Here are some of the 2006 trends which are currently being carried over:
  • * '''Dynamic knowledge creation and social computing tools and processes are becoming more widespread and accepted.''' No longer in their infancy, tools for working collaboratively at a distance are easier to use and more commonly available than in previous years. It is no longer unusual to attend a conference online or to contribute to a project wiki. As the tools have matured, the practice of online communication and collaboration has increased. This trend is at the heart of social computing and is driving personal broadcasting as well.

  • * '''Mobile and personal technology is increasingly being viewed as a delivery platform for services of all kinds.''' The presence of small devices like cell phones or mp3 players being carried about everywhere is almost a given; delivering content to those devices simply makes sense. This trend is growing in the consumer arena and is beginning to be felt in education as well. The ubiquity of these devices has enabled personal broadcasting (podcasting and vlogging) to take off almost overnight, and that is just the first wave of broadband content that will be ported to phones in the next few years.

  • * '''Consumers are increasingly expecting individualized services, tools, and experiences, and open access to media, knowledge, information, and learning.''' The demand for personalized content and services, increasingly met by savvy retailers and service providers, and greatly enabled by the ability of the Internet to allow marketers to meet individualized needs will surface with increasing frequency in the world of academia. Scholarly and cultural institutions are already beginning to differentiate themselves along these dimensions and that can be expected to continue and accelerate for some time.

  • * '''Collaboration is increasingly seen as critical across the range of educational activities, including intra- and inter-institutional activities of any size or scope.''' As the ways in which researchers, students and teachers can collaborate with each other increase, knowledge is becoming a community property, and the construction of knowledge, a community activity. A renewed emphasis on collaborative learning is leading to an exploration of the science of gaming, context-aware environments and devices, and their application for teaching and learning.
To me, the whole PLE project is an attempt to articulate and address these interwoven changes
- articulating the conceptual shift that acknowledges the reality of distributed learning practices and the range of learner preference. In that sense, a PLE could be described as basically a mechanism, process or interface through which a wide spread of data, conversations, ideas etc are able to be constructed, organised, accessed and presented.
This might suggest that the current state of web 2.0 is great, that all we need to do is work out some way of feeding our flickr account and a bunch of blog posts and comments into a CMS so that it can be evaluated and/or repackaged into a CV/research bid/presentation friendly format. I don’t think this is the case though – I think that we’re currently limited in articulating what a potential PLE might be like by a lack of diverse examples. We also need a wider range of organisations involved – for example, the exam boards – in order to continue to check the formal and institutional limits of what’s possible. The CETIS Team have done a great job building an example of a desk-based version (although as someone who loathes desk-based aps, this wouldn’t in practice appeal to me), and the Elgg team have done a trailblazing job producing the first example of a web-based working version.

The PLE debates are stirring up a bunch of stuff, in their focus on the ways in which people learn across and between communities and networks, and the importance of synthesis and creating connections. They also raise a host of difficult technical, legal and organisational issues.
I’m coming at this from a very specific angle and other people will have different concerns– great. The thing that most excites me about the PLE at the moment that it isn’t fixed or settled, that it’s fundamentally a conversation across the edtech community about what learners need, what institutions might be providing, which PLE methods might be most useful. I see it as a practical attempt to get beyond the current dichotomy between closed CMS’s vs the small pieces approaches, by pushing innovators and institutions to develop and explore tools and platforms where communities and individuals can themselves determine boundaries, permeability and connections.