Is e-learning 2.0 about books or conversations?

How will the remixing of micro-content which dominates discussion of Web 2.0 affect e-learning? Some people believe that it will resemble individual content authoring via blogs. We don’t think so.

In eLearn magazine, Stephen Downes writes:

What happens when online learning ceases to be like a medium, and becomes more like a platform? What happens when online learning software ceases to be a type of content-consumption tool, where learning is “delivered,” and becomes more like a content-authoring tool, where learning is created? … Insofar as there is content, it is used rather than read and is, in any case, more likely to be produced by students than courseware authors.

He answers his own question:

The e-learning application, therefore, begins to look very much like a blogging tool. It represents one node in a web of content, connected to other nodes and content creation services used by other students.

We think this is only half the story – and it isn’t the important half.

Downes continues:

It becomes, not an institutional or corporate application, but a personal learning center, where content is reused and remixed according to the student’s own needs and interests. It becomes, indeed, not a single application, but a collection of interoperating applications—an environment rather than a system. E-learning 2.0.

Well, perhaps, among those operating in a purely academic context, where learners are presumably pursuing their own personal learning goals. We think the answer looks a little different in the business world. In business, we aren’t really looking to facilitate the development of personal learning centers, so much as we are trying to develop more effective strategies for getting work done. And we understand that few employees, who are being evaluated on their effectiveness in moving the organization toward organizational goals, are interested in developing a collection of interoperating applications to serve as their personal learning environment.

At Q2Learning, we do think that real learning looks a lot more like a conversation than like a book. We’ve also paid close attention to the studies which suggest that keeping learning activities close to the job is what gives it meaning and staying power.

As an example, our eCampus is designed to make it simple to create learning activities in which content is presented, and then put to active use by learners in their daily responsibilities. Our take on “learning 2.0” is that it’s important to bring distributed learners together to have conversations about just how that attempt to apply the concepts works out in the field, the challenges they encounter, and the strategies they employ to overcome those challenges.

Absolutely — learning 2.0 platforms like the eCampus must make it simple to include learner-generated micro-content into learning activities. Blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds –all these can and should be available to learners.

But we believe that content is just the beginning, the jumping off point for deep learning, which is what takes place when people think together about what helps them be effective, and why.

We believe that learning 2.0 platforms must support these dialogs in both structured learning programs and more informal communities of practice which weave together a variety of collaboration tools as well as content generation tools. The intelligent use of discussion forums, web meetings, email, instant messaging, and chat is every bit as vital to the design of learning 2.0 as sexy content publishing tools. In fact, we believe that this weaving of interaction into the mix is at the heart of how to transform e-publishing into e-learning.

Web 2.0 and eLearning 2.0 don’t have to be trapped in the highly individualized and idiosyncratic paradigm which requires each individual to structure his or her own learning. Organizations, are, after all, about joint efforts. Tools which help learners work and learn together can facilitate the development an effective team culture. Investing in such tools and developing learning programs within them is a powerful way for organizations to develop the competence and agility required to be competitive in today’s markets.