Today, e-learning mainly takes the form of online courses. From the resources distributed by MIT's OpenCourseware project to the design of learning materials in Rice's Connexions project to the offerings found from colleges and universities everywhere, the course is the basic unit of organization.
As a consequence, the dominant learning technology employed today is a type of system that organizes and delivers online courses—the learning management system (LMS). This piece of software has become almost ubiquitous in the learning environment; companies such as WebCT, Blackboard, and Desire2Learn have installed products at thousands of universities and colleges and are used by tens of thousands of instructors and students. The learning management system takes learning content and organizes it in a standard way, as a course divided into modules and lessons, supported with quizzes, tests and discussions, and in many systems today, integrated into the college or university's student information system.
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As we approach the halfway mark of the new millennium's first decade, the nature of the Internet, and just as importantly, the people using the Internet, has begun to change. These changes are sweeping across entire industries as a whole and are not unique to education; indeed, in many ways education has lagged behind some of these trends and is just beginning to feel their wake.
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What happens when online learning ceases to be like a medium, and becomes more like a platform? What happens when online learning software ceases to be a type of content-consumption tool, where learning is "delivered," and becomes more like a content-authoring tool, where learning is created? The model of e-learning as being a type of content, produced by publishers, organized and structured into courses, and consumed by students, is turned on its head. Insofar as there is content, it is used rather than read— and is, in any case, more likely to be produced by students than courseware authors. And insofar as there is structure, it is more likely to resemble a language or a conversation rather than a book or a manual.
The e-learning application, therefore, begins to look very much like a blogging tool. It represents one node in a web of content, connected to other nodes and content creation services used by other students. It becomes, not an institutional or corporate application, but a personal learning center, where content is reused and remixed according to the student's own needs and interests. It becomes, indeed, not a single application, but a collection of interoperating applications—an environment rather than a system.
It also begins to look like a personal portfolio tool [18]. The idea here is that students will have their own personal place to create and showcase their own work. Some e-portfolio applications, such as ELGG, have already been created. IMS Global as put together an e-portfolio specification [19]. "The portfolio can provide an opportunity to demonstrate one's ability to collect, organize, interpret and reflect on documents and sources of information. It is also a tool for continuing professional development, encouraging individuals to take responsibility for and demonstrate the results of their own learning" [20].
This approach to learning means that learning content is created and distributed in a very different manner. Rather than being composed, organized and packaged, e-learning content is syndicated, much like a blog post or podcast. It is aggregated by students, using their own personal RSS reader or some similar application. From there, it is remixed and repurposed with the student's own individual application in mind, the finished product being fed forward to become fodder for some other student's reading and use.