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07 December 2016

E-learning 2.0 for Higher Education: A Forward Perspective

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E-learning generically refers to deploying ICTs (Information & Communication Technologies), and related services, in education; irrespective of grade and learning model. It has emerged from a set of now legacy technologies that evolved around the use of PCs and electronic media to assist the learning process. CBT and WBT (CD/Web Based Training), satellite-based distance learning, and online educational content provisioning are example approaches to applying technology in education and training.

E-learning 2.0

Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), occasionally named e-learning 2.0, is an approach whereby learning takes place through synchronous and/or asynchronous interaction over the Internet (or an intranet), relying on Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 capabilities. CSCL exceeds legacy e-learning in content technology, flexibility, and extent of use. One may argue that the term “pedagogy” should only be associated with CSCL when the target audience is elementary enrollment. Pedagogy focuses on teaching and instruction methodology, while CSCL is a facilitated, peer-oriented, model of making best use of technology to generate insight and support comprehension and reasoning at depth. It is most beneficial for advanced cognitive learning that is expected to offer high professional value and/or to generate new knowledge.

Web 2 has enabled multi-media messaging, screen sharing, wikis and blogs/forums, and basic shared content development and storage. Web 3 (aka Semantic Web) further employs mature semantic markup technology that’s capable of ontology-driven knowledge representation and logical inference, combined with user-transparent collaborative services provisioning (i.e. servers working and communicating in the background to present elaborate options and fulfill/execute selected ones). Semantic markup is well beyond the layout oriented HTML and family. As it emerges to maturity, it will take learning and research to unprecedented realms of accessing and processing knowledge online. Semantic Web technology will also ease up and expedite comprehensive student performance assessment based on a fuller spectrum of intellectual qualities.

Image: Onshape

CSCL emphasizes structured material preparation, project multi-media participation, and cross-institutional collaboration. Technology merits are more than state-of-the-art terminal devices: tablet and notebook PCs and interactive whiteboards. They further include high provider servers’ capacity and mobile access bandwidth (4G/5G and broadband DSL); and an advanced Learning Content Management System (LCMS).

Although the term is still emerging, a LCMS supersedes a LMS. The later mainly manages content delivery and administers the educational process (e.g. students credit tracking, grading, etc.). On another hand, a LCMS comprises several knowledge-oriented, standards-based, communicating software environments that integrate structured rich multi-media content management functions. A LCMS endorses information typing and marking to enable content re-use, taxonomy and metadata to enable effective navigation and findability and navigation, conditional omni-channel publishing to enable device and user centric content rendering, and collaborative authoring with proper reference and citation management. These components are shared by various entities as illustrated in below figure; in a virtualized, multi-role, access-privilege managed, geographically-independent setting.

Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is the collection of standards and specifications that govern the development of web-based educational content. It defines content packaging formats and messaging protocols between smart client terminals and the hosted LCMS, as well as among the host processes. SCORM is a specification of the US DoD Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative.

SCORM 2004 introduced the advanced concept of sequencing: a set of ordered rule-based paths that presents navigational controls and validity options to learners as they experience the flow of content objects. The learner may be even allowed to experiment with multiple paths based on self-defined rules. This is a critical feature in addition to basic ones such as keeping bookmarks, accepting feedback notes, and interacting with the performance assessment process.

Multi-media content is of special interest as we speak of higher education, including vocational training and academic research, in the sense of employing advanced software technology for comprehensive visualization and experimentation. Most such systems are expensive and may not be afforded by individuals and even some educational institutions. Hosted LCMS solutions by specialized service providers, possibly part of academic institutions; is key to enabling economic, properly dimensioned, access to latest science and engineering theories, systems, and educational merits.

Deployment of the following software enablers may be key to advancing higher education through CSCL:

  • Simulation is a model-based representation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. It is most typically used to study the simulated system’s dynamic behavior and optimize its performance as a function of correlated state variables.
  • Emulation is the act of precisely replicating the function of a system, using computer software or hardware. It is most typically used to test and validate the emulated system’s functions.
  • Animation is the process of presenting motion and change by means of rapid display of a sequence of images. It may as well be based on real recorded videos, edited to offer insight as a learning value.
  • Virtual reality (VR) is the technology of generating realistic multi-media sensations that replicate a real environment (or create an imaginary setting), and enable the user to interact with this artificial space and any objects associated with it using specialized audio-visual and control devices.
  • Augmented reality (AR) is a live view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. The generalized concept is called mediated reality (MR), where a view of reality is modified, augmented, or diminished.

While one notes a clear advantage of deploying the above multi-media objects towards natural and applied scientific disciplines; CSCL would as well be a great enabler of higher education of humanities, as well as other “hybrid” disciplines. The argument for higher academic education stems from user maturity that would enable maximum tapping of top notch content presentation, as well as timely dissemination of new findings.

Example disciplines include:

  • Engineering design: various CAD tools, collaboration on complex design projects in all engineering branches—electric, electronic, mechanical, construction & civil, architecture, urban planning, etc.
  • Engineering analysis: mathematical and simulation models for visually comprehending the performance of electric and other materials, semiconductors, communication channels and networks, capital market algorithmic trading, etc.
  • Natural and medical sciences: interactive visual emulations of an ever-extensible array of physical, chemical, and biological processes, including anatomy, genealogy, bioinformatics, quantum mechanics, etc.
  • Anthropology and historical geography: archeological re-construction, animated maps and timelines, multi-dimensional statistical ethnography, and various dynamic info graphs, etc.
  • Linguistics and foreign language acquisition: audio-visual methods, interactive grammatical benchmarks, vocal dictionaries and etymologies, etc.

The list could go on almost endlessly enumerating and detailing applications, so much as computing and networking technologies continue to offer advanced features that boost applying cognitivist learning.

It is indeed most sensible to think of evolving CSCL and LMS/LCMS cloud hosts and providers, operating in a network that intelligently connects all human and institutional elements of the higher education and research process in an economically feasible manner. The outcome would be a flexible and effective learning environment, potentially changing the way higher education and vocational training are provided and the pace research is progressed and new knowledge is generated in coherent synergy. One could look to the way advanced networked information systems have transformed the concepts of doing business as a proof of the fact that topping up the fore mentioned semantic layer and knowledge related web services would likewise transform education and academic research; much beyond managing pedagogy.

Khaled A.B. Aly, Ph.D.

Technical Author & Research Analyst


  • Daniel Surry, Robert Gray Jr., and James Stefurak, “Technology Integration in Higher Education,” IGI Global, Dec. 2010
  • Jean-Eric Pelet, “E-Learning 2.0 Technologies and Web Applications in Higher Education,” IGI Global, Dec. 2013
  • Nova Spivack, “Web 3.0: The Third-Generation Web is Coming,” a special report of lifeboat foundation
  • Pat Petri et Al., “Pedagogy – a holistic, personal approach to work with children and young people, across services,” Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009
  • David E. Stone and Guangzhi Zheng, “Learning Management Systems in a Changing Environment,” in “Handbook of Research on Education and Technology in a Changing Society,” Ch. 56, IGI Global, Jan. 2014
  • Núria Ferran Ferrer, Julià Minguillón Alfonso (Editors), “Content Management for E-Learning,” Springer, 2010
  • The Ultimate List of Cloud-Based Learning Management Systems
  • Jussi Kantola and Waldemar Karwowski, “Knowledge Service Engineering Handbook,” CRC Press, 2012

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