Web 2.0 and its impact on e-learning

What is Web 2.0 and what’s its impact on e-learning? What will Web 3.0 look like? The experts reveal all.

If you’re still trying to get your head around Web 2.0 and e-learning 2.0 and what it means for training managers, we’ve got news for you – Web 3.0 is just around the corner. And just to complicate things further, there are a number of different theories on what shape the web’s third coming will take (see below).

What Web 3.0 will mean for learning is similarly up for discussion, but recently announced products such as Giunti Labs‘ Virtual Learning Worlds (VLW) authoring tool point to a wealth of possibilities. But to predict the future, you need to understand the past. Many training professionals are only just starting to realise the potential of Web 2.0 and what its collaborative tools can do for their learning programmes.

The phrase Web 2.0 was originally coined by Dale Dougherty of US-based O’Reilly Media. He felt that the dotcom crash of 2001 represented a positive shake-out and turning point for the web.

The phrase spawned a conference by O’Reilly in 2005, and quickly took hold. Cynics dubbed it hollow marketing speak, but others adopted it wholesale. Reams have been written about Web 2.0 but its defining features facilitate collaboration, interaction and sharing between users such as blogging, forums, wikis and social networking sites.

“Web 2.0 is all about connecting and collaborating,” says Justin Kirby, new media author and founder of London- and Sydney-based digital media consultancy DMC. “People understand what the web is about and have adapted how they use it. The reality is that it is easier to use its features, such as self-publishing video and setting up blogs.”

Similar paths

Kirby believes that e-learning travelled along a similar path. “A lot of e-learning went down the CBT (computer-based training) route and it tended to be linear,” he says. “Now providers are making use of the whole networking and collaborative aspect that goes with it.”

The self-publishing aspect of Web 2.0 that Kirby mentions represents a major opportunity for organisations when it comes to e-learning and has major implications for training managers. The emergence of rapid e-learning tools, podcasts and vodcasts, as well as open-source tools such asMoodle – a piece of free software thathelps educators create online learning communities – are making the production of e-learning programmes far more accessible.

“Everyone has the ability to become a publisher and to take that learning and distribute it throughout the organisation,” says Stephen Walsh, co-founder of Brighton-based e-learning consultancy Kineo. “And discussion forums, wikis and blogs mean there are more channels than ever for people to express themselves.”

He says that rather than worry about losing control, training managers should help to harness all of these learning opportunities. “The role of the training manager should shift to encouraging people to participate and help to harness the collective intelligence in organisations,” he says. “What we all knowis better than what one person knows.”

But to capitalise on the Web 2.0 wave, training managers must also ensure they tap into the mindset change that is taking place in the wider world.

“Learning customers are consumers who are used to Web 2.0 and all of the media-rich features it encompasses. We have to look at what is happening in the consumer world,” says Video Arts managing director Martin Addison, who adds that the emphasis is on short, digestible learning objects, which can be accessed when the learner needs them and in whatever format they want. “We’ll be adding lots more to our digital library, with some programmes only three minutes long.”

Think-tank community

In the sharing and collaborative spirit of Web 2.0, Video Arts also plans to extend access to the ‘think-tank’ community area on its website. It uses the area to communicate with clients, but it plans to open it up so customers can communicate with each other and provide feedback on different programmes.

Building in connectivity and fostering a culture of collaboration among learners will be key to making the most of Web 3.0, whatever form it takes. And the highly connected YouTube and MySpace generation that is coming through will expect nothing less.

Similarly, for the generation that has grown up spending more time playing games on their PCs than watching the TV, content will also have to live up to expectation. With this in mind, serious games and virtual learning worlds were key themes at the Training in Action conference in Italy this year, hosted by Giunti Labs. However, this wasn’t just because of the need to pander to the gaming generation, but sound business reasons,too.

The emergence of simulations with characters who change their behaviour based on the learner’s decisions reflects business practice more accurately than a purely numbers-orientated simulation, says Albert Angehrn, director of the Centre for Advanced Learning Technologies at INSEAD Business School.

“Games and simulations involve people in collaborative learning. They are increasingly important in helping the corporate world to manage change because they create a shared language and stories, and push people to the limits of their capabilities.”

Kirby agrees and says it is plausible for alternative reality games, whose stories can be influenced by players’ actions, to be used for training purposes.”The collaborative aspect means that a team could learn to problem-solve together,” he says. “Or indeed work through any problem a business faces.”

What will Web 3.0 look like?

It is still forming but here are three theories doing the rounds in the coffee shops of Silicon Valley:

  • Semantic web: an internet in which machines and/or incredibly smart software agents would be better able to read and search sites than us mere mortals. Another interpretation of the semantic web would see the emergence of semantic search engines, which shift from the keyword searches we use today to a natural-language processing approach. It will be capable of answering questions such as: how many times have Juventus won the Italian football league?
  • 3D web: the web becomes a virtual environment we can walk through, with perhaps one of the best working examples of this being the online universe Second Life.
  • Pervasive web: the internet will be everywhere around us, not just on hand-held devices but on wearable ones too, and could even extend to the kitchen windows, which, courtesy of networks routed everywhere, could be told to open when the temperature reaches a certain level.
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