Wilson et al. (2007). Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems

Wilson, S., Liber, O., Johnson, M., & Beauvoir, P. (2007). Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society.

note: the authors use “VLE” where we may use “LMS”. they should be interchangeable.


Current systems used in education follow a consistent design pattern, one that is not supportive of lifelong learning or personalization, is asymmetric in terms of user capability, and which is disconnected from the global ecology of Internet services. In this paper we propose an alternative design pattern for educational systems that emphasizes symmetric connections with a range of services both in formal and informal learning, work, and leisure, and identify strategies for implementation and experimentation.

Within current learning systems there is often a very clear distinction between the capabilities of learners and of teachers. In particular, the tools to organize and create are richer for the teacher than for the learner. This asymmetry sends a conflicting message to users; on the one hand they are exhorted to be creative, participate, and to take control of their learning, and on the other they are restricted to a primarily passive role, where what contributions are possible are located first within the small slice of their overall learning represented within the VLE, and then further by the slots within the existing structure of information organization presented within the VLE.

The course-centric organizational model and the limits on learner’s ability to organize the space combine to create a context which is greatly homogenous; all learners have the same experience of the system, see the same content, organized in the same fashion, with the same tools. This replicates the general pattern of education that places emphasis on the common experience of learners within a context. This contradicts the desire often expressed under the general heading of lifelong learning for an individualized experience tailored to personal needs and priorities.

The VLE typically restricts access to content and conversations to the cohort engaging in a unit, and through arrangements with publishers acts to safeguard licensed content from external view. This restriction acts against the drivers of lifelong and lifewide learning, which seeks to unite the experiences of learning in the workplace and home, and of cross-organizational learning. Most content within a VLE is not available to the outside world; it is also often unavailable to learners after they leave a course.

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