1. Introduction - Why might PLEs be important for supporting personal Learning in the Workplace?

The idea of Personal Learning Environments emerged from a discussion over the future of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in education (Wilson et al, 2006). VLEs were seen as a walled garden, unable to connect with the many different web based spaces and social software applications students were using for researching and publishing their work. PLEs were seen as allowing students to bring together the different contexts in which learning takes place, in the home and in the workplace as well as in education institutions. And PLEs were to be owned by the user, thus shifting the balance of power from the institution to the learner.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the discourse around Personal Learning Environments has been shaped by the Technology Enhanced Learning community, with an emphasis on institutional learning. However, arguably, the major impact of PLEs might not be for those students already undertaking planned programmes of study within schools and universities, but for those outside the institutions and particularly in the world of work. Of course, technology is already used for supporting work based learning. But research suggests the major take up of TEL in work contexts has been for the better educated professionals through the provision of course based materials, especially for those working with computers and in subjects like management and marketing which lend themselves to the development of generalised course based materials (Attwell, 2003). The emphasis on course based learning, albeit in the proximity of work, has maintained the division between practice and learning. Furthermore, in focusing on professionals, the use of TEL has failed to overcome the existing gap in provision with most opportunities for professional development being provided for the best qualified in the workforce.

La mayoría del discurso sobre PLEs se centra en el mundo escolar o académico. Sin embargo,su mayor impacto tiene lugar en el área profesional. El artículo de Attwell (2010) examina los posibles usos de PLEs para soportar el aprendizaje basado en práctica. Su foco son los contextos en los que se produce el aprendizaje.

In this paper we wish to examine how PLEs might be used to support practice based learning. In so doing a major focus will be the contexts in which learning takes place. The first section will look at the different forms of work based learning. The next will examine problem spaces and contexts for work based learning. The penultimate section will discuss how we can design PLEs for work based learning.

2. Learning in the Workplace

The recent policy focus by the European Union on Lifelong Learning has led to an increased emphasis on work based learning. However, this has been based on a limited discourse. The EU has derived such a policy from an understanding of productivity and innovation resting on qualifications and hence learning. And much of the discourse has been bound by the Anglo Saxon idea of employability, holding it to be a responsibility of workers to continually update their skills and knowledge in a period of rapid technological change. Furthermore in a period of recession and welfare cutbacks, work based learning has been advanced as both a more cost effective form of learning.

Las políticas recientes de la Unión Europa relacionados con el aprendizaje continuo han incrementado la énfasis en el aprendizaje en el lugar de trabajo. Sin embargo, esas políticas fueron derivadas de la productividad y la innovación basadas en (títulos? capacidades? qualifications). En realidad, el aprendizaje en el lugar de trabajo tiene varias formas, varios niveles de formalidad, y varios grados de relación con la práctica. En un lado hay programas formales por ejemplo de inicicación o desarrollo profesional. Por el otro, un amplio rango de aprendizaje incidentao informal que ocurre cada día, independientemente del entrenemiento formal. Cabe mencionar también cursillos cortos que introducen nuevas tecnologías o procedimientos, y la creciente importancia de prácticas profesionales. Todas estas actividades pueden tener mayor o menor grado de formalidad e integración con el curriculum. Entonces, el contexto del aprendizaje en el lugar de trabajo puede ser muy variado. La innovación, el aprendizaje y el conocimiento desarrollado dentro de las organizaciones son procesos sociales. Y estos procesos sociales crean diferentes contextos en los que surge el aprendizaje y son a la vez oportunidad y reto para la introducción de PLEs en el lugar de trabajo.
(Attwell 2010)

In reality, work based learning is not new and also takes a number of different forms, varying in the degree of formality and the extent to which it is integrated with practice. On the one had there are formal learning programmes which take place in the workplace such as induction training and apprenticeship. There is also an increase in formal initial and continuing professional development programmes of which a major focus is work based practice. Whilst in the past these will have been supported by a trainer, evidence suggests that more people, especially skilled workers or team leaders, are being given some responsibility for training as part of their work role (Attwell and Baumgartl, 2008).

At the other end of the spectrum is the incidental or informal learning which takes place everyday, regardless of a formal training input. To this we can add short courses, for instance conducted by manufacturers around new technologies or programmes designed to introduce new work processes. And recently there has been an increasing focus on the value of internship or work experience for those in education seeking more practical work based learning. These activities may be variously structured with a greater or lesser degree of formality and with more or less integration with a formal education curriculum (Deitmer and Kamarainen, 2009). Thus the context for learning in the workplace varies greatly, as do the conditions and precepts for designing a work based Personal Learning Environment. Innovation, learning and knowledge development within organisations are essentially social processes. It is these social processes which essentially lead to the different contexts in which learning takes place and which provide both the challenge and the opportunity for designing and introducing PLEs in the workplace. The next section of this paper will examine some of the different aspects of context and will go on to outline a number of developments taking place through the EU funded Mature project.

3. Problematising the learning space - Contexts for learning

A major issue on designing a work based PLE is in problematising the learning space. This involves examining relations, context, actions and learning discourses in line with Vygotsky's sociocultural approach to cognitive development, working on the assumption that “action is mediated and cannot be separated from the milieu in which it is carried out” (Wertsch, 1991:18).

The socio cultural milieu mediating actions and learning in the workplace includes a series of different relationships (Attwell and Hughes, 2010).

El asunto más importante en el diseño de PLE en el lugar de trabajo es problematizar el espacio de aprendizaje. Esto requiere examinar relaciones, contextos, acciones y discursos en línea con el enfoque sociocultural de Vygotsky al desarrollo cognitivo, que acción está mediada, y que no puede ser separada del medio en el que se lleva.
El medio sociocultural en el lugar de trabajo incluye una serie de relaciones.

La primera es la relación entre docentes y alumnos. Pero la mayoría de aprendizaje en el lugar de trabajo puede ocurrir en ausencia de docente formal. Este puede ser más el que Vygotsky llama otro compañero más capaz (More Knowledgeable Other). La otra es la relación entre estudiantes. La tercera es entre estudiantes y la comunidad. En el contexto del aprendizaje en el lugar de trabajo esta comunidad puede incluir instituciones de educación formal, comunidades de práctica, o redes personales extendidas. Y si hablamos de PLEs, no podemos olvidar relaciones entre estudiantes y tecnología.

3.1 Relationships

The first is the relationships between teachers and learners. Yet, as we have already pointed out, much learning in the workplace may take place in the absence of a formal teacher or trainer. It may be more appropriate to talk in Vygotskian terms of a More Knowledgeable Other. “The More Knowledgeable Other is anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner particularly in regards to a specific task, concept or process. Traditionally the MKO is thought of as a teacher, an older adult or a peer” (Dahms et al, 2007), The second relationship is that between learners themselves. The third is relationships between learners and the wider community. In the context of work based learning that community could include formal education institutions, communities of practice or local or extended personal learning networks. Institutions. And in the context of Personal Learning Environments it is important not to forget the relationships between learners and technology. Technology will play a key role in mediating both the other relationships and mediating learning itself.

El entorno sociocultural incluye también los contextos de aprendizaje. El aspecto más obvio del contexto es donde el aprendizaje ocurre. El aprendizaje ocurre en varias comunidades, en casa y en trabajo. La clave es la distancia entre el contexto y la práctica. Otro aspecto del contexto es el entorno político-cultural más amplio. Este incluye factores como el tiempo y el coste y las recompensas por el aprendizaje. Otro aspecto crítico es el reconocimiento de procesos y contenidos - ¿cómo de definen los resultados, qué es el éxito y cómo se mide?

3.2 Learning Contexts

The socialcultutal milieu also includes the learning contexts. The most obvious aspect of context is where the learning takes place. Learning takes place in wider geographical and online communities as well as in the home and in the workplace. This relates to the issue of. physical domains. We can learn through training workshops, through online communities or even through watching a television programme. A key issue here may be the distance of that domain from our practice. Learning about computing through using a computer means the learning domain is close to practice. However learning through a training workshop may be more or less close to actual practice. Some enterprises have developed training islands within the workplace with aim of lessoning the distance between the learning domain and practice. Obviously the context of practice is key to work based learning and we will return to this issue. A further aspect of context is the wider social political, cultural and sub cultural environment. This in itself contains a raft of issues including factors such as the time and cost of learning and rewards for learning. A further and critical aspect of context is what is judged as lehttp:ple-tfi.wikispaces.com/Attwell2010gitimate in terms of process and content. How are outcomes defined, what constitutes success and how is it measured?

Otro asunto crítico es la naturaleza del discurso de aprendizaje. Depende de varios factores. Primero, puede ser visto como una serie de prácticas. Estas prácticas dependen de elaciones sociales en comunidades. La comunidad de práctica se define en tres dimensiones: 1. el propósito; 2. la forma de actuar; 3. los recursos producidos.

Un aspecto clave de los discursos de aprendizaje es que son flexibles y relacionales.

3.3 Learning Discourses

Another critical issue in problematising the learning space is the nature of different learning discourses. Learning discourses are dependent of different factors. Firstly they can be viewed as a set of practices. Wenger (1999) points out that we practice is not learned individually but is dependent on social relations in communities. “Over time, this collective learning results in practices that reflect both the pursuit of our enterprises and the attendant social relations. These practices are thus the property of a kind of community created over time by the sustained pursuit of a shared enterprise. It makes sense, therefore to call these kinds of communities ‘communities of practice'.”

The key aspect of learning discourses it that they are fluid and relational. Vygotsky (1978) held that the learning environment “cannot be regarded as a static entity and
one which is peripheral in relation to development, but must be seen as changeable and dynamic.” It is this fluid and dynamic nature of learning environments and
discourses which provides the central challenge to the design of a PLE, particularly in a workplace context. In the next section of this paper we will look at how a work
based PLE might provide some solutions to changing contexts and changing relationships.

¿En qué manera la idea de contexo ayuda en el diseño de PLE basado en trabajo? Definimos PLE: es un espacio en el que las personas interactuan y se comunican y cuyo resultado es el aprendizaje y el desarrollo de conocimiento colectivo. En términos de tecnología, PLEs son una colección de herramientas asociadas (flexiblemente), que incluyen tecnologías Web 2.0, utilizadas para trabajo, aprendizaje, reflexión y colaboración con otros.
PLEs ofrecen una solución al problema de la naturaleza flexible y relacional del contexto. A diferencia con tecnología educativa tradicional, los PLEs son móviles, flexibles e independientes del contexto. Pueden soportar y facilitar una variedad de relaciones más ampla que los medios tradicionales. Entre ellos relaciones entre y dentro de las redes y comunidades de práctica y soporte del trabajo colaborativo. En un PLE el control pasa a manos del estudiante. PLR puede soportar un rango más amplio de discursos de aprendizaje que la tecnología educativa tradicional.

4. Context and the design of Personal Learning Environments

How can the idea of context help us in designing work based Personal Learning Environments? First, given the varied definitions, it might be apposite to explain what we mean by a PLE. PLEs can be seen as the spaces in which people interact and communicate and whose ultimate result is learning and the development of collective know-how. In terms of technology, PLEs are made-up of a collection of loosely coupled tools, including Web 2.0 technologies, used for working, learning, reflection and collaboration with others.

As such, PLEs offer some solutions to the issue of the fluid and relational nature of context. PLEs, unlike traditional educational technology are mobile, flexible and not context dependent. They can move from one domain to another and make connections between them. Secondly PLEs can support and facilitate a greater variety of relationships than traditional educational media. These include relationships within and between networks and communities of practice and support for collaborative working. PLEs shift the axis of control from the teacher to the learners and thus alter balance of power within learning discourses. And, perhaps critically, PLEs support a greater range of learning discourses than traditional educational technology.

PLE permite relacionar recursos con personas, comunidades y conocimientos informales y soporta el desarrollo de redes sociales de aprendizaje.



PLEs are able to link knowledge assets with people, communities and informal knowledge (Agostini et al, 2003) and support the development of social networks for learning (Fischer, 1995). Razavi and Iverson (2006) suggest integrating weblogs, ePortfolios, and social networking functionality both for enhanced e-learning and knowledge management, and for developing communities of practice. A PLE can use social software for informal learning which is learner driven, problem-based and motivated by interest – not as a process triggered by a single learning provider, but as a continuing activity.

So far we have stressed the utility of PLEs in being flexible and adaptable to different contexts. In a work based context, the ‘Learning in Process’ project (Schmidt, 2005) and the APOSDLE project (Lindstaedt, and Mayer, 2006) have attempted to develop embedded, or work-integrated, learning support where learning opportunities
(learning objects, documents, checklists and also colleagues) are recommended based on a virtual understanding of the learner’s context.
However, while these development activities acknowledge the importance of collaboration, community engagement and of embedding learning into working and living processes, they have not so far addressed the linkage of individual learning processes and the further development of both individual and collective understanding as the knowledge and learning processes (Attwell, Barnes, Bimrose and Brown, 2008). In order to achieve that transition (to what we term a ‘community of innovation’), processes of reflection and formative assessment have a critical role to play.

Personal Learning Environments are by definition individual. However it is possible to provide tools and services to support individuals in developing their own environment. In looking at the needs of careers guidance advisors for learning Attwell, Barnes, Bimrose and Brown, (2008) say a PLE should be based on a set of tools to allow personal access to resources from multiple sources, and to support knowledge creation and communication. Based on an scoping of knowledge development needs, an initial list of possible functions for a PLE have been suggested, including: access/search for information and knowledge; aggregate and scaffold by combining information and knowledge; manipulate, rearrange and repurpose knowledge artefacts; analyse information to develop knowledge; reflect, question, challenge, seek clarification, form and defend opinions; present ideas, learning and knowledge in different ways and for different purposes; represent the underpinning knowledge structures of different artefacts and support the dynamic re-rendering of such structures; share by supporting individuals in their learning and knowledge; networking by creating a collaborative learning environment.//