We’ve always been a little acronym happy in the world of online learning. The inevitable explosion of web technologies has led to a mangled pile of nearly incomprehensible acronyms swimming around in many of today’s trendiest headlines and articles. So what is all this stuff about, and why all the hype / excitement etc. around the latest wave of acronyms? Below is a simple summary, along with a little context.
LMS: Learning Management Systems (LMS) are not new. In fact most recent speculation suggests that they are on their deathbed. The LMS is… one of the most profitable (expensive) technologies every thrusted upon education. (Content Management Systems are a close second.) Basically these simple data management systems are server side applications that make it really difficult to share information and files within a closed (often called silo’d) system.
The LMS has been the bane of existence for trainers and eLearning pros for ages. A data communication standard called SCORM (Sharable Content Object Model) was developed in response to a 1999 Executive Order under the Clinton Administration charging the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a standard format for passing information about assessments etc. into databases.
The end result was two-fold; 1. Most eLearning that tracks scores today reports to a SCORM compliant LMS. 2. Because the LMS was designed with an implicit allegiance to information delivery models of education (a behaviorist approach -think sage on the stage, PowerPoint lectures and quizzes at the end of every chapter) the LMS today is a terrible dinosaur. It reinforces models that run counter to cognitive theory based educational models (think exercises and activities, collaboration and creative problem solving) and generally provides a sort of kludgy, unattractive and awkward front end to assigning materials and tracking learner progress.
A seventh grade student explains her PLE.
PLE: The PLE (Personal Learning Environment) is definitely trending upward in today’s online learning consciousness. Simply put a PLE is any collection of tools (generally meaning cloud based applications) that are used commonly used by a learner to facilitate learner centered educational experiences. A simple example is a kid who learns what they need mostly from YouTube videos, Wikipedia entries, Skype calls with friends and family and via study groups on Facebook. Any tool(s) can fit into your Personal Learning Environment – mine would be heavily dependent on email. Companies and government agencies are naturally moving swiftly to build custom PLE’s as well.
In 1998 a Helsinki based Media Lab group developed the first PLE (named an FLE – Flexible Learning Environment.) The PLE is fundamentally rooted in Constructionist models of education and Learning Environments. This is fundamentally different from an LMS because it recognizes the learner as an active sense maker, rather than modeling them as a passive information consumer.
Ken Robinson explains the limitations of the Factory / Management Model of Education.
VLE: Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) are the dark cousins of PLE’s. They grew up in marketing tanks and went to school at a management factory. They are management centered approaches to controlling and perpetuating the didactic methodologies of information delivery systems of education. They will likely do very well in the current marketplace, but investment in these dinosaur descendants is ‘throwing good money after bad.’ While they integrate the concepts of social networking and various other 21st century mechanisms, they generally restrain them to tiny localized clusters, they effectively take the social out of the network. (I’m sure I’ll be corrected here, but I’m overdue for some excited comments.)
A reasonable overview of ILS across various platforms (albeit plagued by a ‘dramatic’ score)
ILS: Immersive Learning Simulations(ILS) have had a tumultuous year with the bizarre changes in the never quite cool Second Life Platform. ILS is technically any platform that allows for an immersive learning experience in a 3D simulated environment. There are a huge and growing number of environments of this type, but until recently traction for academics was gaining fast within Second Life. When parent company Linden Lab eliminated educational discount pricing for virtual hosting, most academic institutions rapidly abandoned the space in favor of openSim and other popular similar (but much less expensive solutions.)
This is unfortunately cursed with the same problem as the VLE – absent the substantial Second Life user base, the Open Source alternatives are often lacking the social component of the network. There are literally hundreds (probably thousands by now) of these ILS environments to watch – so I wouldn’t write them off, but they are still maturing and a land of early adopters at this point. There have been a large number of early successes in the training field specifically – which makes sense because often the simulated 3D environment can provide a very strong parallel to real world conditions / situations and can therefore lead to very effective knowledge transfer when activities are simulated in the virtual space. They also make incredibly good meeting spaces, as spatially located sound and various communication tools can help convert the generally disengaging phone conference into a much more accessible and useful virtual meeting.