Home e-learning 2.0: All You Need To Know

e-learning 2.0: All You Need To Know

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

August Steve O’Hear (now last100 editor) wrote an introduction to e-learning
. 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
(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.

For an in-depth
look at one of the leaders in this space, Steve profiled Elgg – a social network for
. 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.

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
, 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.

Another great example of an e-learning 2.0 app is 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.

The community aspect of ChinesePod shows what can be done with web 2.0 technologies in
e-learning. Check out the Community
– 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

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 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

Google seems to be
particularly active in education, amongst the Internet companies. It has Google for Educators, described as
“a platform of teaching resources”. Also its Google Enterprise Professional program
has at least one education provider – Blackboard
the first member of the program to focus primarily on educational

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)

Also known as Virtual Learning
Environments (VLE), examples are 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

However there are some newcomers that are interesting – call them LMS 2.0 perhaps
😉  As well as Digication and Nuvvo, there is Chalksite and haiku LMS.


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.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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