Dalsgaard (2006). Social software: E-learning beyond learning management systems

Dalsgaard. C. (2006). Social software: E-learning beyond learning management systems. European Journal of Open, Distance, and E-Learning.


The article argues that it is necessary to move e-learning beyond learning management systems and engage students in an active use of the web as a resource for their self- governed, problem-based and collaborative activities. The purpose of the article is to discuss the potential of social software to move e-learning beyond learning management systems. An approach to use of social software in support of a social constructivist approach to e-learning is presented, and it is argued that learning management systems do not support a social constructivist approach which emphasizes self-governed learning activities of students. The article suggests a limitation of the use of learning management systems to cover only administrative issues. Further, it is argued that students’ self- governed learning processes are supported by providing students with personal tools and engaging them in different kinds of social networks.

…weblogs primarily support independent and individual presentation.

A weblog which is maintained by a single individual can function as that individual’s representation on the web. This representation can form the basis of socialization on the web. When a weblog is related to other weblogs, the weblogs become social, and communities or networks are formed. It is possible to subscribe to weblogs using RSS feeds.

Students’ self-governed and problem-solving activities are considered the focal point of a learning process. This conception of a learning process means that it is not possible to structure or pre-determine the students’ activities in a learning process – the activities must develop on the basis of the student’s own problem-solving. As a consequence, a learning environment needs, in the words of Land & Hannafin (1996), to be open-ended. An open- ended learning environment provides students with multiple possibilities for activities. A similar approach is outlined by Jonassen (1999) who presents a model for designing ‘constructivist learning environments’. Students’ activities in constructivist learning environments are initiated by a problem or project. Surrounding the student are different tools and resources which support the student’s problem-solving process.

LMS are to a large extent developed for the management and delivery of learning – and not for self-governed activities of students. Learning processes of the kind described in the social constructivist approach outlined in this article cannot be managed. What can be managed, however, is the administrative aspects of a course. Thus, a management system is limited to organizing administrative issues.

Personal tools are defined as tools owned and controlled by students. They are used by students for various kinds of construction and reflection; for instance, writing, presenting, drawing or programming. There are at least two kinds of personal tools:

  1. individual tools, and
  2. collaborative tools

Networks between people working collaboratively could be students working together in groups. Such networks are primarily supported by personal tools. They are networks of closely related participants, meaning that participants will not only have access to each other’s personal pages, but will share personal pages.

Seeing each other’s work, network and references can provide a basis for discussions between students and teachers. Such discussions are different from discussions in a discussion forum. The difference is that discussions based on weblogs arise from the individual entries of students. Further, a weblog is a personal page whereas a discussion forum is shared; writing individual entries on your personal weblog is different from participating in a discussion. Since students can subscribe to different weblogs, they can create their individual network, which means that their participation in discussions is not limited to specific discussion forums within an LMS. The potential of social software tools such as wikis, weblogs combined with RSS feeds and social bookmarking is to facilitate closer relationships and more frequent interaction between students and teachers. This is facilitated by their sharing of work and references and their engagement in discussions.

The learning processes do not take place within the management system, but develop through the self-governed work of students which is manifested in personal tools such as weblogs or wikis. Separate from the system, the student has different personal tools for construction, presentation, collaboration, etc. In relation to self-governed, problem-based and collaborative activities, the most important tools to the learning process are personal tools. They directly support the active process involved in working on problems and continuously constructing a solution. A personal tool is a manifestation of the work of students. In other words it can be seen as a manifestation of the learning process. This means that students’ participation in networks is motivated by the process directed at solving a problem. Networks are secondary to personal tools.

…students not only learn a specific topic, but they are equipped with tools to navigate and make active use of the web to solve future problems. After the end of a course or an education, the networks continue to exist. Continued participation in social networks and creation of new networks give people access to a vast number of people and other resources.

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