13 December 02005

E-learning 2.0, whatever that is

What is E-learning 2.0? Well first of all it's a rhetorical manoeuvre by e-learning suppliers and consultants to distance themselves from the failures of the first wave of e-learning. Secondly it appears to be the bastard neologism offspring of e-learning and Web 2.0 technologies.

I only came across the term yesterday when I did some search-aided browsing to explore ideas for supporting informal learning with Web 2.0. The term doesn't have an entry in Wikipedia yet, which suggests that I'm not too far behind the pace, as surely someone will write one soon (after they've applied for the trademark).

In the spirit of what, no doubt, will be heralded by some as yet another 'new paradigm', I won't try and develop an argument about the topic or reach any conclusions; I'll just provide some links, some second-hand content and a bit of attitude. All you free-range learners can make some sense out of that, I'm sure.

The Association of Knowledgework has a Knowlege Sharing and Social Software wiki which gracefully avoids 2.0 terminology, and provides a handy overview of the technologies involved:

…software tools that can be used to share knowledge commonly called — social software technologies — examples include podcasts, collaborative concept maps, web feeds & blogs, tagging and social bookmarking… they are part of a set of an exciting new genre that assist with conversations, make connections, promote collaboration and help context sharing.

George Siemens has an essay called Learning as network-creation in which he claims, "Our metaphors of learning have become tired and worn." He's not interested in technology per se, but on connections, or links, at all levels: social, semantic and technological/data-level.

He may be right when he refers, with a hint of complaint, to "progressive revisions of what it means to learn, to know, and to understand", but revisions are inevitable. What it means to be human has been revised continuously through history. Unfortunately Siemens' new network metaphor doesn't seem to help much: his use of the term 'network' in this essay is just as promiscuous as the use of the term 'learning', so explaining the latter in terms of the former doesn't give you much more of an intellectual handle on the issues.

Siemens' blog is link-rich and may be more useful in the "if you can't talk about it, point to it" sense.

Godfrey Parkin's post E-learning grows up concedes "The 'e-learning 2.0' name is a ghastly and inappropriate label" — but still wants to find a way to distance itself from contemporary e-learning:

E-learning, as it exists in the mainstream today, is learning at the old Ford Model-T stage. You can have any color you want so long as it's black.

It is remarkable how many people who presumably make money in the e-learning sector spend time dismissing the shortcomings of the domain. I'm as guilty as anyone of this, I know. How has that come about? They can't all be as cynical as me. I think it's a combination of the fallout from the stack-'em-high-sell-'em-cheap era of e-learning modules, combined with a lingering obsession with novelty.

The Learning 2.0 tip of the week site is based around podcasts on new learning technologies. Not just E-learning 2.0, but Learning 2.0, mark you. Learning 1.x has served our species reasonably well (if you discount lingering war and famine, which we haven't quite cracked yet) for millions of years, so I'll be waiting until 2.0 is fully debugged before I upgrade, thanks.

One of the Learning 2.0 podcasts refers to taking advantage of the intelligence of users/learners, rather than treating them as passive recipients of learning. There's undoubtedly something valuable to be had from this approach, but it's clear that it's not a panacea. Will Thallheimer's blog uses a recent Wikipedia problems to ask whether wikis are inherently flawed:

The underlying belief about wikis is that 'all of us are smarter than a few of us'. This is comforting illusion in theory, but is just plain wrong in practice. The mediocre don't always understand enough to judge an expert's pronouncements. Groups of people often tend toward groupthink or mob psychosis. Powerful interests often control the public conversation and thus become the final arbiters of what is fact. Conspiracy theories often have ninety-nine lives.

It depends on context, doesn't it? The phenomena of groupthink and mob psychosis emerged from research of interactions in real space, not the web. Obviously power and bias exist on the web, but they are not necessarily practised in the same ways. Wikipedia has plenty of successes to its name, as well as a few failures, problems, gaps and quite a lot of half-baked material.

Are people behaving and learning in different ways now?

Saving the best until almost last, Stephen Downes' article on E-learning 2.0 is everything this post isn't: balanced, as comprehensive as its length allows, well-referenced and carefully structured. How passé. He includes some comments on learner behaviour:

One trend that has captured the attention of numerous pundits is the changing nature of Internet users themselves. Sometimes called 'digital natives' and sometimes called 'n-gen', these new users approach work, learning and play in new ways. They absorb information quickly, in images and video as well as text, from multiple sources simultaneously. They operate at 'twitch speed', expecting instant responses and feedback. They prefer random 'on-demand' access to media, expect to be in constant communication with their friends (who may be next door or around the world), and they are as likely to create their own media (or download someone else's) as to purchase a book or a CD.

But here's a quote that captures something of how many feel about learning and Web 2.0, with an optimistic flourish, from Kathy Sierra's Creating Passionate Users blog:

The best thing about Web 2.0 is that— nobody knows what the hell it really means. Even the ones who coined the term are still struggling to find a compact definition. And this is the true beauty and power of Web 2.0 — it makes people think.

Or, as John Perry Barlow is alleged to have said, "Bullshit is the grease for the skids upon which we ride into the future".

Update, 20 February 02006: Jay Cross has now come out and said that Learning 2.0 is a useless term.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) E-learning on 13 December 02005 | TrackBack

I like to think of Learning 2.0 as having a bigger meaning than what you have described here. In a post I was writing this morning about our new mission ("Teaching people how to learn") I said, "In this world where knowledge is a commodity and the flow of new information is much bigger than any one person could possibly manage, being a good learner has become a critical skill. When we talk about Learning 2.0, what we are really talking about is how to be the best learner you can possibly be. And the best learners are not isolated scholars. We are often the best collaborators. Being really good at learning is often about tapping into the collective wisdom of the right group of peers. And being a good peer is about informing the group with your own intangible, personal intelligence." Re-learning how to learn is a critical new skill for people, organizations, and enterprises. I don't see what's wrong with organizing how we talk about this under the banner, Learning 2.0. Do you have a better suggestion?

Posted by: Kathleen Gilry on 21 December 02005 at 7:46 PM

Kathleen, Many thanks for your response, and your interesting and valuable comments. I am completely with you in almost all the statements in your quoted passage (I have reservations about referring to knowledge as a commodity, but that may be a minor point). Where we differ is in the terminology used to 'brand' these ideas.

I think about the people who founded the Royal Society 345 years ago, and I imagine they were motivated by the same notions you have expressed here. So what's with the '2.0'? Why the need to present every solution as a wholly new 'paradigm shift' when the solutions that we agree clients need are actually long-established wisdom, supported by modern tools where effective?

I make no claims to be a marketing or promotions expert, and perhaps corporate customers are indeed attracted to what I referred to above as the 'obsession with novelty'. But if they are, I wonder if providers of learning solutions might unwisely create hostages to fortune by always pandering to this obsession. As the e-learning world has already discovered once, yesterday's 'shiny and revolutionary' ideas quickly become tomorrow's awkward embarrassment, to be disowned or swept under the carpet.

To avoid that, I feel it might be better to stress the proven pedigree of our ideas about learning, coupled with a sober, pragmatic assessment of how new technologies can help. I'm all for organising, but I'm not sure that we need the banners.

Posted by: David Jennings on 22 December 02005 at 8:02 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?