Ding ding! Web 2.0 versus the LMS: are we opening the cage or shrink wrapping knowledge?

This post has been created as part of an assignment for the Education and Digital cultures course from the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Digital Education. I’ve shared it in order to make it publicly accessible and allow discussion around the topic of web 2.0 and Learning Management systems as social learning tools.  I have chosen to publicly post this in direct opposition to another copy which is hosted on the university learning management system to show the differences afforded by the internet versus a closed system for learning. To make the comparison about openness and access rather than one being more visually stimulating than the other, both are simple, text based, digital, pieces.

I will monitor and join in with the discussion on this page until May 14th 2017 as part of this assignment representation.

Please feel free to post comments to join in the discussion although the discussion.



Ding ding! Web 2.0 versus the LMS: are we opening the cage or shrink wrapping knowledge?


  “Today’s students, are mobile, can commonly find access to learning resources on their own and place limited value on physical presence and face-to-face communication.” (Daniel et al., 2009, p. 34).

All photography is the author’s own Eli Appleby-Donald 2017

The internet is a valuable resource for learning today (Downes 2005, Brown and Adler 2008), heavily used by the current and coming student population who were raised in a world of accessible, digital technology but who are experiencing digital dissonance in educational institutions (Chattie and Jarke, 2007).

Studies suggest that some students have difficulty setting boundaries between formal or informal learning and that web 2.0 applications are a necessary part of the 21st-century student toolkit (Clark et al., 2009).

This digital essay will examine the affordances of web 2.0 as a tool to create social learning, by looking at its value as an open technology, the amount of control afforded to the creator of content and at the potential outcomes of using the tool. Then turn this focus onto the learning management system to ask if the homogeneity of education technology is helpful or hindering.

This will be carried out in two stages;

  • First, this essay will be presented using freely available web 2.0 technology to express the creativity, collaboration, and informality available before being published on the web to encourage conversation and discussion amongst the internet community.
  • Second, it will then be reproduced on the Blackboard Learn LMS as a representation of the more formal institutional delivery using common institution design settings seen in higher education and importantly in a closed classroom environment where there are social learning tools available, but they are contained within that class cohort.

The outcome of these two representations will allow the viewer to experience the information in both formats for a more rounded experience incorporating both the openness, personalisation, and potential for connection on the web and the restriction and closed classroom style of learning management systems in higher education.

 Openness of technologies

All photography is the author’s own Eli Appleby-Donald 2017

For the purpose of this essay, I define open or openness of technology as its ability to allow a student to work unhindered by choice of environment, an ability to share or exchange and lastly its cost to the user. I will not be assessing either web 2.0 or learning management platforms as open education resources which have a defined status set by the Open Education Movement which is not part of this analysis.

Why web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is defined broadly as the more communicative, personal and participatory form of the world-wide web, emphasising active participation, collaboration and connectivity to share knowledge and ideas and to actively contribute content. It is also sometimes referred to as the “Read-Write Web” (Price 2006; Richardson 2006) as it offers more than the read-only, passivity of the original web. Web 2.0 applications, have received growing interest from the educational sector over the last ten years (Alexander 2006) as they are seen to hold potential for addressing the needs of today’s millennial student population, enhancing the learning experiences through networking, collaboration and community (Bryant 2006).  This then reinforces constructivist pedagogies popular in teaching (Gillani 2000; Jonassen 1995; Jonassen & Land 2000; Relan & Gillani 1996).

Web 2.0 contains software or applications which support social learning through community and group interaction, although we could argue that the previous form of the web supported social interaction through email, chatrooms and discussion boards, the tools available through web 2.0 not only offer social interaction, feedback and networking, but are more flexible and collaborative allowing media to be shared, combined and built on to create new ideas, concepts, and mashups. Social networking applications like facebook and twitter now also offer users the possibility to interact in real time using webcams and microphones.  Web 2.0 is not radically different from the previous version of the web; rather it is the affordances offered by the applications available which have changed.

It is these affordances which offer the opportunity to use web 2.0 as an open tool for education. Blogs, wikis, social networking, and video sharing applications all have potential as a pedagogical tool to offer the opportunity to increase communication, interaction and co-creation, supporting learning which occurs in a social, collaborative form when students use these tools to create collective activity.

Being web based and created with communication in mind, there are little boundaries for the opportunity to communicate and share globally with other users.

Usage examples:

  • Connectivity and Social Networking: Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn support and collate networks and facilitate connections between them. Gee (2004) refers to this as affinity spaces, where students can acquire both social and communication skills as they are becoming engaged in participation through web 2.0.  Through these applications, there is an opportunity to engage in informal learning, creative and expressive behaviours and identity seeking while developing digital literacies.
  • Collaborative discovery and sharing: Blogs or social bookmarking tools like dig and del.icio.us allow students to create collections of information such as links to readings and ideas which can be organised and tagged before being shared.  Communities of learning can be formed as users with similar interests can share and actively contribute to the growth and evolution of “folksonomy” creating both content and knowledge on the web.
  • Content creation: Web 2.0 highlights content creation over content consumption allowing anyone to create, remix and share content for their own needs and those of others and groups. Open educational content, creative commons, and wikis support user generated content enabling teams and individuals to work together to create new knowledge.

 The LMS

These collaborative tools and their benefits are widely recognised within our higher education institutions, and the implementation of single point of access technology platforms incorporating these tools are now widespread and known as learning management systems. These systems are mostly propriety in nature created specifically for the purpose of managing learners, teaching materials and student work in an educational setting.

Accessibility to education, control of overheads and quality control are the three most commonly given reasons for the shift in delivery modes to that of technology-driven delivery (Daniel 2003). It’s ability to meet these needs means the adoption of “learning management systems (LMS)” has been swift (Oblinger and Kidwell, 2000), with ninety-five percent of UK universities now using them (Lonn and Teasley, 2009) with these platforms combine a range of course management and pedagogical tools to provide a method of designing, building and delivering teaching.

The greatest potential of the LMS to the university is that they are scalable systems able to support a class cohort of hundreds as easily as ten thereby offering the opportunity to enroll and teach a larger volume of students offering an economy of scale. They can also be used to provide administrative support to an entire university’s teaching programmes or to house the entire catalogue of teaching materials but are creating a battle over control of teaching and pedagogy (Chattie and Jarke 2007). The key to the use of these technologies by the University, however, is the enrollment of students. These systems are locked down only allowing access to the materials and tools within to those who are enrolled as users, meaning the university dictates the community within.

Web 2.0 technologies in general, are seen to reinforce constructivist pedagogies (Gillani 2000; Jonassen 1995; Relan & Gillani 1996). Theorists claim that the internet can improve learning by giving learners access to an infinite library of resources. Arguing that internet technologies can be used to make course contents more cognitively accessible ( Coates et al., 2005) to the individual by encouraging interaction with a richer, more diverse knowledge network.

Some LMS do offer tools for course administration and pedagogical functions including; synchronous and asynchronous communication like email, instant messaging, announcement pages, and discussion forums content development and delivery by hosting learning resources in repositories, offering links to resources and text-based information areas choice tests and group work and feedback tools, as well as course or student management from enrollment to managing student activities, But the network connections of these are restricted within the “safe” confines of the institution’s systems, reducing the potential for the creation of communities of learning or collaboration outwith that student’s class cohort. LMS, therefore, suggest a closed classroom approach to learning at a time when some scholars are calling for the increased use of open, community technologies to be brought into effective learning and teaching for the twenty-first century (Brown and Adler 2008).


All photography is the author’s own Eli Appleby-Donald 2017

LMS offer “universities a hitherto undreamt-of capacity to control and regulate teaching” (Coates et al., 2005, p.p. 25). The built in functionality within each system allows for easy customisation of the look and feel of the student experience, within limits, without the need for web development skills. Many institutions provide a ready to use standardised template or guides for such customisation to ensure quality control and to help reduce the administrative workload placed on staff. This allows course owners to make use of customised headers and graphics to identify their course from others but limits the ability to alter structure or tool performance, Essentially forcing conformity. LMS can also be seen to conform to a classroom metaphor, encouraging didactic teaching (Sheely, 2006) rather than creativity and by “locking down” the system elements, transfer the control of teaching material design from the academic and onto the institution itself reducing the influence of the academic over the teaching of her class.

In contrast to the restriction of community and locking of design, web 2.0 applications like blogs allow infinite customisation options to users through both editable “skins” and access to the underlying code for those who are more skilled. The content users generate on these can also then be shared publicly through the platform used to create the content or by sharing with other platforms and application.

The term itself, Learning Management System, “suggests disempowerment – an attempt to manage and control activities… by the University” (Sclater,2008, p. 2) rather than the freedom of informal and community learning offered by the web 2.0 pedagogy.


All photography is the author’s own Eli Appleby-Donald 2017

The hyperbole of technology being an educational remedy often stalls critical discussion of educational technology as a tool for teaching and learning (McLoughlin and Lee, 2008a). Therefore research tends to focus on implementation rather than pedagogy with regard to an LMS (Lonn and Teasley 2009) meaning more investigation is needed into pedagogy and learning to allow implementation decisions to focus on these rather than administrative wins.

“LMS are not pedagogically neutral technologies” (Coates et al., 2005, 27),  instead through their design, they can and do influence teaching. As the LMS and other learning technologies become part of everyday academic practices, they will invisibly influence and may even define teachers’ creativity, expectations, and behaviours. This may be particularly the case for newer academics with less experience (Frand 2000). The inclusion of LMS into universities makes it likely that new academics will gain a great deal of their experience in design and delivery of teaching through these systems (Coates et al., 2005). These are important considerations given the possibility that, increasingly, LMS will play the major role in how academics learn to teach.  Currently, there has been a lack, if any studies on the pedagogical effects of LMS and this must be corrected.

Although web 2.0 applications can offer increased community of learning opportunities and control over the student’s own work, it must be remembered that these too come with potential outcomes for the student and teaching. Access to a great library of content to use and share must be respected, and web 2.0 and its sharing abilities for learning and teaching should go hand in hand with teaching about responsibilities and rights regarding the work of others. Because the ability to share everything is available, means students must be taught about when it is and isn’t appropriate to shared.


All photography is the author’s own Eli Appleby-Donald 2017

Web 2.0 applications allow users choice and control as well as learning opportunities through rich, global, communities of knowledge rather than passive and solitary learning. However by restricting the ability of the student to access these tools or for the teacher to design to incorporate these tools, or by simple restricting the community students can access, we are offering no more than the didactic or cartesian classrooms of the industrial era. Learning management systems offer much in the way of cost reduction and quality assurance for institutions, but aside from being a single point of entry, offer little to improve student learning and shackle the creativity of the teacher.

Educational technology can only raise the levels of learning and teaching if we allow it to be fully part of the process of both rather than merely an administrative tool clothed as pedagogy.


Alexander, B., 2006. A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning? Educause Review, 42(2), pp.32–44. Available at: https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0621.pdf

Brown, J. S. & Adler, R. P. 2008. Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0. Educause Review, 43(1), pp.16–32. Available at: http://er.educause.edu/~/media/files/article-downloads/erm0811.pdf

Bryant, T. 2006. Social software in academia, Educause Quarterly, 29(2), 61-64.http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EQM0627.pdf

Chatti, M.A., Jarke, M. & Frosch-Wilke, D. 2007. The future of e-learning: a shift to knowledge networking and social software. International Journal of Knowledge and Learning, 3(4-5), pp.404–420. Available at: http://www.inderscienceonline.com/doi/abs/10.1504/IJKL.2007.016702

Clark, W. et al., 2009. Beyond Web 2.0: mapping the technology landscapes of young learners. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(1), pp.56–69. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2008.00305.x

Coates, H., James, R. & Baldwin, G., 2005. A critical examination of the effects of learning management systems on university teaching and learning. Tertiary Education and Management, 11(1), pp.19–36. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13583883.2005.9967137

Daniel, J., Kanwar, A. & Uvalić-Trumbić, S. 2009. Breaking Higher Education’s Iron Triangle: Access, Cost, and Quality. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 41(2), pp.30–35. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3200/CHNG.41.2.30-35

Downes, S. 2005. E-learning 2.0. eLearn Magazine, an ACM Publication. Available at: http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1104968

Frand, J.L. 2000. The Information Age Mindset:Changes in Students and Implications for Higher Education. Educause Review 35(5),14-24. Available at: https://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0051.pdf

Gillani, B.B. 2000. Using the Web to Create Student Centred Curriculum. In R.A.Cole(ed.), Issues in Web Based Pedagogy. London:Greenwood Press.

Jonassen,D.H.1995.Constructivism: Implications for Designs and Delivery of Instruction. New York:Scholastics.

Lonn, S. & Teasley, S.D. 2009, “Saving time or innovating practice: investigating perceptions and uses of learning management systems”, Computers and Education, Vol. 53 No. 3, pp. 686-94. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131509001006

McLoughlin, C. and Lee, M.J.W. 2008. The three P’s of pedagogy for the networked society: personalization,participation,and productivity, International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 10-27. Available at: http://www.isetl.org/ijtlhe/past2.cfm?v=20&i=1

Oblinger, D. & Kidwell, J. 2000.Distance Learning:Are we being Realistic? Educause Review 35(3), 30-39. Available at: https://er.educause.edu/~/media/files/articles/2000/5/erm0032.pdf?la=en

Price, K. 2006. Web 2.0 and education: What it means for us all. Paper presented at the 2006 Australian Computers in Education Conference, 2-4 October, Cairns, Australia.

Relan, A. & Gillani, B.B. 1996. Web Based Instruction and the Traditional Classroom:Similarities and Differences.In B.H.Khan(ed.),Web Based Instruction. Englewood Cliffs: Educational Technology Publications.

Richardson, W. 2006. Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other powerful tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks,CA: Sage.

Sheely, S. 2006. Persistent technologies: Why can’t we stop lecturing online? In L. Markauskaite, P.Goodyear & P. Reimann (Eds), Who’s learning? Whose technology? Proceedings of the 23rd ASCILITE Conference (pp. 769-774). Sydney, NSW: CoCo, University of Sydney.http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/sydney06/proceeding/pdf_papers/p167.pdf

Sclater, N. 2008. Web 2.0, Personal Learning Environments, and the Future of Learning Management Systems. Available at: https://library.educause.edu/resources/2008/6/web-20-personal-learning-environments-and-the-future-of-learning-management-systems


10 Replies to “Ding ding! Web 2.0 versus the LMS: are we opening the cage or shrink wrapping knowledge?”

  1. Thanks for sharing this – I found it a very interesting read. I really agree your points about LMS introducing conformity and control, and their use framing the way lecturers ‘see’ teaching and learning.

    Thinking about possible plus sides – I wonder if for some lecturers it helps them think at all about the digit possibilities for their teaching. I guess I’m talking about lecturer capability for incorporating digital tools, plus their motivation to incorporate them, plus putting pressure on a lecturers time to maintain something new/different than that supported by the institute.

    For a lecturer with limited capability and interest in digital learning, is an LMS better than nothing?

    1. I think this is one of the big points about education at scale. There is a lot of administration involved in running a course, manageable for a small cohort but once you get to university undergraduate class sizes, without an LMS, the administration could be overwhelming and would certainly eat into teaching or prep time.

      How do we balance the obvious admin needs of running a university course with the needs of teaching (and the teaching staff) without it impacting negatively on the quality of teaching we’re offering? Plenty of teaching staff are keen to try out new digital tech or ideas, but as with anything new, there will be support issues, learning curves, teething troubles. But does this mean we should say no, insist on people using the supported and authorised system to make things easier, smoother, quicker?

      Would students be ok with things being less slick if they knew it was in the hope that future students have a better experience?


      is the LMS training wheels for the newly digital lecturer to try things out in a safe environment before taking the plunge?

      1. I like the idea of students being in on the decision – a community learning and experimenting together…
        Also liked the idea of taking a long (or at least longer) term view – LMS as a training ground for tomorrow’s digitally literate lecturer.

        In which case, if the LMS is partly about the capability development of the lecturer, I wonder if they’re well designed for that. Perhaps it would be easier to get lecturers going on something like facebook?

  2. Nice idea. Compare one closed system with another less closed system. I cant really see the point of the comparison. You’ll get more comments from the broader community. But so what?
    After PowerPoint, the LMS is the most commonly used technology on campus. No other education technology has penetrated the online portion of education so thoroughly. Ask anyone in higher education about their LMS (if they are American) or VLE ( if they are British) and you’ll find a range of different platforms including Blackboard, Canvas, BrightSpace, Moodle and Sakai, to name a few. Ask them to show you around and it’s likely that they’ll show various courses pages with lots of announcements, assessments and resources. It’s dull. But these spaces are used by the vast majority of students.
    Now. ask the same people to show you around their blog, their wiki or whatever Web 2.0 tool you choose. They probably don’t have a Web 2.0 space or if they do, it is also as banal, out of date and dull, as the LMS site. Not sure if lifestreaming services such as Twitter & Facebpok count as Web 2.0, but ask the same students to show you their streams and the majority of these posts are also dull. Yes, Wikipedia is one of the great success stories of the read write web. It’s interesting, I keep going back to it. But it’s got approximately 31 000 contributors. That’s about the size of an average university.
    So what’s my point? Technology, whether PowerPoint, the LMS, Web 2.0, Lifestreaming, the next generation digital learning environment etc are all a part of the same continuum. They have created this myth that THEY can improve learning. Pens, chalboards, overhead projectors. They also promised the same thing. Its not the education technology that improves learning. This is not a ding dong battle between two opposing foes. They’re friends, both just another set of technologies from a long line of ‘innovations’. Thinking that by choosing one above the other you are improving education is THE mistake. The battle lines need to be drawn elsewhere.

    1. Hey Derek,
      thanks for jumping in, I really appreciate it. The whole point of publishing my essay on this blog was to show that using a publicly available method would allow interaction from outwith the class cohort, opening the class up to a wider knowledge network so thank you for taking part.

      I absolutely agree with you about the saturation of the LMS in our institutions, it is everywhere, in fact not just in our education institutions, even in the private sector, businesses are using LMS to control the personal development of their staff. In fact, that is how I got into my role as a learning technologist, I started off managing an LMS in the private sector. So yup, one of the most used if not the most used tech we see currently for learning and teaching which is exactly why we need to carry on questioning how it’s used, is it doing the job we need and is it the best tool for the job? As you said, no technology is a suddenly going be the “be all and end all” in making learning or teaching suddenly perfect. It’s how those technologies are used and importantly also when they are not used which makes the difference and offers the teacher an opportunity rather than an administrative time saver.

      As an administrative tool for large scale teaching, I don’t think the LMS can be beaten. I will hold my hands up and say, yup they make my life a whole lot easier in supporting teaching, but do they live up to the hype the sales people give about improving learning? I think you hit the nail on the head, we need to question and we need to design how they are being used in our teaching, not just through everything on there and assume it’s the remedy we have been looking for. Not just for LMS, but for all technology, including social media, the web in general, powerpoint etc.

  3. Hi Eli. Thanks for the reply. Very happy to take part. Not sure that I’m really a representative of the wider knowledge network though. I’m part of the ed tech choir and sit in the same pew as the ed tech sales person and LMS administrator. I’m just just a bit more uncomfortable with the tech evangelism hype.

    I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about how we go about criticizing the previous technology and its affordances and then suggesting a new technology and it affordances will be an incremental improvement. I think we need to look a bit broader than the choir and start really troubling technology and the various iterations (Web2.0, Web 3.0 etc) Reminds me a bit of a quote by Thoreau (picked it up when reading Neil Postman). “All our inventions are but an improved means to an unimproved end.” Look forward to seeing how your coursework experiment turns out.

    1. Hey Derek,
      I think that definitely makes you a representative 🙂 You are involved.

      I laughed out loud at your comment about criticising the previous tech, so very true and then 3 or 4 iterations down the line we “rediscover” the old stuff.

      I think its important that we do think critically about the tech we are using, not just take things for granted and not just believe the hype automatically, question, test and sometimes even find unthought-of ways to use tech but most importantly, only when it is beneficial, not tech for tech’s sake.

  4. This is really interesting Eli. Does it depend on the flexibility of the LMS? It can offer links out to things like Google Hangouts so we can use the LMS for its administrative power but also utilise its signposting abilities to use other web tools and broader collaboration. I for one would not be a student with out Wikipedia, even though it can’t be used as a solid reference in academia. This article shows just how tricky it is to settle on a definition of a simple subject.

    1. Hey Chris,

      yeah LMS flexibility does differ but does its openness? My thought was on the fact that using collaboration or communication tools within an LMS limits you to the small group enrolled on that course whereas students who use the web have access to a worldwide network of knowledge. For instance, through this essay, I have got speaking to Jim Groom (the legend himself), I would never have had that opportunity if I was only using an institutionally provided LMS.

      What do you think about my point of the LMS influencing teaching?

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