Section summary: Web 2.0, Learning and Teaching


The so called ‘digital natives’ concept posited by Prensky in 2001 may well have been the catalyst to changes for some in rethinking learning and teaching in the digital era. While the ‘digital native’ idea has been well received by most, there appears, however, to be two schools of thought. There are some who agree with the term and assumptions underpinning the collective use of the term ‘digital natives’. And there are some who argue the validity of the term and question the underpinning assumptions and lack of rigorous research to approve it. There is no doubt that today’s generation is in touch with the latest tools and technology and the impact it has had on all our lives in some way or the other. However the digital divide still exists, the divide between ‘have and have not’, the divide between ‘know how’ and ‘know not’ and at a very basic but critical level the gap between ‘can afford’ and ‘cannot afford’.

From the history of some technologies developed that revolutionised our lives such as electricity, we can learn a few things:

  • In 1831 Michael Faraday built a small generator that produced electricity, but a generation passed before an industrial version was built, then another 25 years before all the necessary accoutrements for electrification came into place – power companies, neighbourhood wiring, appliances (like light bulbs) that required electricity, and so on. But when the infrastructure finally took hold, everything changed – homes, work places, transportation, entertainment ........ Worldwide, electricity became a transformative medium for social practices (J. S. Brown, 2006, p. 10).

The World Wide Web (WWW) has brought a similar if not a bigger change to our ‘social practices’. The world we live in today is drastically changed when compared to the eighteenth century. Today’s technology, the rate of diffusion (technology and its use) and infrastructure is vastly improved and developed. The lesson for us in the discussion above about electricity by John Seely Brown, is not the rate at which change occurs; while this is important, the critical factor is that the change is imminent. While the question whether the digital natives exists or not is beyond the scope of this study, it is the affordances of these enhanced social practices that the WWW brings and its implications on education that is most discussed and valued.

Table 2:9 - Pedagogical affordances of Web 2.0 tools in learner development

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Table 2:9 outlines the pedagogical practices in education, the learner and the role Web 2.0 tools play in the process. While the pedagogies are broadly categorized in three groups, (i) associative, (ii) cognitive and (iii) situated, the table outlines what the focus of these pedagogical practices are on learner development. It is apparent that as the pedagogies have developed over the years; the focus on the learner development has also changed. While the associative perspectives on teaching focused on enabling the learner to simply regurgitate facts, cognitive perspectives looked at enabling learners to build their own understanding and the situative perspective on learning views learning as a social practice. The changing view on learning and teaching also sees an increase in the awareness of where learning happens (context – physical and digital); a move away from behaviour modification to cognitive capability development to a holistic development of the learner. Holistic development being the development of the learner as a whole by enabling social interactions in formal and informal settings with a network of people, for example a community of practice (informal) or community of learners (formal) or a hybrid of both.

The affordance for Web 2.0 tools increases the degree of learner involvement in the learning process as we move from associative perspectives on learning to situative learning. The authenticity of where learning happens (context) also increases with this progression. While the context where learning happened before the Web 2.0 era was mainly determined by the teacher, Web 2.0 affordances now give the learner a choice in deciding what suits him/her best hence the degree of learner autonomy, responsibility and ownership also increases. A notable change in this progression is the role of the teacher in the process from being a ‘sage on stage’ to being a facilitator. This change is not to say the role and importance of the teacher in the process is demised, rather it is to underline the critical role the teacher plays in the overall development of the learner as a ‘learner’ and a ‘person’. Another notable change is the transition from teacher content to student-generated content and context hence learning as a result of constructing meaning and knowledge in a network of learners or a community thus learning the skills and literacies for becoming a lifelong learner. While the transition sees the power in learning shift from the teacher to the learners because of the degree of openness in the pedagogies in recognizing the importance of formal and informal interactions and context in learning, the actual implementation still lies with the teacher and his/her acceptance and recognition of its effectiveness and importance.

  • “..... technology is not being used innovatively in education. It is both a strength and a weakness that technology can sit quite comfortably within current approaches to education; it is a strength that we can stay with those educational practices we are most used to, but this is also its weakness.” (Reeves, 1997, p. 220).

Bloom et al. identified domains of learning emphasises the importance of the role education plays in learner development and it goes beyond the skills and knowledge model. While the cognitive domain of learning is widely recognized in education, very little importance is given to the other two domains, psychomotor and affective. The learning domains identified by Bloom et al. should not be looked at separately rather as a coherent combination of all three as highlighted by Fink (2003) in his taxonomy of significant learning.

The affordances of Web 2.0 tools provide a platform for delivery of a learner-centred learning experience. Web 2.0 tools provide connectedness between the learners and the learner and the world hence learning is no longer limited within the four walls of the classroom but is now possible anywhere, at any time and any place. The degree of connectedness enabled by Web 2.0 tools creates a participatory culture. Communication, collaboration, co-creation, networking and sharing all enables communities to be formed around any focus, for example common sports injuries or a community based on a model of a car. Within these communities many ideas are generated, knowledge is shared and problems are solved and new knowledge is created collaboratively. A person who participates within such online communities enabled by Web 2.0 tools cannot just be called a ‘user’. Bruns (2007) argues that a person’s role in the process of participation within a community is in fact greater than a normal ‘user’, they are simply not just content consumers but producers too and calls them produsers (producers and users) (p. 2). While learners in the pre-Web 2.0 era would have had difficulties finding support when needed – “Don’t know - won’t try” due to lack of option or opportunity, the learners in the Web 2.0 era have a far increased chance of finding help or information on the web or by joining a community – “Don’t know – link, lurk and try” (J. S. Brown, 2006, p. 13) or as Lave and Wenger (1991) called it ‘legitimate peripheral participation’. People who join a community can learn by lurking and observing others in the community, while the person finds a relationship between himself/herself and the practice of the community and gains confidence to become an active and participating member hence aiding the process of identity formation (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

Bruns (2007, p. 1) states:
  • “.....it is crucial also to recognise that educators and learners can no longer afford to ignore these participatory, user-led spaces: a software designer without the skills to participate in open source projects, a scholar without the capacity to contribute to a joint research management wiki, or a creative practitioner without the ability to engage in a collaborative creative online community are increasingly at risk of being left out of the core professional and intellectual networks in their discipline.”

The affordances of Web 2.0 tools and ubiquitousness enabled by developing technology is changing the educational landscape. According to McLoughlin and Lee (2008b), these changes are evident in the emergence of new concepts and practices that are causing differing views on the changing perimeters and priorities of pedagogy. For instance, androgogy – teaching methods and techniques focused on adults or heutagogy – where the learner is fully in-charge hence directs and determines his/her own learning and is the next stage to andragogy (Luckin, et al., 2007). Table 2:10 outlines new and emerging practices commonly in use with Web 2.0 tools.

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  • .....these emerging paradigms envisage a learning landscape that is underpinned by different principles, based not on the acquisition of isolated facts and knowledge, but on the development of multidisciplinary connections with global networks and participation in communities of practice, together with reformed teacher roles, and greater autonomy and agency for students. To achieve these outcomes, educational practitioners need to adopt pedagogies that move beyond instruction to creativity, innovation and generative thinking (McLoughlin & Lee, 2008b, p. 647).