McLuhan’s Laws of Media and the PLE

During the last eight years of his life the Canadian media theorist Marshal McLuhan worked on developing and validating four “Laws of Media” He argued that every new media Enhances through new affordances, Obsoletes through improvements in form, function and cost; Retrieves older patterns of behaviour and Reverses when over stressed into older, non functional patterns.

This work was published posthumously in text in 1988 as the Laws of Media: The New Science and covered in the 2002 NFB video McLuhan’s Wake. According to McLuhan these four immutable laws effect all media and understanding them helps us to fathom both the intended and the unintended, the positive and the negative aspects of every media. McLuhan was fond of challenging readers and audiences to think of a medi that did not demonstrate all four laws or to think of the 5th law or argue why they should be reduced to only three.

Dale Hunshler (2001) overviews Mclulan’s wider theories and notes how the web itself, illustrates the four laws of Media.

In this post I extend that work by very briefly applying McLuhan’s Laws to Personal Learning Environments (PLEs).

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PLE’s from Alt-C Conference in Edinburgh

The PLE panel session at Alt-C was a big hit.

Graham Attwood podcast his contribution and I liked his sense that PLEs are not an application, but the indiviudalized set of tools he uses to manage and contribute to his part of the Net. I did a brief comparison of the coordinated and controlable option of an LMS (or VLE as they say ‘over the pond’) as below. An educator seems to have the option of using a VLE, individual Social software applications or systems that combine serveral social apps such as ELGG. My point was the complexity and challenge of adoption for educators (and computer services support staff) trying to move from the familiar VLE world to the scary world of PLE’s.
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David Tosh (of ELGG fame) began his 8 minute talk by confessing that he didn’t know what a PLE was!

Next Josie Fraser orchestrated a great activity in which we broke into small groups and armed with flipcharts and felt pens tried to create a graphical image of our vision of a PLE. We also showed Scott Wilson’s now famous Future PLE diagram which may have inspired some of the groups.

Our group came up with a diagram related to Scott’s but with more generic capacities or affordances of PLE’s as opposed to particiular products. I’ve tried to recreate it from my rough notes below:

PLE Diagram

The inside consists of various creation, communication and collaboration tools, as well as specialized tools relevant to individual users and various aides to reflection, problem solving etc. These tools link, via ubiquitous connectivity, agents and appropriate protocols to content, expertise, mentors, and of course since we were mostly employed educators we included “assessment and credentialing”.

Thanks to those attending the workshop, the other presenters and of course the team that created the diagram above.