Personal learning networks supporting authentic learning

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1 Introduction

This wiki article explores some of the links between personal learning networks and authentic learning.

By Shelley Lowes

Memorial University of Newfoundland

2 Authentic learning

Authentic learning intentionally aligns traditional classroom experiences to ‘real world’ activities (Lombardi, 2007, p.2). Grounded in connectivism, authentic learning draws upon the learners’ past experiences, challenges the learners’ current belief system and assists in the building of new knowledge through experimentation, simulations, and connections to the real world (Siemens, 2005). Lambert (2001) identifies 21st century learners as independent learners with the capacity to create, manage and sustain authentic learning environments whereby collaboration and learning have no boundaries.

Research led by Herrington, Oliver, and Reeves (2003) focused on defining essential characteristics of authentic learning. Authentic learning is defined as being aligned to the real world, problem-based, open to multiple scenarios, collaborative, reflective, and evaluative, and utilizes a variety of resources and sources (Herrington et al.). These characteristics further provide the criteria to identify authentic learning activities and environments.

3 Personal learning networks

Personal learning networks (PLN) are the connections and communications made with others to question, reflect and evaluate information in order to create new knowledge (Attwell) (2007). Research by Dlab and Hoić-Božić (2009) explored web-based learning environments and Web 2.0 applications. Dlab and Hoić-Božić concluded that learners create, develop and connect a network of resources to meet their personal and academic interests and needs thus creating PLN. Similarly, Žubrinić and Kalpić (2008) define personal learning environments as a system whereby learners direct and manage their own learning with the assistance of web resources. Collaboration and social networking tools offer learners the opportunity to access and personalize new sources of information in resourceful and motivating ways (Hall, 2009; Žubrinić & Kalpić). However, Dalsgaard (2006) argues that learning can be facilitated not managed by personal tools and social networks. The combination of tools and networks support independent self-directed collaboration and learning.

Netvibes, NING, Pageflakes, My Yahoo!, iGoogle are some examples of free tools available on the World Wide Web that can be used to create PLN (Ivanova, 2009). PLN tools can facilitate the management of online information sources (Dalsgaard, 2006; Herrington & Oliver, 2000). This environment can harness the power of the Web 2.0 tools and the global community to generate new meaning (Dlab & Hoić-Božić, 2009). The connection created through online collaboration using PLN tools between professionals and global citizens can foster and sustain intellectual growth critical to PLN and authentic learning experiences (Herrington et al.).

PLN are not a series of software applications (Attwell, 2007). PLN are an attempt to connect and use new technologies for the creation, validation and acquisition of new knowledge (Attwell; Herrington & Oliver, 2000; Žubrinić & Kalpić, 2008). PLN organize Web 2.0 tools for little or no cost into one environment to create and support authentic learning experiences tailored to meet the learner’s needs (Žubrinić & Kalpić).

4 Personal learning networks supporting authentic learning

Authentic learning occurs when activities parallel real-life practices with multiple solutions, require collaboration and support from a variety of sources and resources, and are multidisciplinary (Herrington & Oliver, 2000). Žubrinić and Kalpić (2008) identify PLN and the use of Web 2.0 tools as essential elements in the development of a repository of knowledge created and managed by the learner. In creating authentic learning opportunities through the use of PLN, the learner communicates, collaborates and self-directs the acquisition of knowledge to make new meaning (Hoffman, 2008).

The three main types of PLN in support of authentic learning are synchronous, semi-synchronous and asynchronous (Dlab & Hoić-Božić , 2009; Downes, 2007). These networks provide for the development of unique authentic learning opportunities tailored to the diverse needs and styles of the learner. Similarly, each type of network can harness a multitude of tools to align the specific learning style to the learner’s needs and interests (Dlab & Hoić-Božić). For example, PLN offer authentic learning to utilize blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, links to sources of information and authentic resources, and peer collaboration. These communication and social networking tools support authentic learning through collaboration, resource distribution and the construction of new knowledge (Lombari , 2007). Furthermore, the criterion for authentic learning is met through the creation of PLN (Herrington et al., 2003).

Technology can provide the tools to enhance authentic learning by providing learners access to resources and sources in a global community (Lombari , 2007). In support of authentic learning, the establishment of PLN allows the learner to control the pace of learning, explore connections, question the global community, and analyze multiple solutions to problems to make responsible decisions (Dlab & Hoić-Božić), 2009; Lombari; Žubrinić & Kalpić, 2008).

While the establishment of PLN to support authentic learning is favourable, Herrington et al. (2003) identify the learners’ reluctance to readily accept the online simulated learning activities and their perception of disbelief that these learning opportunities are worthwhile as problems to authentic learning environments. Similarly, Downes (2007) acknowledges the learners’ potential to solely solicit resources and collaborative partnerships with communities in agreement with existing perspectives. Therefore learners’ thinking and learning possibilities could be stalemated. Attwell (2007) affirms PLN provide learners with greater independence and autonomy in directing personal learning. However, Attwell further cautions as to how these learning networks are monitored to ensure that the learning is authentic, real, and credible.

The process of designing and creating PLN encourage learners to think for themselves, explore and question existing knowledge within global communities, and foster higher level thinking through authentic learning experiences (Herrington & Oliver, 2000). The PLN contributes to the establishment of authentic learning communities by “supporting peer-to-peer learning, enhancing reflective learning and fostering social engagement” (Hoffman, 2008, p. 6). According to Pozgaj (2008), informal learning through conversations, social networks and group work is essential for life-long learning. Therefore, authentic learning activities and PLN contribute to the development of life long learners (Herrington et al., 2003). Similarly, Parker (2007) ascertains that learning environments are critical to supporting authentic learner inquiries. PLN contribute to the development of deeper personal and social significances as well as an increased shared learning in interesting, relevant, authentic ways (Parker).

5 References

Attwell, Graham. (2007). Personal learning environments - the future of eLearning? eLearning Papers, 2(1), 1-8. Retrieved from

Dalsgaard, Christian. (2006). Social software:e-learning beyond learning management systems. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Retrieved from

Dlab, Martina Holenko & Hoić-Božić, Nataša. (2009). An approach to adaptivity and collaboration support in a web-based learning environment. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET)," 4, 28- 30. doi:10.3991.ijet.v4s3.1071

Downes, S. (2007). Emerging technologies for learning. Becta, 2, 19-29. Retrieved January 17,2010 from

Hall, Richard. (2009). Towards a fusion of formal and informal learning environments: the impact of the read/write web. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 7(1), 29-44. Retrieved from

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. [Electronic version].Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23–48. Retrieved from

Herrington, J., Oliver, R., & Reeves, T. C. (2003). Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments. [Electronic version]. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 19(1), 59–71. Retrieved January 17, 2010 from

Hoffman, Ellen. (2008). Social media and learning environments: shifting perspectives on the locus of control. In education, 15(2). Retrieved January 17, 2010 from

Ivanova, Malinka. (2009). From personal learning environment building to professional learning network forming. Paper presented at the 5th International Scientific Conference E-learning and Software for Education. Retrieved February 1, 2010 from

Lambert, Mike. (2001). 21st century learners – and their approaches to learning. ultiBase, 8. Retrieved January 30, 2010 from

Lombardi, Marilyn M. (2007). Authentic learning for the 21st Century: an overview. Educause Learning Initiative. Retrieved January 15, 2010 from

Parker, Diane. (2007). Planning for inquiry: it's not an oxymoron! National Council of Teachers of English. Urbana, Ill. : National Council of Teachers of English.

Pozgaj, Zeljka. (2008). Informal learning in lifelong education. [Electronic version]. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), 3, 50-53. Retrieved from

Siemens, George. (2005). Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. eLearning Space. Retrieved from

Žubrinić, Krunoslav & Kalpić, Damir. (2008). The web as personal learning environment. [Electronic version]. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), 3, 45-58. Retrieved from