© Jims Marketing Blog, 2011

Maxim Jean-Louis, as special advisor to the Minister on the Ontario Online Institute, has being doing a lot of homework recently.

He asked 20 world experts on online learning and distance education for their responses to five key questions about online learning. Here is his summary of the responses to each question of the 13 who replied by the deadline:

Question 1: What is the biggest challenge facing online and distance learning in general today?

Maxim summarized the responses to this question as follows:

Theme 1: Quality design

‘the mindful design of learning experienced by engaged learners which fully leverages the available technology.’ Other iterations around this theme was to focus on the pedagogy, not on the latest developments in technology, and on the need for a team approach to design involving subject experts, educational technologists and web designers.

Theme 2: Access to learning

the provision of access to learning opportunities to those who would not otherwise be able to obtain them.

Question 2: What is the biggest opportunity that online and distance learning in general has today?

Theme 1: Personalizing Learning

Theme 2: Making Quality Learning Widely Available

Theme 3: Growing a Global Market

Question 3:….what is the one overriding step that Ontario ought to take as it attempts to take its online learning system to the next level?

One pointed out that, of the five questions, “this is by far the most difficult one to answer”. In part because it requires a knowledge and understanding of the current state of the online learning developments in Ontario, but also, in part, because the respondents were asked to “land” on one suggestion.

The major theme was a call for evidence-based decision making.

Others suggested that there should be a strategic vision that is bold, compelling and challenging.

Others were less bold, focusing more on the need for decision making to be collaborative.

And there were several comments about the need for adequate resourcing.

Question 4: Conversely, what is the one thing Ontario should avoid?

The key message here is very direct: “avoid focusing too much on the technology instead of focusing on the pedagogy and continuum of approaches to teaching and learning”.

Question 5: What current or emerging technology has the potential of radically transforming online and distance learning?

Theme 1: Don’t be preoccupied with the technology

Theme 2: If you want to lead, focus on mobile learning (the most dominant response to this question)

What this group of experts did not say

Maxim’s analysis of this is very interesting. He noted that the following three things were NOT said:

  • they did not say that Ontario needs to abandon anything….Building on strengths is at the heart of the challenge they identify.
  • they did not focus on technology in a way that many writers and authorities do.
  • no one suggested that we need a new institution or a new form of institution.


First, I should say that I was one of the 13 who replied, so my comments are included in these responses. I would certainly not argue with some of the conclusions.

However, I was somewhat surprised all the same with a number of things:

1. I was surprised that there was a fair degree of consensus on some of the questions. I would have thought there might be more differentiation among experts.

2. Although I agree strongly with the importance of design, I’m not sure I agree with playing down the importance of technology. In my view, the technology, and especially web 2.0 technologies, are potential game changers. What makes the difference is the shift in power: web 2.0 technologies give learners as equal if not better access to learning technologies as instructors, and thus more control over their learning. True, if instructors don’t take advantage of this, things may not appear to be changing, but in the end, if instructors and institutions do not adapt and respond appropriately to this technology shift, they will lose control.

Coming next to a screen near you

Maxim also sent out a different set of questions to private sector providers of platforms, services and infrastructure for online learning in Ontario. I will also provide a summary of their responses, and compare and comment on their responses.within the next day or two.

Go to the source

This is a summary of a summary. The full document can be downloaded from here: Advice From 13 Canadian World Experts.

Questions for you

Are you surprised by these responses, or are they in line with what you would have suggested?

Do you have other responses to these questions?

Would they apply to your jurisdiction of post-secondary education system? If not, what would be the differences?


  1. I fully agree that institutions need to incorporate the things that are right about informal learning (made available by new technologies) or they will become less and less relevant to the overall learning picture. And the education system also needs to ensure that kids leave the system with good strategies for finding information, evaluating it, thinking critically etc.

  2. To pick up on your point about the importance of the technology, Tony, I would agree. Actually, DESIGN should encompass pedagogy and technology. The technology needs to be designed to better support and advance the pedagogy and learning model. I think that we both agree on that.

    One quibble. Why the emphasis on Web 2.0? Even the authors of that term note that this term was a marketing ploy to revive interest in the web after the dot com bomb of the late 1990s.

    And it really is a myth. After all, all of the most fundamental and profound software for user-generated content was developed before 2003. Email: 1971; computer conferencing/forums: 1972; blogs: 199x (I don’t have the exact date right now). But these are the discussion environments that we most and best use for education.

    What are popularly encompassed as “web 2.0 tools”,( i.e., social networks, wikis, twitter, etc) are not the Game Changers in education.

    So, all I’m saying is that the Net and the Web changed our world, but web 2.0 is just fireworks. Not that we don’t need fireworks, but let’s not misrepresent them as illuminating or transforming education.

    • Thanks for your comment, Linda, but I think we do have a disagreement over web 2.0. Yes, there were tools before web 2.0 that allowed input from learners, but they were usually embedded in a model where the instructor was very much in control of the learning context. Also these tools were primarily text-based.

      The combination of rich media, easy use, low cost to develop, the vastly greater range of content now available over the Internet, and the extensive use of these tools outside of education really empower learners to find, create, adapt, demonstrate and above all manage their learning that didn’t really exist before. These are potential game changers.

      Now are they being used in this way? Not much, and it is not either learner or teacher control, but these tools do offer opportunities for new designs that are not dependent on a learning management system, for instance, and which do provide opportunities for more individualized or personalized learning, negotiated with the learner. So I do think they are more significant than you imply.

      What do other readers think about this? Is web 2.0 just fireworks, or are they a game changer?

      • “In September 2005, Tim O’Reilly looked back at the bursting Web 1.0 bubble, and defined what was thereafter known as Web 2.0 – every single e-marketing pitch riding that wave now. Make sure to have read the initial article once.”

        Tony: we educators do love Web 2.0, but none of us really understand the term. The same is true of most CEOs or even IT gurus. And respectfully, it is not as you describe it. What you describe is really more web 1.0.

        The term Web 2.0 was coined by Tim O’Reilly to revive interest in the web; it was the name of a conference that he held to market the web. In fact, as some critics note, O’Reilly’s own web site doesn’t even use the features that supposedly are the hallmarks of web 2.0.


      • Below is a brief summation from Tim O’Reilly on what is web 2.0, followed by a few reader comments. Its not intended to be negative, but simply to clarify what web 2.0 means.

        “Core Competencies of Web 2.0 Companies
        In exploring the seven principles above, we’ve highlighted some of the principal features of Web 2.0. Each of the examples we’ve explored demonstrates one or more of those key principles, but may miss others. Let’s close, therefore, by summarizing what we believe to be the core competencies of Web 2.0 companies:
        • Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
        • Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them
        • Trusting users as co-developers
        • Harnessing collective intelligence
        • Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
        • Software above the level of a single device
        • Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models
        The next time a company claims that it’s “Web 2.0,” test their features against the list above. The more points they score, the more they are worthy of the name. Remember, though, that excellence in one area may be more telling than some small steps in all seven.

        Tim O’Reilly
        O’Reilly Media, Inc., tim@oreilly.com
        President and CEO”

        Selected reader comments:
        • Terrific
        So what’s wrong with this picture
        2009-02-13 23:53:21 Nahima [View]
        I’ve heard web 2.0 brandied about in our offices by our entreprise architecht for three months now – he can’t explainw hat it emans but he is firm in his belief we should be moving the organisation to Web 2.0 <– problem number one…people who espouse terms they don't understand or that are meaningless.

        Your article gives some good examples of Web 2.0 good practice – tagging for relevance, voting,democracy, make it free, make it easy…so where do I tag this article? other than some articles, what are you really giving away? this could just as easily be a marketing ploy to sell your books on web 2.0 – they certainly are not free…

        Where is democracy in the context of the O'Reilly website?

        Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of O'Reilly books – have been for the last 15 years – but I do feel web 2.0 is very much still a buzzword and people need to remain mindful of this…after all, as yous ay it was initially simply the name of your next conference…

        Nonetheless I am not completly ungrateful for a good read – thanks

        o So what's wrong with this picture
        2009-07-17 12:35:23 MBybee [View]
        I totally see your point, but I think more importantly the question is less "Why isn't O'reilly Web 2.0", and more "Is Web 2.0 over yet".

        Many of the examples cited in this article from 2005 are now just spam or corporate controlled BS.
        "Search Engine Optimization" – Spam
        "Napster" – Corporate controlled DRM
        "Blogging" – Supposedly over 90% of the blogs are abandoned, most of the rest are corporate sponsored now
        "Participation" – I'm not sure what this even means, but things like Lulu are just a slight retooling of a very old vanity publishing industry. There has been an increase in independent music publishing, at least.
        "Syndication" – I assume this is stuff like Twitter? Which has no user retention, as something like 90% of people use it for a month or less?

        My point is just that while I think that the AJAX/JS heavy web app styles and the Service Oriented stuff has certainly gained some traction, the user created content and democracy aspects are pretty much dead. This and Social Media seem to be winding down as movements, while some of the ideas behind them have moved on to bigger and better things.

        At what point will we declare the end of Web 2.0 and the beginning of Web 3.0?
        • query
        2008-09-12 02:42:27 query11 [View]
        what are the applications developed using Web 2.0?
        o query
        2009-02-13 23:46:10 anshi [View]
        i need a example of UI in web 2.0

        • Web 3.0
        2008-05-26 11:23:13 kameir [View]
        Can I claim to have coined the next standard as Web 3.0 characterized by completely tagged websites using Semantic Web standards, or am I too late?

        • Exploring Web2.0 in Manchester
        2008-03-18 13:12:09 tartle [View]
        This remix found at the Futuresonic conference/happening site: http://www.futuresonic.com/

        Web 2.0…
        I take part
        you take part
        he takes part
        we take part
        you all take part
        they profit.
        (Paris '68 slogan remixed)

        Worth looking at how we in North West UK are approaching a creative web2.0

  3. Design quality is limited by the limited number of experienced course designers. There is never an effort to cultivate on-line design specialists as a subset of the teaching profession. Innovation and quality are bound to be limiting when personnel are in short supply.


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