprehensive accompaniment to kids’ learning.

When a new school is created, the only way to create it is by taking into account all the stakeholders and agents related with the education of kids. And that is done through networks.

A basic aspect for a network to work is meeting together, talking, discussing, exchanging information, feelings, doubts, approaches, proposals.

Jordi Adell, coordinator of the Centre for Education and New Technologies of the Universitat Jaume I de Castelló (CENT).

Belonging to networks of teachers is highly transforming and reshapes how one faces their own teaching.

Educational institutions are beginning to shift from being isolated places where education happens, to be nodes of huge networks that enable learning.

Networks work well if one contributes to them: the more you give, the more you get.

Networks are a window to the world: my classroom is the world. There still are many degrees of freedom within the educational system and networks are one of them.

There are a lot of emerging teaching and learning methodologies, many of them enabled by technology. There is a lot of innovation ongoing and we must make it visible, share it.

For complex systems, good practices do not work. Good practices are good for simple or complicated systems, but not for complex systems. For complex systems we must look not at practices, but at patterns.

For analysing and realizing patterns, theories work very well. Theory is not opposed to practice, but complementary.


IX Fòrum Educació (2014)

Book. Personal Learning Environments: keys for the networked educational ecosystem

Book cover for Entornos personales de aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red

Professors Linda Castañeda and Jordi Adell have just published the book Entornos personales de aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red (Personal Learning Environments: keys for the networked educational ecosystem), the most comprehensive work to date on Personal Learning Environments in Spanish language and, arguably, one of the most comprehensive too in any language.

This book is a tremendous (and, in my acknowledgedly biased opinion, succeeded) effort to produce a definition, a compilation of research approaches (pedagogical, technological, sociological…), framework of application and applied examples of what we understand by personal learning environments or PLEs.

The editors of the book asked me to contribute with a chapter — The research-teaching PLE: learning as teaching — which aimed at reflecting the use of the PLE in the intersection of research and teaching. In other words, how most scholars and teachers of all kinds could understand the PLE (a) beyond a tool for their students (i.e. for themselves), and (b) beyond the classroom. If I was to summarize my chapter in just one short sentence I’d say that the PLE becomes meaningful for the teacher when we understand the teacher as a learner too.

Part of the content of my chapter overlaps with what I dealt with in Heavy switchers in translearning: From formal teaching to ubiquitous learning. But, as I have pointed at, the book chapter (which was written first) has a more practical, hands-on, do-it-yourself approach, while the article definitely has a more academic flavour. And, of course, the former is in Spanish and the later in English.

The presentation of the book is terrific with a very cool website. Besides the printed edition, the book can be downloaded (as a whole, by sections and by chapters) and can be reused thanks to its BY-NC-ND 3.0 Creative Commons license.

My gratitude to Linda and Jordi goes “beyond usual” as they really encouraged me in putting together all my stuff on this topic, which ended up in the chapter and the aforementioned article. Many thanks for that!


logo of PDF file
Chapter 6:
Peña-López, I. (2013). El PLE de investigación-docencia: el aprendizaje como enseñanza. In Castañeda, L. & Adell, J. (Eds.) (2013). Entornos Personales de Aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red. Capítulo 6, 93-110. Alcoy: Marfil.
logo of PDF file
Full book:
Castañeda, L. & Adell, J. (Eds.) (2013). Entornos Personales de Aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red. Alcoy: Marfil.


The Dichotomies in Personal Learning Environments and Institutions

Jordi Adell and I were invited to impart a keynote at the PLE Conference, taking place on July 9th, 2010. It became clear from the start that the organization did not actually want a keynote at all, but “something different”. A “something different” that looked very much like a “pros & cons” or a “good cop, bad cop” dialogue. The problem was that Jordi and I had very similar opinions on the topic that we had quickly chosen and which has produced a heated conversation when talking about Personal Learning Environments (PLEs): their relationships with institutions.

Ticked off the list a keynote and a dialogue, we came up with a game. We would present five pairs of dichotomies and will make the participants in the session to vote with their feet (à la Charles Tiebout). As some participants complained, the world is not black or white, but a richest range of grays, so to make people choose either or that option would be unfair. Yes it was, but (a) the exercise was about simplification, (b) highlighting the top values and (c) we had no room — space and time — for a continuous (vs. discrete) approach.

So, we draw a 2×2 matrix on the floor and projected the five pairs of dichotomies on a screen. People had then to physically move and place themselves in the quadrant of their choice according to their beliefs. We picture below the results of this voting with your feet. The numbers in the quadrants are just approximate, as no one even tried to really count the people in each quadrant, though they give a fair idea of the magnitudes at stake (there were circa 100 people in the room). I add to the screenshots some comments based on what I remember that Jordi and I said on the fly: they should so be attributed to both, as they were made indistinctly by one of us and I never had the sensation that we disagreed (I apologize in advance if, in the transcription, I put too much of myself in it).

1. PLEs and Institutions
  • Do PLEs have a place in formal education?
  • Shoud PLEs be procured institutionally or be placed outside institutions?
Image of the results of a game during the PLE conference

The first thing that is evident from the chart is that there is no agreement on whether institutions will be replaced by user-generated learning environments or, on the contrary, institutions will instead prevail but be leveraging the power of PLEs and other devices.

It is interesting to see that, despite the EduPunk momentum, the majority still believes on the power or need for institutions. Some commented that the participants were split in two: the Anglo-Saxon approach and the Latin one, being the former more pro-EduPunk and the latter more pro-institutions.

2. Openness
  • The student’s digital identity must be isolated from the rest or be identified as a whole (the student has a single identity, regardless of their context)?
  • The university must be an open or a closed environment?
Image of the results of a game during the PLE conference

While the previous point was definitely not about consensus, openness certainly was: no one doubted that the walls of formal education had to be torn down and that it increasingly made no sense to have an environment devoted only to learning and the rest where learning “did not happen”.

Notwithstanding, if learning happens anywhere, it does not necessarily follow that it happens anytime: though an overwhelming majority advocated also for tearing down the walls of the learner vs. professional, some voted for keeping the possibility to play a different role when you are actively learning than where you are not (at least in “active” terms).

3. The curriculum
  • Who decides how the curriculum is designed: the system or the “apprentice”?
  • Credit must be provided institutionally or socially (P2P)?
Image of the results of a game during the PLE conference

Unlike point 1, where institutions kept a good amount of power in providing and managing learning environments, when it comes to credit proportions swap: most people thought that the apprentice should be sovereign of their instructional design and how it will be measured and assessed.

This is definitely in line with a tacit agreement that students should lead their learning process, while teachers should accompany them through it, but walking side by side, never in front of it.

4. Barriers (I)
  • The main barriers for change are institutional or individual?
  • The main barriers for change are technological or pedagogical?
Image of the results of a game during the PLE conference

Concerning a first set of barriers — the usual dichotomy of education or technology — the majority pointed at the system: the problem is institutional and pedagogical.

Notwithstanding, and as it happened with EduPunk or institutionalism, the participants were mostly split between pedagogists and technologists, so it is likely that the latter were not as optimistic about technological barriers (digital divide, digital competence) than the former were.

5. Barriers (II)
  • The main barriers for change are standardization (inflexibility) or atomization (chaos)?
  • The main barriers for change are organizational or economical?
Image of the results of a game during the PLE conference

To reinforce the previous point, when looking at flexibility vs. resources and organization, the choices again are clear, even clearer than before, putting the educational system in the eye of the hurricane.


Taken as a whole and not pair by pair, we noted that we could group the five dichotomies in two sets. On the one hand, we could take PLEs (1) and the Curriculum (3). As we have already set, these seem to show (show in the sense of the participants’ perceptions, of course!) that the trend is an increasing movement from institutions towards the student, a shift of the responsibility of one’s learning from schools to students that have not only to learn, but to learn what they have to learn, to learn to learn.

To help them in this endeavour, institutions have an important role as guides (not leaders) that have to trespass their own walls and enter the environments (in plural) where learning actually takes place, which increasingly is outside of the framework of formality.

In fact, this seems to be answering at the WHAT question: what is learning in the digital era?

The rest of pairs (Openness and the Barriers) seem to be pointing at the HOW question: how should learning be carried on in the digital era?. The answer seems to be open and flexible institutions, new educational systems and methodologies and a dire organizational change.

It is a little bit worrying that a hundred educators, deeply committed with the evolution of education and knowledgeable on instructional technology, despite their different and personal approaches, they all got together at pointing at the educational system — read: educational policies — as the problem of education. Any politician in da haus?


After the exercise we went on with a lively debate amongst all the attendants. Here come some random notes that I took on the fly and that were being beamed as I took them:

  • Cyberinfrastructures should be used to leverage change, a change that should not only be in technology but also and especially inn attitudes.
  • Are there enough resources to PLE-ize your discipline? Is everything PLE-izable? That is, is the PLE something that can be universally used in any discipline and environment?
  • Teamwork as a pre-condition to PLE-ing: there is no (useful) PLE if it is not based in a framework of sharing and working as a community with a common goal.
  • PLEs are bottom-up strategies: they originate in the bottom, but should target the upper spheres (i.e. Institutions). In this sense PLEs are not only a working tool, but a tool for change.
  • PLEs are personal devices: we need to embed institutions, institutional aspects, and participation within our PLEs. In other words, institutions have to step into PLEs and these have their share of institutions. To do so, notwithstanding, institutions must be PLE-able, they have to rethink themselves, be more flexible, more open, and adapt to the new learning realities.
  • PLEs as personal constructs vs. commodities: in our bridging institutions and individual learners through PLEs, do we incur in the risk of commoditizing personal learning environments and making of them extensions or tentacles of the all-eating institution?
  • PLEs not to de-school society, but for un-schooled people. Or, better said, the stress the inclusion factor of PLEs as a way to bring education at reach of everyone: where institutions cannot reach, PLEs will.
  • Institutions build the walls of libraries, PLEs fill them with books. PLEs have to go hand in hand with the structure, surround it, fill in the voids, enrich the always cold but needed concrete columns where a society lies upon.

Slides of the presentation

(just translated and put nicely)


PLE Conference (2010)

#talkingabout: Jordi Adell and Ismael Peña-López on Personal Learning Environments

Gemma Urgell and Ricard Espelt are the thinking minds behind #talkingabout, a tapestry of experiences, stories and projects with the Web 2.0 as a background.

They attended the PLE Conference and took some time to interview and tape some footage of Jordi Adell and I on the crossroads of Personal Learning Environments and institutions.

The video is in Catalan, one of Jordi and I’s mother tongues:

If you cannot see the video, please visit <a href=""></a>


PLE Conference (2010)