Personal Learning Environments for Language Learning

Panagiotis Panagiotidis

Abstract


The advent of web 2.0 and the developments it has introduced both in everyday practice and in education have generated discussion and reflection concerning the technologies which higher education should rely on in order to provide the appropriate e-learning services to future students.
In this context, the Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), which are widely used in universities around the world to provide online courses to every specific knowledge area and of course in foreign languages, have started to appear rather outdated. Extensive research is under progress, concerning the ways in which educational practice will follow the philosophy of web 2.0 by adopting the more learner-centred and collaborative approach of e-learning 2.0 applications, without abandoning the existing investment of the academic institutions in VLEs, which belong to the e-learning 1.0 generation, and, thus, serve a teacher- or coursecentred approach.
Towards this direction, a notably promising solution seems to be the exploitation of web 2.0 tools in order to form Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). These are systems specifically designed or created by the combined use of various external applications or tools that can be used independently or act as a supplement to existing VLE platforms, creating a personalized learning environment. In a PLE, students have the opportunity to form their own personal way of working, using the tools they feel are most appropriate to achieve their purpose.
Regarding the subject of foreign language, in particular, the creation of such personalized and adaptable learning environments that extend the traditional approach of a course seems to promise a more holistic response to students’ needs, who, functioning in the PLE, could combine learning with their daily practice, communicating and collaborating with others, thus increasing the possibilities of access to multiple sources, informal communication and practice and eventually acquiring the foreign language.
Purpose—The purpose of this study is to investigate the ways in which foreign language teachers could take advantage of web 2.0 technologies to form efficient and easy to use personal learning environments (PLEs) for their students in foreign language learning courses.
Design/methodology/approach—In this paper we firstly present the current research on PLEs, as well as the different ways of their formation and the pedagogical context in which they are based. Furthermore, in order to investigate the possibility of developing PLEs for language teaching/learning, we examine the technological platforms and web 2.0 tools that could help a foreign language teacher without special technical skills to develop an environment suitable for use in a language course. Towards this direction, specific solutions-PLEs based on tools available on the web and especially designed for this purpose, are proposed.
Findings—In this paper, the capabilities and characteristics of the proposed PLEs as well as the advantages and the disadvantages of the proposed settlements are detected. Moreover, as PLEs are a potential next step in the formation of future VLEs, the way in which the proposed solutions could extend the existing VLE installations and potential as well as the possibility of their parallel utilization is also examined.
Research limitations/implications—A PLE can be developed in several different ways, which vary in degree of difficulty and development requirements, in terms of manpower and the skills involved, and of course in terms of financial resources. Having that in mind, the proposed solutions meet many of the above requirements, as they are exclusively based on tools that are freely available on the web and do not require the allocation of funds, or the existence of a multidisciplinary production team.
Practical implications—Application solutions such as those proposed in this article will help foreign language teachers to use a wider variety of resources and organize them in a better and more useful way for their students, while allowing them to develop new, more suitable pedagogical approaches.
It will also provide new opportunities in a foreign language course and will offer students work environments compatible with their daily lifestyle, motivating them to be more productive and thus, to study more effectively and learn in a more natural way.
Originality/Value—Although research on PLEs is in constant progress, the ways in which such environments could be used in a foreign language course, have not yet been investigated thoroughly. It is believed that this work will contribute to finding ways in which foreign language teachers will be able to exploit the potential of Web 2.0 technologies and offer new perspectives in foreign language courses.
Research type: research paper.

Keywords


Personal Learning Environments; e-learning 2.0; future VLEs; PLEs; foreign language learning; web 2.0 tools; TEL; Netvibes; SymbalooEDU

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"Social Technologies" ISSN online 2029-7564