Towards a Networked Learning Environment

This is a keynote by Matthew Pittinsky from Blackboard. The first thing he has noted is that with all these computers, we are either emailing about it, or blogging it – which isn’t necessarily a nice thought for the speaker!


Matthew is challenging us not to use the conference to simply confirm our pre-dispostitions, but rather question our beliefs. He is starting with 4 propositions:

E-learning can be radically traditional
Matthew suggests that the idea of e-learning turning HE market on it’s head, and reducing the number of players in the market was always a red herring. A University is not designed to ‘deliver teaching’, but it is a community, bringing together research, teaching, people etc. So, e-learning should be about bringing these people together in an electronic equivalent to a university – not just faculty to student, but other students (without faculty intervention), teaching assistants, libraries, speakers etc., and then to expand across institutions and organisations – a global learning environment.

Essentially the suggestion seems to be that we are looking at breaking down the limitations of time and place to expand the ‘University’ (as a group of people) to a much wider range of people.

E-learning has boundless potential
Matthew is describing 3 challenges (Access, Quality and Efficiency) and 3 technologies (Network, Multimedia, Database) – he sees

Virtual Learning Environments are the least interesting part of e-learning
This is really interesting comment, from the Chairman of Blackboard! I think this is something we really need to get to grips with. What is it that we are trying to do – why have we focussed on VLEs for our e-leaerning. Perhaps what we are going to see is more individual, and diverse, applications and learning objects – e.g. Merlot

Matthew is suggesting that we need to grow an ecosystem around our e-learning systems, by open standards and architectures (as well as open source).

We are moving into eLearning 2.0
This is using ‘2.0’ in the same context as Web 2.0 (and Library 2.0). Essentially we are talking about interactivity – the users are integrated into the service absolutely. This is done by stuff like blogging, with comments, Online discussions, wikis etc.

So – what is the different between e-learning 1.0 to e-learning 2.0?

E-learning 1.0 was about platform adoption, courses, education segments (GCSEs, A levels, degrees)
E-Learning 2.0 is about extending the platform, social networks, lifelong learning

Matthew is now talking about ‘Blackboard Beyond Initiative’. This, he says, is not about Blackboard – it is something run by the universities, although supported by Bb. It is looking at about establishing 4 web services (initially):

1. Learning Objects Catalogue – make globally available catalogues
2. Social Networking – e.g. Facebook, Academici, Furl – but there is no large scale discipline based scholarly based social network – so ‘’ – a social networking environment that can plug into any learning environment
3. ePortfolios for life – a hosted service where you can keep your ePortfolio, but also establishing standards to allow you to carry your ePortfolio with you.
4. Benchmarking and Analysis – more sharing of data. A central service that allows any VLE to report (anonymously) on what is happening – so you can see best practice, and get a picture of a learning

And this is just the beginning. Matthew has mentioned the S word (Shibboleth) – but for e-learning, not more traditional ‘library’ type stuff, as well as a range of other things.

I have to say that out of the above, (2) seems to be the most immediately exciting and ‘doable’ – this could start tomorrow. But it isn’t us that need to be convinced, it’s the academics…

3 thoughts on “Towards a Networked Learning Environment

  1. I have to say the talk *did not* present a view of elearning 2.0. All it showed up was the deficiencies in current VLEs. So, Learning Object Repositories, ePortfolios, Collaborative Communication … let me think, hasn’t this been done for some time? JORUM anyone? PDPs? Email lists???
    So if Bb are really embracing open architectures why are they reinventing all of these systems? Why not just say we recognise that many of you have or will have repositories, we know you’ve all got to have PDPs in place by this summer, we know that many academics have well-established networks in place (some going back over 20 years) so we’re going to show how these can interface with our system; NOT we are going to build yet another part of the monolith and sell it back to you. Persuading academics to deposit their closely guarded ‘learning materials’ in a 3rd party commercial object repository may be nigh on impossible, and should we really be depositing the valued assets of UK HE in such a place?

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