Educators need better models for the use of Web 2.0 tools

Educators getting started with using wikis and blogs and other Web 2.0 software as tools for learning need to develop a structural understanding of the different potential forms of collaboration and interaction. But some of the models used as references for such educational use come from other contexts, and are unlikely to be sufficient as models for designing effective learning and teaching.

For example, an Open University blog refers to the ladder of participation, a model developed by Forrester Research. The participation ladder categorises consumers according to their level of active participation with online social networking tools.

I don’t find the ladder metaphor and the categorisation particularly helpful for educators, because:

  • The ladder metaphor suggests both a hierarchy of behaviours and progression up the ladder, whereas in a learning context such behaviours are complementary and equally important.
  • Categorising learners in the same way marketers categorise consumers is not productive: learners are not a market to reach and exploit but autonomous individuals who dynamically use a range of behaviours depending on the context

I’m not intending to suggest that the ladder is not a really valuable tool for marketers, or that education cannot learn from and apply models developed in a business context. Indeed, the ladder does provide a valuable insight into the diversity of learners in terms of the use of such tools.

But to help educators develop effective strategies for applying Web 2.0 tools, we need models which build on models such as the ladder and better reflect the educational context. In particular, we need models which:

  • Reflect the values and ethos of the education sector, with learners as autonomous individuals
  • Provide a means to analyse the dynamic and diverse nature of learning and teaching interactions

Until we develop such models, the application of Web 2.0 tools for learning is likely to be hit and miss.

Related posts:

The read-write matrix of web 2.0 tools for learning

Wikis in Moodle and the read-write matrix

7 thoughts on “Educators need better models for the use of Web 2.0 tools

  1. Tony Hirst

    So to play devils advocate, do you see populations of learners as something different to populations of MySpace or Facebook users, or web users in general?

    One thing the ladder describes is how engaged users/students are with particular technologies.

    My experience of students taking online courses with course forums is that the majority lurk, some respond to posts and very occasionally post a new thread, and a tiny minority actively post/create new threads.

    Which is similar to what the participation ladder says?

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that learners are people too, with a range of different motivations, different commitment levels to any particular course, different comfort zones wrt technology and so on.

    Where social tools are being used in an educational context, why should we expect different distributions of engagement cf. other uses of social tools, IF we aren’t assessing the tool use? (Of course, we’d hope to skew the distribution towards the ‘more engaged’ end of the ladder.)

    If we think social tools are a Good Thing, we surely want to be promoting them in terms of their utility, not because failure to post 2 blog posts or 5 social bookmarks over the next ten days means you’ll lose 5 marks on the mid-term assessment?

  2. Paul Left Post author

    Tony, thanks for your comments! Yes, I agree that populations of learners are likely to resemble the population of MySpace users, say. But from a learning design perspective I need to plan goal-directed activities which are appropriate for the curriculum as well as for the learners.

    For example, in courses I teach I need to engage 100% of participants in being critics (not 19%) but I don’t need to engage any of them in being joiners (rather than 19%). To achieve the former will require effective facilitation as well as learning design. The ladder doesn’t really help me with either – although it does help predict how participants might engage if left to their own devices.

    As well as creating such learning activities, I believe we often will want to assess participants’ engagement with Web 2.0 tools – probably not by allocating a few extra marks but by using the engagement as part of a portfolio of evidence of (say) critical thinking. This would help ensure the authenticity and relevance of the assessment process and the ‘valuing’ of the learning processes.

    I’m enjoying this debate – thanks again!

  3. Tony Hirst

    “As well as creating such learning activities, I believe we often will want to assess participants’ engagement with Web 2.0 tools – probably not by allocating a few extra marks but by using the engagement as part of a portfolio of evidence of (say) critical thinking.”

    This issue is being discussed wrt social bookmarking activity over on at the moment… I’m sure Alan would value any comments you have?

  4. Tony Hirst

    “The ladder doesn’t really help me with either – although it does help predict how participants might engage if left to their own devices.”

    So I wonder whether there are any models out there that compare eg progression through “bloom states” with engagement via web2ls? e.g. Hmmm, maybe Grainne has done something on this? ( )

    Btw – seen this wrt wiki activity?

  5. Paul Left Post author

    Wow, some great links there – thank you, Tony!

    If the issue for educators implied by the ladder of participation is ‘how do we get all learners to participate actively?’ then I think my earlier post on making learning processes explicit has some bearing. Making explicit would definitely include sharing the cognitive level (Bloom’s) with learners.

  6. Ray Jimenez

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your comment on my post on “Groundswell Insights —“

    I also visited your site to see your posts. Interesting questions, you have.

    I wish I have model on how to help learners apply Web 2.0 in schools or in businesses.
    Sigh… I am beginning to think, I may be asking the wrong question and there is no model, but rather there exist abundance of ways to learn, which are impossible to capture into a model or models.

    I agree with you that outright comparison of the Charlene Li’s model for the educational system may not be sufficient or may be counter productive. Like you, I am trying to make sense and develop a model I test and use in my practice.

    So far, my experience and informal research tell me that the general behavior of people in businesses, but may be not in educational institutions like students or faculty, reflects “audience-actors-creators.” I wonder about your assumption that “learners are autonomous individuals.” It seems to me this is a definition of an ideal learner in the Web 2.0 context. I am curious as to your findings, how do students behave in Web 2.0 learning context? I suspect there is some form of ladder or a spectrum of behaviors. There is indeed a ladder to represent various learning behaviors of students as well as business people. I am still on my quest.

    Incidentally, I prefer to use spectrum rather ladder. Ladder suggests we need to move people or that there is a hierarchy of moving from one end to another. Perhaps, we do behave in a spectrum, swinging from one behavior to another depending on the context and the purpose of our activities.

    I am beginning to feel overwhelmed about the quest for a model. I remember the concept of the “Long Tail” and how might this have significance. May be we are trying hard to find a model.

    May be there is no model but instead guide posts for multitudes of ways to apply Web 2.0 in learning.

    Please my two other related posts:
    Deepening Social Learning to Work Performance – Proposed Model

    e-Learning 2.0: Surveying Learner Participant TechnoProfile

  7. Paul Left Post author

    Ray, thanks for your post – lots of questions there to ponder! When I talked of autonomy, I didn’t mean that all students are fully autonomous learners, but that they are all autonomous individuals with the power to change and develop.

    I agree that the metaphor of a ladder is unappealing – the spectrum is much more inspiring!

    You ask ‘how do students behave in Web 2.0 learning context?’ Normally, I’d expect them all to be ‘creators’ (ie generate content) and hope they’d also be an audience and actor for each other. Why do I expect this? Because the courses I teach expect them to critically reflect on issues – if I allowed some to be ‘only’ in the audience role there’d be no evidence of critically reflecting.

    Thanks for the further links – I’ll enjoy some more reading on this topic!


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