A view on Personal Learning Environments through approaches to learning

Esteban Romero-Frías, José L. Arquero

Abstract


In the past years the impact of social media in students in Higher Education has been remarkably significant (Pew Research Center, 2010; Tapscott, 2009). In order to exploit the potential benefits of these tools on education, we carried out different experiments using wikis and private social networks. Although the results were positive, we decided to move towards a more open approach using tools not directly linked to educational purposes. This paper reports on an experience in the use of Personal Learning Environments (PLE) to develop competences needed by students for lifelong learning. PLE is a concept that refers to the set of tools, devices, connections and networks that we used to learn. Nowadays building a digital PLE is key to achieve the goals set by the European Union.

The main objective of the paper is to analyse the influence of the approaches to learning of students in the reported effects of the PLE as well as in relevant aspects of the learning process.

245 students enrolled in a course on International Accounting participated in the experience of developing their own digital PLE. Some of the activities proposed used social networks, Twitter, blogs and wikis. The data were gathered through a web based questionnaire in two steps: 1) to obtain a priori self-confidence measures regarding communication in academic tasks and web related tasks, and 2) to obtain a measure of the approaches to learning of the students and self-confidence measures.

According to students’ opinion, the experience was deemed as positive. In order to check the relationships between the impact of the experience and the approach to learning of students, a cluster analysis was performed. Students were classified into two groups. The cluster #1 presents lower scores on deep approach and higher scores on surface approach than students classified into cluster #2. Comparing the scores obtained in all the aspects of learning between the two groups, many differences arise. Students in the deep approach group indicated a significant higher impact in all measured aspects.

Results suggest that certain a type of students, more flexible and likely to manage information in their own, is able to use PLEs more effectively to learn than those who present a more pragmatic orientation focussed on passing the course.


Keywords


learning approaches; social media; Personal Learning Environment.

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