by Michael S. Shaw, MSc

May, 2006
Issue 10
I N S I G H T S    I N T O    U S I N G    E D U C A T I O N A L   T E C H N O L O G Y

e-Learning 2.0: Are we back on track yet?


For some, the learning management system (LMS) trials in academia over the past decade, and even the business dot com bust of the nineties may have lead to skepticism in e-learning. Although there have been many well-documented e-learning successes, there have been many disappointments and failures as well (Carnevale, 2004; SFU, 2004; Zemsky and Massy, 2004). One safe and effective refuge for many has been the adoption of blended learning strategies, essentially using a judicious mix of whatever delivery modalities are available, and/or work well.

Just when blended learning and learning object methodology is being understood, we are being subjected to a promise of yet another innovative leap in technology-based learning. Talk of Web 2.0 and more specifically e-learning 2.0 are renewing gleams in the eyes of some disillusioned learning professionals. This article will look at some of the proposed attributes of e-learning 2.0 in an effort to determine whether in fact there is really something new being offered or not, or if we are just getting back on track after a decade of hype. Offered as well are a few insights on how one might react or prepare accordingly.

What's going on now?

Humankind continues to move away from industrial age paradigms rooted in standardization, competition and bureaucracy towards constructs based on customization, cooperation and autonomy. Knowledge, ideas and intelligence are now the basis of modern human existence, and our global knowledge-based society is rich in social interaction and social organization. We can perhaps better appreciate this by considering the attributes of the 75 million members of the Millennial Generation (born between 1977 and 1998). They have been entrenched in technology since they were born, and unlike previous generations (i.e. – baby boomers), a significant number of these individuals seem to prefer working in groups and teams. It is no surprise that their online social habits reflect this, as many of them spend endless hours networking online with others that share similar interests. They also use this social approach to solve problems in work environments. Newer technology-based tools and methodologies foster these types of communities, where knowledge is more community-based than individually based. For these individuals, knowing who knows in a community can be more important than the accumulation of individual knowledge.

So then, Web 2.0 may merely be part of an evolving mechanism that is reflective of our present global modus operandi. Although the exact meaning of this term is still under some debate, it generally suggests a second major phase of World Wide Web development. Going beyond the typical static information-laden Web pages and Web sites of the nineties, the attributes of Web 2.0 are driven more by social concepts in open communication and collaboration. Essentially, Web 2.0 serves-up applications supporting human-to-human interaction in an effort to create more interactive and dynamic social online environments. This evolution has sometimes been referred to as moving from the ‘read-Web’, to the ‘read-write-Web’. Collaborative applications such as Microsoft’s SharePoint abound, and the corporate vernacular includes many variations of knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer and knowledge management.

Mankind is now entering into the knowledge age. Focusing on the context of information is the premise of this age, as there is no present shortage of information today, just perhaps a lack of understanding of what to do with it all. Moving from a data processing era into one of wisdom building will require educational strategies that create life long learners who possess the skills, knowledge and attitudes to develop their own personal styles of more specific, practical learning.

--M. Shaw (1999), Higher Colleges of Technology--

In the information age, we ‘knew that’. In the knowledge age, we ‘knew how-to’. The next big adventure may be in the wisdom age (anytime now I would hope), and may be more epistemological in nature, that is, ‘how do you know that?’. Welcome Web 3.0!

Born on the heels of Web 2.0, we are now left with the term ‘e-learning 2.0’, centered on the implications of new interactive, socially based networking tools. When something becomes ubiquitous or mainstream, it requires a name. The ‘e-learning 2.0’ term has been coined and widely used by Canadian e-learning guru Steven Downes (Downes, 2005). If we examine what educators have been saying all along about e-learning, we find that the premise for e-Learning 2.0 has always been there. Canadian educator Linda Harisim's work over a decade ago in networked learning and online collaboration is just one example. I wonder what ever happened to terms like networked open learning (NOL), interactive learning environments (ILE) and asynchronous learning networks (ALN) anyways? Even most of today’s so called emerging educational technologies have been around for quite some time as well, but their value perhaps not totally understood.


“e-Learning - The systematic use of networked multimedia computer technologies to empower learners, improve learning (potential), connect learners to people and resources supportive of their needs, and to integrate learning with performance and organizational goals.”

--P. Goodyear (2000), Lancaster University--

It seems that for the most part, the mainstream initially viewed an e-learning product as a self-directed, totally online course, and overlooked the whole aspect of networked collaboration. There is actually a whole continuum of e-learning activity, ranging from information online to complete courses online (Bonk and Cummings et al., 2000). Getting caught-up in the hype of infrastructure, learning management systems and multimedia interactivity probably caused many to miss out on the real learning potential of interactive collaborative networking. ‘Page-flipping’ followed by multiple-choice questions based on the old learning paradigm of 'tell and check' appear to remain the e-learning norm.

The literature indicates that the vast majority of global corporations will make significant investments in the whole area of knowledge management this decade (Davenport & Prusak, 1998). This means that there will be some serious thinking and action around collaborative workplace learning. It is no wonder that analysts have predicted that Web portal sending will continue to be one of the top five areas for IT growth in this decade (Wikipedia, 2006), and collaborative and other learning tools are being integrated into these portals. E-learning 2.0 will most probably end up being a fusion of online collaboration and learning object methodology. Personal entertainment devices (i.e. – iPod), personal digital assistants (PDAs), and cell phones can also play an important role as delivery mechanisms. With more and more content being created, shared and reused, tools that allow for the annotation of (learning) resources with metadata will be required to enable better semantic search functionality. After all, informal learning will only work if individuals can connect with the required resources and people.

With e-learning 2.0, we should be once again cognizant of good teaching practice, including learning theory and instructional design. It’s never been about the placement of enabling technologies, but rather the proper use of them. A great instructor with a version of Lotus Notes from 1995 can still blow away even the most advanced learning technology system if the proper teaching and learning strategies are not addressed. Good teaching practice is still very relevant in any decade and with any medium (Chickering, Arthur, et al. (1996).

The different rates of progress and change between industry and education can be discouraging. By the time educators become aware of a new technology and try to implement it, it will have gone through two or three more generations. Fortunately, sound educational design will always determine the success of the product regardless of the technology used.

--M. Shaw (1998), Higher Colleges of Technology--


References and suggested readings

Bonk, C. J., Cummings, J. A., Hara, N., Fischler, R., Lee, S. M. A ten level Web integration continuum for higher education: New resources, partners, courses, and markets, in B. Abbey (Ed.), Instructional and cognitive impacts of Web-based education (pp 56-77). Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing, 2000.

Carnevale, D. ‘Report Says Educational Technology Has Failed to Deliver on Its Promises.’ Chronicle of Higher Education. July 2, 2004.

Chickering, Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann, "Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever," AAHE Bulletin, October, 1996 pp. 3-6. 

Harasim, L., Hiltz, R., Teles, L., and Turoff, M. Learning Networks: A Field Guide to Teaching & Learning Online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.

Harasim, Linda. (Ed.). Global Networks: Computers and Communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993.

Harasim, Linda. (Ed.). Online Education: Perspectives on a New Environment. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1990.

Jonassen, D. Computer-mediated communication: connecting communities of learners. Computers in the classroom: mindtools for critical thinking. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Merrill, Prentice Hall, 1996

Shaw, M. Analysis and Design Methods for Advanced Learning Technology Systems (part 2 of 3), Teaching and Learning with Technology, 1999.

Shaw, M. Reflections on Networked Open Learning, Teaching and Learning with Technology, 1998. Available:

Simon Fraser University (SFU) News, ‘Reduce tech budgets, expert says’, vol.29, no.4, Howard Fluxgold, February 19, 2004; Available:

Thomas H Davenport, Lawrence Prusak, ‘Working Knowledge’, Harvard Business School Press, 1998. ISBN 0875846556., ‘The State of the E-learning Market’ , Sarah Boehle, 2006, Available:

Zemsky, R. and Massy, W. Thwarted Innovation: What Happened to elearning and Why’. A Final Report for The Weatherstation Project of The Learning Alliance at the University of Pennsylvania in cooperation with the Thomson Corporation, June 2004. p. 51.; Available:

© 2006 Michael Shaw