April 24, 2014

No. 8 aha moment: web 2.0 will change everything in online learning

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A conceptual map for understanding web 2.0 tools (from Bates, 2011). Web 2.0 tools are in blue. Other tools of course could be added, such as MOOCs (xMOOCs way to the left in my view!). The position on the continuum will also be influenced by how the tool is used.

This is the ninth (and last) in a series of posts about the most seminal ‘discoveries’ in my researching and working in educational technology, where I discuss why I believe these ‘discoveries’ to be important, and their implications specifically for online learning. The others to date are:

My seven ‘a-ha’ moments in the history of educational technology (overview)

1.  Media are different.

2. God helps those who help themselves (about educational technology in developing countries).

3. Asynchronous is (generally) better than synchronous teaching

4. Computers for communication, not as teaching machiWhy is web 2.0nes

5. The web as a universal standard

6. The convergence of online learning (from the periphery to the core)

7. Strategy matters in online learning

This post is a bonus. When I started the series I had only seven aha moments in my head. However, recognizing that the last revelation dated from 1997 I was forced to reflect on what had happened over the last sixteen years. Even allowing for the fact it often takes time to separate the signal from the noise, had I gone brain-dead in that period, an old man stuck in the past? Surely something significant must have happened, given the rapid change in technology.

Well, yes, there is one major development for me in this period that I believe will radically change online learning, even though it is taking a long time, and has nowhere near reached its full potential.

What was the discovery? (2007)

A broad range of tools with common characteristics that are conveniently lumped together as web 2.0 will fundamentally change the design of online learning and even more significantly, the relationship between post-secondary instructor and student.

Web 2.0 is defined as including social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), video sharing sites, blogs, wikis, online games, virtual worlds, e-portfolios and mobile applications (from O’Reilly, 2005)

How did this discovery come about?

Three things came together in 2007. I started to write this blog, using WordPress. Its purpose was rather academic – to bring together all in one place a wide range of online resources about online and distance learning that could be used by instructors and post-graduate students researching or studying online or distance learning. I didn’t fully realise at the time the power and the influence such a modest enterprise could have, because I didn’t at the time fully understand the way social media work. However, it did get me established as a ‘contributor’ using at least a few web 2.0 tools. (It should be remembered that the term wasn’t even coined until 2005)

The second thing that happened was that I went to a ‘show-and-tell’ of new applications of learning technologies at Vancouver Community College and saw for the first time a demonstration of a post-graduate online course developed at UBC by David Porter, David Vogt, and Jeff Miller, called ETEC 522, which used WordPress as the course management system. In particular WordPress had been deliberately chosen to enable students to contribute content themselves to the course. Several other exposures to web 2.0 tools followed shortly after, particularly from instructors at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, who were (and are) using mobile learning in interesting and innovative ways.

The third thing that happened was that I was then approached by two Australians, Mark Lee of Charles Sturt University and Christine McLoughlin of the Australian Catholic University, to write a chapter for a new book they were editing on web 2.0 based e-learning (which was very unwise of them, as at the time I knew little about the topic.) This forced me both to research more fully the topic, and pull together my thoughts on what was happening.

Since then, as I have become increasing familiar with web 2.0 tools and their application, I have grown increasingly convinced that they have the power to really revolutionize university teaching in particular. However, to date I have seen very few examples of such a revolutionary approach within the formal post-secondary education sector (where in my view the greatest value of these tools lies).

Why is web 2.0 significant? 

Basically because these tools give learners the power to find, adapt, create, share and publish information easily, and at very low or no cost. This represents the potential for a very significant shift in power from the teacher to the learner.

The general characteristics of web 2.0 are as follows:

  • End-user control/authoring
  • Collaboration and sharing
  • Collective intelligence
  • Low-cost/free, adaptive software
  • Rich media
  • Portability/mobility

With respect to educational uses, web 2.0 tools have the potential for the following:

  • facilitating the kind of skills required by knowledge workers in the 21st century, in particular, knowledge management, independent learning, and multimedia communication skills, as well as more traditional skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity, which are often not taught well in more traditional forms of education based for example on lectures or learning management systems
  • web 2.0 tools are more conducive to constructivist approaches to learning (see diagram at the head of this post), which I believe leads to deeper forms of understanding and more flexible approaches to developing, managing and applying  knowledge
  • these tools are familiar to most students and are used by them on a daily basis for other purposes (personal and social). Although students often are not initially aware of how these tools can also help in their studies, they are usually open and ready to use such tools when they can see the obvious benefits for assisting their learning
  • they can be used to engage students in meaningful and interesting activities, making learning more interactive and more social
  • they will eventually force us to rethink completely the way we assess student learning. These tools in the form of e-portfolios and multimedia assignments allow students to demonstrate their learning directly, without the need for paper and pencil examinations or computer-marked assignments that measure only a very limited form of learning.

However, this potential has yet to be fully realised in post-secondary education. This requires re-design and re-thinking of both the purpose and the means of post-secondary education.

The need for course re-design

The use of these tools need to be driven by the learning objectives. Indeed these tools enable us to achieve different learning objectives from more traditional modes of teaching, with a particular emphasis on intellectual skills development. There are various ways in which this can be done, so I just give some examples below.

An advanced course design might be built around the following:

  • core skill: knowledge management (how to find, analyze, evaluate and apply information)
  • open content within a learning design: students are given the learning objectives, but are encouraged and assisted to select and analyze content already existing on the web
  • online project work with activities that support the development of the target skills and competencies identified earlier
  • student-generated multimedia content: students choose content and demonstrate what they have found through text, graphics, video and audio presentations
  • peer review and discussion
  • assessment by e-portfolios.

Examples might be

  • students using the core principles of historiography to research online and develop a history of a foreign city over the last 50 years, with strong narratives and themes that the students themselves identify
  • use of virtual worlds to train border service agents (see Loyalist College) or other jobs that require a range of intellectual and procedural skills
  • use of ‘public’ wikis to discuss contemporary political events in a foreign country, drawing in contributions from key players or the public within that country
  • research on social behaviour by tracking behaviour of dog owners in public parks, supplemented by video examples and interviews

It is not difficult to think of many different ways these tools could be used to empower learners. What is needed though is a commitment to develop 21st century skills embedded within a subject domain, and to work out how these tools could best be used by students for their learning. This though would require a shift away from the instructor delivering information, and more to a role where the instructor is a facilitator, guide and evaluator.


Web 2.0 tools could be revolutionary for changing the way we teach in post-secondary education, but to date, as happens almost always with new technology initially, they have been mainly added on to conventional teaching, whether in classroom teaching or online, or are used outside the formal, credit-based system (as with MOOCs or communities of practice). However, I strongly believe that over time, as instructors, students and employers begin to understand the value of such tools, they will become increasingly the core around which we will build educational delivery, even, or especially, for credit-based learning.


I will do a separate post explaining why I have not included other topics as seminal for understanding the role of educational technology and online learning, such as open educational resources or MOOCs. Frankly, I don’t see these as gamechangers, at least not in the way they are being deployed at the moment.

Over to you

Having said that, what have been the main seminal discoveries for you in educational technology and online learning? What would you have included in the list, and why?


Bates, T. (2011) Understanding web 2.0 and its implications for education in Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds. ) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning: Applying Social Informatics for Tertiary Teaching Hershey PA: Information Science Reference

O’Reilly, T. (2005) Web 2.0 Compact definition? O’Reilly Radar, October 10 (retrieved July 23, 2006 from http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2005/10/web_20_compact_definition.html

COHERE conference on blended learning

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A distinguished panel discussed the topic: 'If blended learning is so good, why aren't we all doing it?'

I was privileged to be the key speaker at a conference organized by Canada’s Collaboration for Online Higher Education and Research (COHERE) and the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE), on the topic of blended learning. The conference provided an invaluable insight into the status and direction of online and blended learning in Canada.

My first keynote was entitled ‘Meeting the challenge of technology: are we failing as managers?’ Based mainly on my book with Albert Sangrà, I argued that we needed to do much better in institutional leadership, faculty training and institutional governance if universities and colleges are to leverage technology to improve learning outcomes, to increase flexible access and blended learning, and improve to productivity. I argued that the appropriate management of technology was essential for innovation in teaching and moving towards more blended, flexible and lifelong learning, and suggested some strategies both to improve the management of learning technologies, and to strengthen innovation in teaching.

This was followed by a day of 20 parallel sessions with speakers from 15 different institutions, mainly demonstrating individual blended learning initiatives within these institutions. One of the most interesting sessions was presented by Anastasia Kulpa of Grant MacEwan University, who talked about the design of a game-based approach to teaching Sociology 101. It raised importance issues such as how to engage and assess students in a blended learning environment. This and the many other excellent presentations can all be accessed via the COHERE Dropbox. (You will need an invitation from Stacey Woods: woodss@extended.umanitoba.ca)

On the second day, my second keynote was on the topic: ‘Designing university and college teaching to meet the needs of 21st century students.’ I argued that now all instructors have a decision to make about where on the continuum from face-to-face to fully online teaching they should be, and suggested some criteria for making this decision, and in particular how to decide what should be done online and what face-to-face. I asked also who should make this decision: individual instructors, program teams or the administration? I suggested that these decisions should be made at the program level, involving all instructors in a program. I then looked at how web 2.0 tools are the key to successful blended learning and the pedagogies that should underpin blended learning design. I then suggested two examples of what advanced online learning design might look like, and ended by calling on all participants to go back and make at least one new course design.

This session was followed by a lively panel that discussed the topic: “If blended learning is such a promising practice in higher education why aren’t we all doing it?”.  The conference finished with a brief wrap-up from me where I made the following points:

1. For most institutions, the challenge is not which direction to go with blended and online learning, but implementation. Leadership and incentives for change are often lacking. Faculty themselves (in universities at least) however control the key incentive for change – the criteria for tenure and promotion. Research still dominates over teaching, so the question has to be asked: can universities and colleges make the necessary changes without substantial external pressure for change?

2. As central centres to support faculty teaching with technology grow in size, the question needs to be asked: what is the most cost-effective way to develop quality blended learning: mandatory training in post-secondary teaching at the post-graduate level; or developing a parallel profession of more poorly paid and lower status pedagogical and technology specialists to support subject matter experts who lack modern teaching expertise?

3. It’s the learning, stupid! COHERE and CSSHE are to be commended for focusing on research in blended learning. In particular Canada lacks essential national, provincial and institutional benchmarking data about the extent and direction of blended and online learning; we need better guidelines, criteria or theory about what is best done on campus when students can learn as well online; and we need more case-studies that identify best practices, and the ‘institutional ecology’ that will enable blended and online learning to thrive. The conference helped participants to move forward on all these fronts.


1. The keynote presentations have been video recorded and will eventually be available through the COHERE web site. Watch this site for an announcement when they are available.

2. In the meantime, the slides of my two presentations are available via Dropbox. Just send me an e-mail requesting either: the COHERE management slides and/or the COHERE teaching slides.

3. Contact Stacey Woods woodss@extended.umanitoba.ca for abstracts or slides of the parallel sessions.

Online Learning and Personal Change: the Movie

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Vancouver Community College organized a stimulating faculty development workshop in April called ‘Technology Trends and the Courage to Adapt’, about the challenge technology presents to instructors. This involved two presentations, one from Gary Poole, of UBC, who focused on personal issues in dealing with change, and one from me about the changes needed in post-secondary teaching.

The whole 90 minute session is now available on YouTube, in 15 minute ‘chunks’, from here.

Some of you have already downloaded my slides from this session under the heading of’Designing Online Learning for the 21st Century’. If you haven’t already got the slides and would like a copy after seeing the videos, send me an e-mail.


Technology isn’t letting up. In addition to new technologies outside the LMS, such as blogs, wikis, e-portfolios, and mobile learning, now LMSs are undergoing some radical changes. What does this mean for the faculty member? In this session, we look at a few of the more significant developments, in particular how some instructors have incorporated some of these technologies, and suggest some simple steps or strategies for instructors to be innovative without getting overwhelmed by the changes in technology. Put simply, change takes courage – to step outside our comfort zones, to risk the uncertain, and to embrace the unfamiliar with our students. In this session, we will look at why change can be difficult, both individually and institutionally, with the hope that we can approach change more constructively and thoughtfully.


Concevoir l’enseignment en ligne pour répondre aux besoins des apprenants du 21e siècle

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Il est l’heure quand beaucoup des universités et des collèges Canadiennes offrent la formation aux professeurs. Ainsi j’avais été bien occupé pendant les dernières deux semaines de faire les présentations aux universités de Sherbrooke et Laval en Québec, et à Vancouver Community College en Colombie Britannique. Les présentations étaient un peu différentes à chaque institution, mais les idées principales étaient assez pareilles.

Un nouveau paradigm pour l’enseignment post-secondaire
Je discutais comment les nouvelles technologies de web 2.0 commencent à changer le modèle principale d’enseignment post-secondaire qui existait depuis la 19e siècle. On peut obtenir les diapositifs (comme pdfs) en anglais ou français. Parce que les fichiers sont très grands (31 MB), on peut les télécharger par Dropbox. Veuillez m’envoyer un courrier électronique et je vous donnerai accès aux fichiers. (Merci beaucoup à mon ami, Jean Watters, qui m’a assisté avec la traduction français des diapositifs.)
Au dessous je donne un résumé court des idées principales. Il y a beaucoup des exemples que j’ai tiré principalement de Colombie Britannique et Ontario.
Les forces de changement
Il y a plusieurs de forces qui poussent le changement:
  • inscriptions croissantes au niveau universitaire: ‘mass higher education’
  • moins de financement de la Province
  • frais de scolarité croissants
  • compétences du 21e siècle
  • croissance de la formation en ligne au niveau universitaire:  15% des inscriptions en ligne à Canada: croissantes 15% par année
Les compétences du 21e siècle
Bien que je n’aime pas l’expression, elle est adroite de décrire ces compétences que l’on doit intégrer au sein des disciplines afin de fonctionner effectivement dans la société du 21e siècle. Je constate que ces compétences ne sont pas génériques, mais il faut les intégrer dans un domaine spécifique de connaissance. Par exemple, la résolution des problèmes demande les méthodes differentes en la médecine et en les affaires.

Une équipe de conception s'engagée par Volkswagen

Les technologies évoluent
J’ai décrit les changements suivants en technologies, avec exemples:
  • les ENAs (LMS) changent d’un ‘cours monobloc’ à une sélection des outiles dont on peut choisir (Why learning management systems are not going away)
  • les blogues, WordPress, wikis
  • vidéo et audio
  • portefolios
  • ressources éducatives libres
  • mondes virtuels
Les characteristiques de web 2.0
  • contrôle par l’utilisateur final
  • la collaboration et le partage
  • l’intelligence collective
  • logiciel gratuit ou prix bas
  • multimédia
  • portabilité/mobilité
Les implications pédagogique
  • les apprenants ont accès à des outils puissants
  • environnements d’apprentissage personnels
  • accès, contenu, services ouverts
  • les apprenants trouvent/créent/ajoutent/adaptent le contentus
  • un transfert de pouvoir des professeurs aux apprenants

Un nouveau paradigm: de e-learning 1.0 à e-learning 2.0

  • un compétence de base: la gestion des connaissances
  • comment trouver, analyser, évaluer et utiliser l’information
  • oeuvre libre dans le cadre d’une conception d’apprentissage
  • contenus multimédias générés par les apprenants
  • évaluation par e-portfolios
3 rôles du professeur
  • Pas de rôle (Downes et Siemens): les apprenants sont autodidactes, autonomones
  • ‘Guide-on-the side’: faciliter, piloter, dialoguer, organizer, mais l’apprenant décide
  • Le professeur est le responsable: il utilise les outils web 2.0 pour développer les compétences
De la formation à distance ou hybride?

Où sur le continuum devrait se situer mon cours?

Trois facteurs décisifs:

  • les apprenants ciblés
  • les exigences de la discipline (contenu + compétences)
  • les ressources disponibles
Qui doit décider?

  • face-à-face, hybride, tout en ligne?
  • le professeur tout seule? L’équipe de programme academique? Les cadres supérieurs académiques?
  • l’équipe de programme academique
  • ou: un cours, plusieurs genres, pour les apprenants variés?
  • quelles procédures existent pour aider à la décision?
Les conclusions

  • il y a beaucoup de recherche sur comment enseigner efficacement en ligne; nous savons comment
  • Ainsi nous devrions suivre les meilleures pratiques – mais aussi innover
  • il faut récompenser l’innovation en enseignement
  • it faut donner la formation systematique à tous professeurs
  • C’est un moment stimulant pour être professeur – ou apprenant
Enfin, à toutes les institutions visitées, les spectateurs s’accordent que:
  • on n’enseigne pas bien les étudiants à se préparer pour le 21e siècle
  • nous ne mettons pas à profit le potentiel de la technologie dans l’enseignement
  • on ne forme pas suffisamment les professeurs dans l’utilisation de la technologie dans l’enseignement

Néanmoins, il y a l’évidence croissant que la révolution commence à se passer: vive la révolution!


Designing online learning for the 21st century

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Quebec students demonstrating against higher tuition fees

This being the time of year when many Canadian post-secondary institutions offer faculty development opportunities, I have been busy the last two or three weeks giving lectures at the Université de Sherbrooke and Université Laval in Québec, and also at Vancouver Community College. Although the presentations have varied a little depending on the context, the main theme of my presentations has been fairly consistent.

A new paradigm for post-secondary teaching

I have been talking about how new web 2.0 technologies are beginning to change the dominant teaching model that has been around  in our post-secondary institutions for the last century and a half. The slides are available as pdf files, in both English and French. Because of the size of the files (31 MB), you will need to access them by Dropbox. Please send me an e-mail and I will give you access.

I provide below a short summary of the main points. The slides provide many examples drawn mainly from post-secondary institutions in British Columbia and Ontario.

Drivers of change

I suggest that there are several forces driving change:

  • a move to a system of mass higher education, that results in greater diversity of the student body, larger classes, and less funding per student
  • consequently higher fees which in turn drive students to part-time work and hence a need for more flexibility in access (this ‘driver’ was particularly pertinent in Québec, where massive student demonstrations and strikes against proposed increases in tuition were occurring while I was speaking)
  • the development of a knowledge-based society with a strong demand for what might be called 21st century skills
  • rapid technological development and adoption outside the academy.

Despite these changes though our campus-based teaching has changed very little, mainly adding new technologies such as lecture capture to the traditional model of teaching, thus increasing costs: we’ve added GPS and stereo sound to a horse and cart, but it’s still a horse and cart. Meanwhile, distance education has rapidly advanced, and is grabbing an increasing share of the post-secondary market.

The challenge then is for campus-based teaching. What is the best way to use the campus experience when students can learn mainly online? How can we make the best of both worlds as a teacher?

21st century skills

Although I don’t like the term, it is a handy way of describing the kind of skills that need to be embedded within a discipline area, if learners are to function effectively in 21st century society. I argue that these are not generic skills but skills that need to be directly adapted and integrated within a particular knowledge domain. For instance, problem solving in medicine is different from problem-solving in business. Skills require opportunities for practice and development. The core 21st century skill is knowledge management, the ability to find, evaluate, analyse and apply information, although almost as important is independent learning. These are skills that can be taught, or perhaps more accurately, facilitated.

A small design team contracted by Volkswagen

Changing technology

I described the following changes in technologies:

  • LMSs are changing, moving from a ‘course in a box’ to a loose collection of tools from which an instructor chooses (see: Why learning management systems are not going away)
  • examples of the use of the following:
    • WordPress, blogs, wikis and e-portfolios for learner-generated content;
    • video and audio to help learners move between the concrete and abstract and back again;
    • open educational resources, which challenge our conception of curriculum and ownership of content; and
    • virtual worlds.

Features of web 2.0

  • learner authoring and control
  • collaboration and sharing
  • collective intelligence
  • low cost, adaptable software
  • rich media
  • portability and mobility

Educational implications

  • learners have powerful tools
  • personalization and individualization of learning
  • open access, content, services
  • development of knowledge management skills
  • a power shift from instructors to learners

A new paradigm for learning: from e-learning 1.0 to 2.0

Stephen Downes’ articulation of e-learning 2.0:

  • learning managed by the learner
  • peer-to-peer collaboration
  • access to open content
  • learning demonstrated by online multimedia assignments (e.g. e-portfolios)
  • development of 21st century skills

© Tony Bates, 2012

Role of instructor

Three possible roles (at least):

  • none (Downes; Siemens): students are autonomous/self-directed
  • guide on the side
  • in control

What kind of course? How to decide

Four deciding factors:

  • teaching philosophy
  • students you want to reach
  • nature of subject matter
  • resources available

© Tony Bates, 2012

‘Advanced’ online course design

  • knowledge management
  • open content within a learning design
  • student-generated multimedia content
  • assessment by e-portfolios

Who decides what kind of course?

  • instructor; program team; senior management?
  • decisions at program level; a progression from dependent to independent to inter-dependent learning
  • could we design one course/program for all types of learners in various delivery modes?
  • what process/mechanisms does the institution have for making these decisions?


  • we know how to teach well online; follow best practice
  • however, we also need to innovate: incrementally and evaluate
  • innovation in teaching needs to be rewarded more
  • systematic training of both instructors and senior administrations is essential for success

Lastly, in all the institutions I went to the audience in general agreed that:

  • we are not teaching in ways that fully engage learners
  • instructors are not fully leveraging the potential of technology for teaching
  • instructors are not adequately trained or skilled in using technology for teaching.

There are clear signs though that the revolution is beginning to happen: vive la révolution!