A consistent pattern in our response to new technologies is we simultaneously overestimate the short-term impact and underestimate the long-term impact.

—Roy Amara of the Institute for the Future

There are some very interesting changes going on in the world of e-learning that seem to have crept up on practitioners. In a recent presentation of what is being referred to as E-Learning 2.0, I received perhaps the best comment from someone in the audience: "I’ve never heard of most of this before. This stuff is freaking me out."

The point of this article is not to dive into great detail about these trends, but rather to inform workplace learning professionals about the possibilities. And, it's likely that as you become more mindful of E-Learning 2.0 concepts and technologies, the experience will be similar to shopping for a particular car—you’ll suddenly notice it everywhere.

Base Trends

The changes in e-learning are being driven by two primary forces. The first force is a steady increase in the pace of business and information creation, which has led to a shift in work, especially knowledge work, and an evolution in information needs. In turn, this has led to the following expectations for corporate learning:

  • Fast transfer of knowledge is a must.
  • Learning should transpire in short burst within the context of the actual workflow.
  • Learning professionals need to develop learning experiences quickly—and at a lower cost to the organization.

If you consider your own environment, you can probably identify with several of those trends, as they’ve become almost universal in corporate learning environments.

The second driver affecting workplace learning is the advent of Web 2.0. The term Web 2.0 has many definitions, but it can be thought of as consisting of two primary aspects:

Read/write web. In its most basic form, Web 2.0 means that anyone should be able to easily create and contribute content on the Internet. This ranges from writing a blog, to providing video on YouTube, to putting pictures on Flickr, to contributing written content on wikis such as Wikipedia, as well as developing a social network on something like MySpace.

The key components to Web 2.0 are the ease of using the tools and the collaboration/social interaction that naturally results. One of the interesting results from Web 2.0 is something called collective intelligence. For example, consider how Amazon's user ratings and comments influence buyer behavior. If you expand this notion to other forms of content, the potential to leverage information from peers and experts is exponential. More important, value is amplified by the fact that an increasing number of people are actively connecting to each other using the web, enabling users to find and gather information from peers and experts. This has a significant implication for knowledge workers.

Technical improvements to the Internet. Web 2.0 also has meant a shift in the way applications are built. The web has become a ubiquitous computing platform that enables the delivery of software as a service. Over the coming years, it will be increasingly rare to buy software for installation on a local machine. Instead almost all software will be delivered as a service through the web, and these same applications will often provide components that can be used seamlessly in other applications. The best example of this is the many mash-ups of Google Maps, which allow users to view real estate listings, sales prospects, and other data points on a map.

Enter E-Learning 2.0

The term E-Learning 2.0 was coined by Stephen Downes, a Canadian researcher, and it derives from the overall e-learning trends stated above in combination with Web 2.0.

To begin to examine E-Learning 2.0, let’s consider an example:

A small team of five practitioners in a corporate learning department has adopted e-learning 2.0 tools as part of their daily work. They need to define their strategy around the use of "rapid e-learning" and present it to management as part of the annual budget process. Here are some of the ways the workgroup will take advantage of E-Learning 2.0 tools:

  • Search for useful webpages, then tag, add comments, and share them by using such social bookmarking tools as del.icio.us or Yahoo MyWeb. By using these tools, the team will keep a copy of each page; the page is full-text searchable; it can be accessed from any computer; and everyone on the team has access to the same links.
  • Create public blog posts (using a tool like Blogger) that will outline the team's current thinking about how rapid e-learning fits into its future strategic plans. The blog also will solicit feedback from everyone on the team, as well as the larger e-learning blog community.
  • Write or copy-and-paste notes into a wiki, which will become a shared resource that everyone on the team can edit.
  • Use an RSS reader (for example, Bloglines) to track updates to the wiki, social bookmarking tools, and the blog. This eliminates the need for email as the reader becomes the single place each team member visits to see what’s happened recently.

In this example, the team will use E-Learning 2.0 tools as a natural support for how workgroups currently go about collaborative learning, research, and work tasks. These tools simplify many of the tasks and increase their effectiveness. For example, without these tools, they might send information via email, which makes it more difficult to track and share information among the team. More important, though, is that these same tools also offer interesting personal learning opportunities. Writing in a public blog forces you to think through the issues you are facing. Putting this out to the larger community will often get input from peers, which will help refine your thinking. And this interaction will help you to form a network of individuals who can help you to learn and problem solve in the future. The reality is that the impact of E-Learning 2.0 tools on day-to-day work and personal learning is difficult to understand until they’ve been experience by an individual.

Beyond this kind of support for personal and group informal learning, E-Learning 2.0 is making an impact in formal learning settings, and they are particularly useful for collaborative formal learning. For example, wikis can be used as part of group projects; blogs can be used to submit written work and offer the opportunity for peers to provide feedback in a collaborative learning setting; and social bookmarking tools can be used as part of collaborative research. Again, the ease-of-use and collaborative nature of these tools make them a natural fit for learning.

Three Generations of E-Learning

Taking a slightly broader view, one of the interesting aspects of E-Learning 2.0 is that it appears to fit into a larger evolutionary picture of the overall trends in e-learning technology. At a very high level, this evolution is summarized in the table below:


E-Learning 1.0

E-Learning 1.3

E-Learning 2.0



  • Courseware
  • LMSs
  • Authoring tools
  • Reference hybrids
  • LCMSs
  • Rapid authoring tools
  • Wikis
  • Social networking and bookmarking tools
  • Blogs
  • Add-ins
  • Mash-ups



Top-down, collaborative

peer learning

Development Time




Content Size

60 minutes

15 minutes

1 minute

Access Time

Prior to work

In between work

During work

Virtual Meetings


Intro, Office hours

Peers, Experts


At one time

In many pieces

When you need it

Content Access


Email, Intranet

Search, RSS feed





Content creator




E-Learning 1.0 was the first generation of learning (really training) delivered through the web. It can be characterized by 60+ minute online course experiences. Most often these were either synchronous courses delivered using virtual classroom software or asynchronous courses (courseware) built using an authoring tool, and course content design followed a traditional training model that was development by an instructional designer. Finally, courses were typically managed through an LMS.

E-Learning 1.3 is a label used to represent the generation of e-learning that has emerged in recent years, in which learning is developed more quickly and delivered in smaller chunks. Learning is made available within the context of work and, thus, needs to be in a form that is easily retrieved. For that reason, learning is not always accessed via the LMS, but pushed to the learner through email or accessed via links on an organization's intranet. E-Learning 1.3 content is created typically by subject matter experts using templates developed with rapid e-learning tools or learning content management systems (LCMSs). In addition, virtual meetings might be dispersed occasionally as part of the over all learning experience.

As the number suggest, E-Learning 2.0 is greater leap in learning than the move from E-Learning 1.0 to E-Learning 1.3. E-Learning 2.0 is based on tools that combine ease of content creation, web delivery, and integrated collaboration. Creation of content can occur by anyone as part of thier day-to-day work. In essence, the expectation of E-Learning 2.0 is that sharing and learning becomes an organic action that is directed and driven by the worker. Learning is a combination of access to content, which often derives from the work of peers or SMEs, as well as access to peers through social computing models. In fact, many people cite the social or network effect as having the greatest opportunity for impact on learning.

It is important to note that E-Learning 1.0, E-Learning 1.3, and E-Learning 2.0 represent an evolution of approaches that use the web to support learning and improve human performance. However, in the same way that AM/FM radio, CD, and iPod adapters exist simultaneously, so will E-Learning 1.0, E-Learning 1.3, and E-Learning 2.0. In other words, while the columns in the table appear to be distinct, learning solutions that practitioners create in the future will likely contain and combine aspects of each generation.

With that understood, let’s review when you might use each kind of approach. E-Learning 1.0 solutions are going to continue to be used for content in which there is a relatively large audience with common, identifiable needs who have relatively the same level of knowledge around the subject matter. E-Learning 1.0 also will be used when there are compliance issues and high cost-of-errors or when significant up-front training makes sense. E-Learning 1.3 will be used for quick-hit learning opportunities or basic information transfer around new products, procedures, systems, and so forth. E-Learning 2.0 makes sense when there are widely different learning needs. E-Learning 2.0 also is a solid option when content cannot be cost effectively identified up-front because there is too much information or specific learning needs are unknown and will be generated as part of work. Considering these descriptions, it should be clear that for most workplace learning professionals, the vast majority of their personal learning needs fall into the realm of what E-Learning 2.0 aims to address. It should also be clear that most employees today are in the same situation.

Taking Action

E-Learning 2.0 is relatively new and it requires more time for it to begin to take shape in most organizations. At the same time, there are some important questions that we need to consider as a community of practitioners focused on the use of technology in learning.

  • What is the role of instructional designers in an E-Learning 2.0 world?
  • Do instructional designers become aggregators?
  • Will courseware development follow a similar trend as instructor-led training?
  • Will learning development departments become less important as control shifts to the worker/learner in e-learning 2.0?

Several of these questions have some fairly scary implications, but let’s consider a very broad perspective:

"Being adaptable in a flat world, knowing how to ‘learn how to learn,’ will be one of the most important assets any worker can have, because job churn will come faster, because innovation will happen faster.

Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat

According to Friedman, learning how to learn is really the key. E-Learning 2.0 opens new doors to learning. As a community, it's important for us to be at the forefront of this trend. We must become proficient in these tools and make sure we understand how they can be used as part of formal and informal learning. We need to lead the charge in helping everyone "learn how to learn." We need to learn these new work and learning skills ourselves and then be in position to help others.

Additional Resources

E-Learning 2.0 definition on WikiPedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELearning_2.0

"E-learning 2.0," By Stephen Downes, National Research Council of Canada, eLearn Magazine, October 2005, http://elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=articles&article=29-1

Posts from e-learningTech.BlogSpot.com that relate to this article:

Tools Mentioned


All of the following definitions came from and the links point to their definitions on Wikipedia.

  • Blog A website in which entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order.
  • E-Learning 2.0 E-Learning 2.0 refers to a second phase of e-learning based on Web 2.0 and emerging trends in e-learning technologies.
  • Social Bookmarking A web based service, where shared lists of user-created Internet bookmarks are displayed.
  • Web 2.0 Web 2.0 refers to a second-generation of Internet-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—that let people collaborate and share information online in previously unavailable ways.
  • Wiki Wiki is a type of website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove and otherwise edit and change some available content.