Seville (E), November 2008 - Web 2.0 technologies and approaches have a highly stimulating impact on education and training, providing the impetus for a re-appraisal of traditional roles and practices. Dr. Christine Redecker of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), one of seven scientific institutes of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Spain, described the way students and staff are using Web 2.0 to CHECK.point eLearning.
What is the status of Learning 2.0 in Europe?
Christine Redecker: Over the last few years, there has been an impressive take-up of what has become known as "web 2.0" or "social computing" applications, i.e. blogs, wikis (e.g. Wikipedia), podcasting, social networking (e.g. MySpace, Facebook), multimedia sharing (e.g. Flickr, YouTube), social tagging (e.g. Deli.cio.us), and social gaming (e.g. Second Life).
Younger people in particular have taken up social computing: 45% of teens aged 12-14 have online profiles; many -œolder- teens (aged 15-17, especially girls) frequently visit social networking sites and have profiles, while young adults (aged 18-29) are among the most active video viewers. Recent data indicates that other population groups, too, are becoming increasingly interested in social computing.
Education institutions are starting to embrace the potential of social computing, but Learning 2.0 has not yet become a common phenomenon. Rather, we are witnessing a vast variety of dispersed and isolated experiments in different educational contexts, with diverse learning objectives and results. On the whole, higher-education institutions are more advanced in the appropriation of web 2.0 applications for various services and learning needs, while projects in primary and secondary education tend to be small scale and incidental.
The benefits and opportunities of web 2.0 in higher education are widely discussed in the research literature and well documented, while there is little evidence on good practices for secondary and primary education. Research efforts have not yet effectively addressed issues of vocational training and lifelong learning.
In which ways are students and university staff using Web 2.0 to improve the quality and impact of education?
Christine Redecker: Our overview on current practice indicates at least four areas - which we've dubbed iLANDS - in which web 2.0 tools are employed to innovate educational processes. First and most important, social computing tools are used in learning processes as didactic tools to directly support, facilitate, enhance, and improve learning methods and outcomes.
In this sense, social computing contributes to personalizing learning processes by promoting collaboration and knowledge exchange, which ultimately leads to an empowerment of the learner. Secondly, social computing can be embraced as a communication tool among students and between students and teachers, also supporting the exchange of knowledge and material, but mainly creating an environment of understanding and assistance. This, in turn, contributes to the establishment of social networks or communities between and among learners and teachers.
Furthermore, we've observed that there are many projects in Europe where social computing is used as a means of integrating learning into a wider community, reaching out virtually to meet people from other age-groups, backgrounds and cultures, linking to experts, researchers or practitioners in a certain field of study, and thus opening up alternative channels for gaining knowledge and enhancing skills.
Finally, social computing is being deployed by educational institutions as a tool to help them address their clients' needs better by making procedures more transparent and accessible to current and prospective students, faculty members, and parents. Thus, learning and achieving (LA), networking (N), embracing diversity (D), and opening up to society (S) are the main areas - or iLANDS - in which social computing contributes to innovation in education and training.
As far as learning itself is concerned, we observe that students are already using and combining various social computing tools, networking among each other and accessing external sources to support their learning strategies. Many of the projects conducted by university-level teachers indicate that the use of social computing in classes and courses offers students more flexibility in their learning strategies, helps them personalize their learning, and can thus improve their performance and achievement.
Social computing supports collaborative work, and this gives rise to new learning forms, increases motivation and participation, improves social and soft skills and helps students enhance their "learning-to-learn" skills. Furthermore, certain social computing tools support the development of new pedagogical and scientific methods in particular subjects, while others can be used to increase higher-order skills like reflection and meta-cognition.
Which European countries are promoting Learning 2.0 the most, and what are possible reasons for their actions?
Christine Redecker: The UK is very advanced in the use and promotion of ICT for education in general and social computing in particular. However, most European countries, including Finland and Iceland in the north, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Greece among the "older" EU lands, and Romania and Slovenia among the "newer" ones, are hosting some regional projects or national initiatives, which (also) promote Learning 2.0.
The EU is actively encouraging the use of ICT in schools, supporting a vast number of eTwinning projects in which schools in different countries collaborate and network using internet tools.
It is difficult to speculate on possible reasons for the differences in take-up, although the freedom allowed in the implementation of curricula seems to play a role. As social computing is a recent phenomenon, we are surprised by the number of projects that have already been conducted or are currently being launched in the educational sphere. Just like social computing itself, Learning 2.0 is emerging as a grass-roots, bottom-up movement that is slowly starting to spread and capture political awareness.
What kind of impact do you expect Learning 2.0 to have on education in the future?
Christine Redecker: It is too early to reach any conclusions about the future impact of Learning 2.0. Social computing has been fostering innovative and participative approaches in different social spheres, many of them unforeseen. It is expected that innovations in learning with the new approaches enabled by technologies will also develop and emerge continuously.
This is also important for addressing the challenges of the ageing society, the globalized economy, demographic trends, changing job patterns, and fast technological change - all of which emphasize the need for lifelong learning. Our research and the cases studied show that Learning 2.0 has the potential to develop skills for innovation and support inclusion to learning in new ways.
However, it is important to pay attention to the challenges and to foster the competencies of learners, teachers, and institutions to enable them to benefit from the new opportunities for lifelong learning provided by Learning 2.0.