Diversity and Divide in TEL: The Case for Personal Learning Environments

This winter semester I am starting a new professorship called “Digital Media & Diversity”, which  anchored at the Gender and Technology Center at Beuth University of Applied Sciences. As my research and teaching will focus a range of topic related to diversity and new forms of digital media (including web 2.0, social media, mobile web, digital games), I have been looking at digital media use, concepts and initiatives from the diversity perspective (see for example my presentation from the ePortfolio and Identity Conference 2012 in London titled “Gender and ePortfolio Practice”).

One of the most recent works is the position paper titled “Diversity and Divide in TEL: The Case for Personal Learning Environments”, which Graham Attwell and me submitted for the workshop on TEL, The Crisis and the Response for the Alpine Rendez-Vous 2013.

Below is the text of this position paper, which Graham already posted here. What do you think? Can you relate to the idea of diversity and divide in TEL?

Looking forward to your comments!

“The digital divide cannot be discussed only as a gap between technology haves and have-nots. Below the inequalities in access and usage, there is also a problem of a divide between contexts, domains and communities that different learners operate in. The need for empowered learners as citizens engaging in cross-boundary, problem-solving has been advocated as a necessary means for social innovation. It is through boundary-crossing or bridging the divides that individual and sociocultural differences can become a resource. However, mainstream TEL has not fully recognised the potential of boundary crossing and engaging diverse learners in collective action related to solving real life problems. Much of TEL is developed to fit the prevailing educational paradigm, focusing on ever more efficient management of learning and more reliable methods of assessment rather than encouraging learners to explore diverse ideas, experiment with diverse formats or build bridges to diverse communities.

Can promoting diversity through TEL be a response to crisis? Certainly, in view of the growing complexity of societal, environmental and economic challenges and the ever increasing amount of information and communication possibilities, diversity may raise new questions, challenges and concerns. However, both research and practice provide evidence that diversity, in terms of individual or group attributes as well as in terms of different content, resources and tools provides valuable opportunities for intellectual engagement, personal growth and the development of novel solutions.

In this position paper, we discuss whether current TEL promotes diversity or divide and the current barriers in promoting diversity in TEL. We discuss these issues based on the example of Personal Learning Environments (PLE), which is as an approach to TEL aiming at empowering learners to use diverse technological tools suited to their own needs and connecting with other learners through building Personal Learning Networks. We argue that this approach to TEL promotes diversity through boundary-crossing and responding to the diverse needs and prerequisites that each individual learner brings in. At the same time we discuss how the PLE approach challenges current educational practices and what tensions arise when Personal Learning Environments are implemented in educational institutions.

Personal Learning Environments, as an approach to TEL, focus on the learner-controlled and learner-led uses of technologies for learning with no centralised control over tools, information or interactions. This strong focus on autonomous, literate learners as agents and decision-makers taking control and claiming ownership of their learning environments is of course in contrast with regulated and planned processes at schools and universities, demanding radical changes in the prevailing educational paradigm. TEL, based on the Personal Learning Environments approach, vests learners with control over learning processes and outcomes, including planing, content, interactions, resources and assessment. In this way, the PLE approach challenges not only the prevailing educational paradigm, but also TEL approaches inspired by this paradigm, such as Learning Management Systems and pre-programmed, locked-down systems, such as some types of video games or mobile apps, which place learners in the role of recipients and consumers of systems devised by others, while failing to foster both generativity and boundary-crossing.

Such pre-programmed, quality-controlled and locked-down approaches to TEL have led to “walled gardens in cyberspace”, isolating different learners and learning contexts, posing external constraints on what learners can do in such environments in terms of activities, resources and tools. Alternatively, learner-controlled uses of technologies, as embodied in the Personal Learning Environments approach, have facilitated boundary crossing and merging multiple learning contexts, domains and communities.

The postulate of boundary-crossing through the PLE approach has a human and technological dimension. On one hand, the PLE approach calls for learners to claim and make use of ownership and control over their learning environment, exerting agency in terms of the human capacity to make choices and uses those choices in real world interactions. On the other hand, the PLE approach calls for openness, decentralisation, connectivity and permeability of technological systems.

With learner ownership, control and agency combined with openness, decentralisation, connectivity and permeability of technological systems being the core attributes of the PLE approach to TEL, diversity becomes natural. The PLE approach promotes diversity of social interactions, diversity of learning contexts and diversity of learning practices. Personal Learning Environments entail diverse people and communities coming together, diverse technology tools and platforms used and combined by learners, diverse content production and consumption modes, diverse access points and modes of learning.

However, diversity promoted by the PLE approach is a source of conflict when PLEs and other systems interact. Specifically, tensions arise at the points traditionally considered as legitimate divides in the education system including TEL, for example (a) private vs. public access, (b) course members vs. non-members, (c) disciplinary knowledge vs. practice-based knowledge, (d) formal vs. informal learning context, (e) expert vs. novice, (f) individual vs. collective practice, (g) assessment vs. reflection, (h) planning vs. implementation, or (i) standards vs. innovation.

We argue that challenging these presumably legitimate boundaries in TEL as postulated by the PLE approach is a way to innovation which may bring viable responses to the crises.”

Personal Learning Environments and Psychological Ownership

When does a learning environment become a Personal Learning Environment? I think it has much to do with our perception of the learning environment and a something that is ours, an environment that belongs to us, a learing environment that we own and feel responsible for, something we can identify with. This is where I think the theory of psychological ownership can help us to understand what it means to feel an owner of a learning environment. Let me just briefly introduce the idea and the study that I presented last week at the PLE Conference in Aveiro on 12.07.12

Personal Learning Environments and Psychological Ownership

View more presentations from Ilona Buchem

Last year we wrote the paper titled “Understanding Personal Learning Environments: Literature review and synthesis through the Activity Theory lens” (Buchem, Attwell & Torres, 2011). In this study based on the grounded theory analysis of over 100 publications on Personal Learning Environments it were the concepts of ownership and control that emerged as core concepts that authors related to when writing about Personal Learning Environments. It intrigued me that we know so little about what it actually means to feel an owner or be in control of a learning environment. As I searched for helpful approaches I came across a vast body of research on psychological ownership. This research, inspired by the theory of psychological ownership by Pierce et al. (2001, 2003, 2004), has been to a large extend applied to the exploration of the role of psychological ownership in organisations.  A number of studies has looked into how the feeling of being an “owner” of an organisation one worked in affected work attitudes, job performance and organisational citizenship. A number of studies showed that employees who feel owners of the organisation tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, feel responsible for what is happening in the organisation and in consequence care for the organisation as it becomes part of their self-identity.

It struck my mind that we can apply the theory of psychological ownership as framework to explore the role of ownership in context of Personal Learning Environments. This is why this year we conducted the first study, which applies the theory of psychological ownership to technology-enhanced learning environments, based on the example of ePortfolios in higher education. I presented this study at the PLE Conference 2012 in Aveiro and found out that there is a lot of interest in this approach.

The study results show that the measure of psychological ownership can be applied in to research on learning environments. The measure of psychological ownership I am proposing in the paper showed to have a very good internal consistency and I am looking forward to conducting further studies to see if the results can be replicated. One of most interesting outcomes of the study was the relation between control and ownership. The results show that while perceived control of intangible aspects of a learning environment (such as being able to determine the subject matter or access rights) has a much larger impact on the feeling of ownership of a learning environment than perceived control of tangible aspects (such as being able to choose the technology). Another interesting result was to see that psychological ownership is a very good predictor of the quality of learning in terms of engagement, invested time, creativity, interest orientation and self-direction.

This very first study seems to confirm my hypothesis that the feeling of ownership of a learning environment is significant for learning and one of the key aspects of Personal Learning Environments. What I am interested in is to find out ways to promote the sense of  ownership of learning environments in education.


  • Buchem, Ilona, Attwell, Graham & Torres, Ricardo (2011). Understanding Personal Learning Environments:Literature review and synthesis through the Activity Theory lens. Proceedings of the The PLE Conference 2011, 10th – 12th July 2011, Southampton, UK.Sunday, July 15, 2012
  • Pierce, J. L., Kostova, T., Dirks, K. (2001). Toward a theory of psychological ownership in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 26, p. 298–310. 2.
  • Pierce, J. L., Kostova, T., Dirks, K. T. (2003). The state of psychological ownership: integrating and extending a century of research. Review of General Psychology, 7, p. 84– 107. 3.
  • Van Dyne, L., Pierce, J.L. (2004). Psychological ownership and feelings of possession: three field studies predicting employee attitudes and organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25(4), p. 439-459.

Online Educa Berlin 2009

Online Educa Berlin 2009 hat vom 2. bis zum 4. Dezember stattgefunden und ich war dieses Mal zum ersten mal auch als Rednerin dabei! Es gab so viele Themen und Eindrücke, dass ich es hier für mich und andere, die es mit eigenen Erinnerungen vergleichen wollen oder für die, die nicht teilnehmen konnten, festhalten möchte.


Pre-Conference Workshops & Seminars haben am Mittwoch 02.10.09 stattgefunden. Ich habe am Workshop “Competence Development with ePortfolios” an der HTW Berlin teilgenommen und fand sowohl die Themen als auch das Format sehr gut. Die Konzept sah so aus:  nach einer Reihe von Vorträgen konnte sich jeder aus dem Publikum ein für sich interessantes Thema aussuchen und an einem Follow-up Workshop (Thematic Table) mit dem jeweiligen Referenten in einer kleineren Gruppe das Thema vertiefen. So konnte ich mich weiter mit dem Thema “E-Portfolio: Standardization versus Individualization” auseinandersetzen und das Projekt “e3-Portfolio” an der Universität Augsburg näher kennenlernen. In der Kaffeepause gab es dann viele interessante  Gespräche. Ich freue mich sehr über die neuen Kontakte und Impulse!

Speakers’ Reception

Nach den Pre-Conference Workshops hat dann Speakers’ Reception im Hotel InterContinental stattgefunden, zu der alle Redner der Online Educa 2009 eingeladen wurden. An den Stehtischen konnten sich Redner, die in einer gleichen Session präsentierten, vorher kennenlernen und in einer netten, informellen Atmosphäre austauschen. Es war eine prima Möglichkeit auch mit Menschen aus anderen Sessions ins Gespräch zu kommen und so einen besseren Überblick über die aktuellen Themen und Trends zu bekommen.


Die Hauptkonferenz ging dann am Donnerstag 03.12.09 los. Bekannterweise ist Online Educa eine Mischung aus Messe und Konferenz. Wer an den Ausstellern interessiert ist, kann sich hier die Liste anschauen. Das Konferenzprogramm ist hier zu finden.

Ich habe zunächst an dem Opening Plenary teilgenommen und fand den Keynote von Zenna Atkins besonders spannend was den Inhalt aber auch den fesselnden Redestil angeht. Kurz danach war ich selbst schon dran zusammen mit Bieke Schreurs aus EuroPACE und Kate Reader aus City University London in der Session Pedagogical Strategies for Online-Learning (PED01) mit dem Titel “Real Experiences in Virtual Learning Environments”.  Zu unserer größten Überraschung “durften” wir in dem größten Raum, wo sonst Keynotes stattgefunden haben, präsentieren. Was waren wir aufgeregt. Im Nachhinein freue ich mich über diese Erfahrung. Es war für mich wie in einen Ozean reingeworfen zu werden, obwohl ich einen Teich erwartet habe 😉

Die Präsentation zum Thema „Boundary Crossing in Web 2.0 Communities“ ist gut angekommen und befindet sich nun auf SlideShare.

Am Donnerstag habe ich noch zwei weitere Sessions besucht: “ePortfolio: From Individual Documentation to Extended Learning Platform” und “The Mobile Learning Experience”.  Beide sehr interessant, vor allem die Idee vom Sprachenlernen über Telefon von Learnosity.

Abschließend fand an dem Tag die Online Educa Debate in welcher zwei Gegenmeinungen zum Thema “Folgen von Technologienutzung” aufeinander gekommen sind. Für mich war jedoch nicht dieser Streit, der sich um solche Parolen, wie “Facebook causes cancer”, gedreht hat, sondern die Visionen von Jerry Michalski besonders spannend, vor allem seine Idee von “Global Brain“.

Die interessanten Sessions am Freitag waren für mich “Narrative and Storytelling in Teaching and Learning“ und „Battle of the Bloggers“, über die ich bereits hier gebloggt habe. Ich habe leider auch einige interessante Sessions einfach verpasst, u.a. „Pecha Kucha“ und „Use Your Brain“ mit Jay Cross. Naja,  die Gesprächen in den Pausen waren einfach zu spannend.

Special Events

Neben den Keynotes und Vorträgen in den Sessions gab es eine Reihe an Special Events, wie Speed Networking Sessions, Live Internet Radio oder Special Interest Group Lunches.

Special Interest Group Lunch

Zusammen mit meinem Projektkollegen aus dem MMB-Institut, haben wir ein Special Interest Group Lunch zum Thema “Flops in Web 2.0-Based Learning” veranstaltet und beim Mittagessen viele interessante Gespräche zu diesem Thema geführt.  Persönlich fand ich insbesondere den Austausch zum Thema barrierenfreies Lernen sehr aufschlussreich.

Live Internet Radio

Am Freitag habe ich auch an einem weiteren Special Event – Live Internet Radio – teilgenommen und als Reporterin einige Teilnhemer der Online Educa zu ihren Eindrücken und Prognosen befragt, u.a den Vertreter von LinguaTV, welche für MEDEA Awards 2009 nominiert wurde und den Chef von Young Digital Planet, welcher für mich einer der  besten Keynote Speaker auf der Online Educa dieses Jahr war. Die Aufnahmen vom Freitag sind hier zu finden.

Die, wie ich finde, tolle Idee von Live Internet Radio kommt von Graham Attwell . Unter dem Titel “Sounds of the Bazaar” wurden an den Hauptkonferenztagen von 11 bis 11:40 Live Sendungen über Internet übertragen und gleichzeitig als Podcasts aufgenommen. Mehr dazu ist u.a. hier und hier zu finden. An dieser Stelle vielen Dank für die tolle Zusammenarbeit und eine Menge Spaß an @GrahamAttwell und sein tolles Team, vor allem @mariaperif & @cristinacost.


Es gab auch ein informelles Special Event -TweetMeet –  ein Treffen für alle, die während der Online Educa als Twitterer (oder Twitter?) aktiv waren, welches @cosmocat und @mediendidaktik ins Leben gerufen haben. Es war toll sich dazu auszutauschen, was die anderen von Twittern halten und warum sie es tun. Manche haben dann von “Total Twitter Immersion” berichtet 😉

Themen und Trends

Aus meiner Sicht gab es folgende Themen-Trends bei der Online Educa:

  • Transition/Change
  • Border-Crossing
  • Mobiles Lernen
  • E-Portfolio
  • Storytelling

Beste Redner

Die besten drei Redner waren für mich:

Weitere Infos und Links zu Online Educa Berlin 2009

Wunschliste für Online Educa 2010

Auf meiner Wunschliste für Online Educa 2010 sind:

  • Noch mehr von den alternativen Formaten, u.a. mehr Veranstaltungen mit dem Workshop-Charakter
  • Mehr Stimmen von den Lernenden: weniger Vorträge/Diskussionen nur aus der Lehrenden/Experten-Perspektive
  • Bessere Eintrittspreise (geht das?)
  • Mehr Kaffe & Kekse: da wird immer gespart oder? 😉

Alles in allem war es einfach super und ich freue mich sehr, dass ich daran teilnehmen konnte!