About my research

My research was set in the context of the European Commission’s eTwinning initiative and it looked specifically at the use of eTwinning Learning Events (non-formal learning). It examined how the community influences the development of teachers’ competence in online collaboration and discourse, and it considered the contribution of social aspects and online moderation.

I am very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime from Lancaster University, and to my eTwinning soulmate, Tiina Sarisalmi, for their invaluable support. And to my examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster, for their valuable advice.
Keywords: online learning communities; community of inquiry; online collaboration; content analysis; social presence; social ties; teacher training

Saturday, 29 January 2011

eLearning 2.0

A paper by Lim, So and Tan (2010) compares learning online using web 2.0 technologies (what they call eLearning 2.0) with learning before the advent of social media (eLearning 1.0). They remind us that web 2.0 brought with it a paradigm shift in the way users interact with content, moving from consumers to contributors in a 'social and participatory web'. 

They suggest that to put eLearning 2.0 into practice we need to understand how tools that are primarily aimed at entertainment can be used for educational purposes. Moreover, the underlying learning philosophy needs to embrace the web 2.0 ethos of participation and community-based social practices. However, this may be at odds with formal learning where the emphasis is often on traditional literacy practices, individual learning and personal performance; what the paper refers to as a cultural contradiction. 

We may also face a ‘”digital dissonance” in which neither teachers nor students fully recognize and use the potential of emerging technologies for learning’ (p.206). Indeed, if one is used to learning in a conventional way it may be difficult to change your ‘cultural belief’ that teachers are authoritative sources of knowledge:

To transit from eLearning 1.0 to eLearning 2.0, it requires a shift of learners’ identity to that of a knowledge builder and a shift of teachers’ identity to that of a critical friend or co-learner. In terms of power and control in learning, learners need to embrace empowerment given the space to construct learning, while teachers need to become comfortable with fluidity and uncertainty. (Lim et al, 2010, p.208)

This is hard to achieve if teachers continue to instruct, give lectures and direct discussions. And if instructional designers continue to determine learning paths, focus on individual learning and assess individual performance. ‘Our notion of knowledge and knowing should shift from an epistemology based on possession to an epistemology of practice’ (p.207). 

These messages concur with those give by Ryberg (2010) in his presentation at a workshop at Online Educa last year that focused on new ways of assessment, where he emphasised that simply using web 2.0 tools for learning does not imply that the underlying process is following the web 2.0 ethos. One has to move away from knowledge as acquisition to knowledge as participation. Referring to the work of Dohn (2009) he asks the following pertinent questions:

What happens when:
-       Internal goals of participation, communication, knowledge construction, and knowledge sharing subsumed under external goal of acquiring the knowledge and competence necessary for their future working life
-       Dynamic and distributive views on knowledge and competence enrolled in an individualistic, objectivistic view of knowledge and competence
-       Learning as participation understood as a means for realising learning as acquisition
                                Ryberg (2010, slide13)
Lim et al (2010) go on to present the results of their research on a course concerning the integration of web 2.0 into the curriculum for pre-service teachers and in particular a three week period in which they worked together on a wiki. Their observations show a propensity for the teachers to focus on grammatical edits and changes to the form of the text, rather than ‘knowledge edits’ that reflect critical thinking. In addition, there was a tendency to cooperate in a task-orientated way rather than collaborate to build collectively knowledge. They noticed an absence of higher order discourse that would encourage reflection and critique, and remarked that changing someone else’s text was at times perceived as being rude. 

They note that these results concur with other research which suggests that peer-to-peer interaction in online communities mainly focuses on lower-level cognitive tasks than on critical collaborative discourse. They go on to suggest that that the instructor can influence the level of discourse by encouraging learners to use dialogue that questions, critiques, challenges and builds upon the contributions of others. 

My experience of the recent eTwinning Learning Event for teachers and the results emerging from my analysis seem to concur with these arguments. Left alone to discuss informally how to carry out activities, the teachers would often take a pragmatic approach in which the first ideas to emerge were adopted by the rest of the group and the focus was on completing the activity. Whereas in forums where initial questions were presented in a manner that encouraged reflection and critique, and where the tutor would participate in the dialogue (if he/she felt it was necessary) the discourse reached a higher level. Here there was evidence of critical thinking with participants building upon the contributions of their colleagues and adding in their own experience. In other words, an appropriate level of teaching presence seemed to act as a catalyst for critical collaborative discourse. And by appropriate I don’t mean instruction or the tutor leading the discussion, but rather preparing an environment that is conducive for collaboration and contributing to the dialogue when it falters or to encourage reflection through questioning; leading learners to autonomy – Boud (1988). 


Boud, D. (1988) 'Moving Towards Autonomy ', in Boud, D. (Ed.), Developing Student Autonomy in Learning, pp.17-39, London: Kogan Page

Dohn, N. (2009) 'Web 2.0: Inherent tensions and evident challenges for education'. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 4 (3), pp.343-363
Lim, W.-Y., So, H.-J. & Tan, S.-C. (2010) 'eLearning 2.0 and new literacies: are social practices lagging behind?'. Interactive Learning Environments, 18 (3), pp.203 - 218

Ryberg, T. (2010), 'Social Media Practices and Assessment Irreconcilable Differences or True Romance?', Assessing Learning in a Digital World, Online Educa, Berlin European Commission. (ONLINE - http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/llp/events/2010/online_educa_conference_berlin_2010_en.php - accessed 20.01.2011)


  1. This is very inspiring. We have Web 2.0 and eLearning 2.0 defined as dynamic, non-hierarchical and collaborative. What about eKnowledge 2.0? Constantly changing and being modified, socially constructed in collaborative networks and learning communities, under continuous scrutiny and critique, challenged, updated and developed in innovative and informal groups, contextualized culturally and socially. Knowledge not owned by academics or teachers, but transparent and shared and inherently shifting. Has the concept of knowledge changed from being content to being a process?

    In this light, eLearning 2.0 would indeed entail equal members in a learning community based on mutual trust, openness and sharing, prepared to challenge and be challenged, to tolerate uncertainty as in complex and changing situations there are no right answers, at least not for very long.

    Anyway, Brian, eLearning 2.0 would be a great title for the next Learning Event / Workshop. ☺

  2. Thanks for the feedback Tiina. How would we describe knowledge in the networked society - interesting question indeed. Distributed, dynamic, participative, ... here we get into another debate about group or distributed cognition. Can groups learn or is it just individuals learning in groups?

    mmm I feel another research project starting