One of the strongest, but least hyped, uses of web 2.0 technologies over the past couple of years has been e-learning.
We've covered this topic extensively on Read/WriteWeb - and so we're pleased to bring you this overview of e-learning 2.0, including the leading web apps and sites in this niche, and predictions for its future.
In August Steve O'Hear (now last100 editor) wrote an introduction to e-learning 2.0. He noted that teachers and students are embracing web technologies such as blogging and podcasting. Although not designed specifically for use in education, these tools are helping to make e-learning far more personal, social, and flexible.
According to Steve, the traditional approach to e-learning has been to employ the use of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), software that is often cumbersome and expensive - and which tends to be structured around courses, timetables, and testing [examples listed below]. That is an approach that is too often driven by the needs of the institution rather than the individual learner. In contrast, e-learning 2.0 (as coined by Stephen Downes) takes a 'small pieces, loosely joined' approach that combines the use of discrete but complementary tools and web services - such as blogs, wikis, and other social software - to support the creation of ad-hoc learning communities.
Examples of e-learning 2.0 apps and websites
edublogs.org and wikispaces.com are two examples of blog and wiki resources for e-learning. Steve's post includes many other examples of edu-blogging, podcasting, media sharing and social networks. There are some interesting web apps for students popping up, for example a collaborative note taking app called stu.dicio.us and the ReadWriteThink Printing Press - which enables users to create a newspaper, brochure, etc.
profiled Elgg - a social network for education. This is an excellent example of how web 2.0 is shaping e-learning. Elgg is social networking software designed especially for education - built from the ground up to support learning.For an in-depth look at one of the leaders in this space, Steve
Described by its founders as a 'learning landscape', Elgg provides each user with their own weblog, file repository (with podcasting capabilities), an online profile and an RSS reader. Additionally, all of a user's content can be tagged with keywords - so they can connect with other users with similar interests and create their own personal learning network. However, where Elgg differs from a regular weblog or a commercial social network (such as MySpace) is the degree of control each user is given over who can access their content. Each profile item, blog post, or uploaded file can be assigned its own access restrictions - from fully public, to only readable by a particular group or individual. Click here for an insightful interview with Elgg's founders.
Note that this type of e-learning social network is similar to "smart" social networks, in which you can put access controls around your personal details, so that only people you trust can see them. Facebook, imbee, Vox, and Multiply are all examples of smart social networks.
ChinesePod, which we profiled in November. ChinesePod teaches Mandarin over the Web. It uses podcasting, RSS, blogging - and other Web 2 technologies - to teach Mandarin Chinese. The business model is surprisingly simple - subscriptions to language-learning materials. This complements the free offerings - basically, the Mandarin podcasts - very nicely. For example, if you want to dive into learning Mandarin straight away: select one of the episodes, plus you can participate in the discussions. The first level subscription is called 'Basic' and gets you a PDF transcript of the podcast. If you want get really serious about learning Mandarin, sign up to the premium subscription service and receive learning resources such as Review Materials and Lesson Plans.Another great example of an e-learning 2.0 app is
The community aspect of ChinesePod shows what can be done with web 2.0 technologies in e-learning. Check out the Community page - which has a forum, wiki, blogs, photos, rss feeds. All the usual pieces, but each has a practical purpose. The wiki has extra links and information, the forum is well-used by users, the photos are lovely (of China), and there are a lot of great rss feeds to choose from.
Google, Microsoft, Apple, IBM - active in e-learning 2.0
Google Apps for Education (includes Gmail, Chat, Calendar, Page Creator, start page). Microsoft has a range of education products (including live.com hosting/email and potential groupware for education), and Apple offers free podcast hosting for education (iTunes U). IBM is also a player in the education sector.What else is out there currently in Internet-based education software? Well for a start, the Internet BigCos all have products in the e-learning segment. Google offers the free
Google for Educators, described as "a platform of teaching resources". Also its Google Enterprise Professional program has at least one education provider - Blackboard become the first member of the program to focus primarily on educational institutions.Google seems to be particularly active in education, amongst the Internet companies. It has
Not to mention that online office products can be used to enhance collaboration in an education setting. Google Docs & Spreadsheets for example. In effect, the BigCos are able to leverage their current product range and promote them to schools.
Collaborative E-learning Systems
As well as blogs and wikis, there is a class of e-learning 2.0 software that is more of a platform product. These are referred to as collaboration systems and examples are Elgg, Nuuvo and Digication. As Digication's Jeffrey Yan explained in January, e-learning 2.0 tools are often promoted by educators in a grassroots manner. Which when you consider the usual hierarchical academic setting, is an interesting trend. Jeff told R/WW there is a community of users who support these tools and "their approval/disapproval with features, functionality and direction can make or break a [e-learning] company."
As for the near future of collaborative systems, Jeff Yan says that blogs, wikis and podcasts will start to merge with more educationally focused systems in 2007.
Traditional Learning Management System (LMS)
Blackboard, Moodle and Sakai (the latter two are open source) As we hinted at above, the big commercial software like Blackboard is very 'old school' and doesn't have much focus on the community aspects of learning. They're expensive and are generally seen as clunky and difficult to use - not unlike traditional Content Management Systems in enterprises (Vignette, InterWoven, et al). They also have a lot of features that most teachers and students don't want or need.Also known as Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), examples are
As this article shows, there is a lot of web 2.0 activity in the e-learning space - including from the big Internet companies like Google and Apple. The current era of the Web is all about two-way communication, collaboration and 'read/write'; and the classroom is an ideal place to utilize these technologies. In the comments, tell us some of the e-learning apps or experiences you've encountered.