Wednesday, November 01, 2006

New generation of web-based tools

New generation of web-based tools for elearning and challenges of elearning

I am reposting this blog that I did sometimes back and posted it on this site. I repost it here to seek new discussions on the Web 2.0 tools and any other technology that we can use for elearning, especially focusing on the learners' ability to develop themselves as knowledge builders, showing creativity and developing an active community of learners.

What are the new generation tools for elearning? What are the challenges of elearning?

In doing this blog, I did not have the right title that would capture the message I need to convey. I started of with “E-learning Technology and Tools for the Medical Field” later to “Advances in e-learning tools for e-health” to “Advances in E-Learning tools for Online Health Profession and Education” and finally to the one appearing here. Although the papers discussed here are from the medical field, the tools and approaches can used in any discipline for an online learning experience. The quest to write this blog was triggered by two articles published recently, dealing particularly with e-learning tools and technologies for the medical field. Boulos, Maramba and Wheeler (2006) demonstrate a set of Web 2.0 tools available for use in the medical field while Clegg and Heap (2006) expounds on ways of dealing with the challenges of e-learning in the medical field. It is worth mentioning that both journal articles are available as “Open Access”.

Web 2.0 tools is a collection of website features that seek to take control of both their use and content to the end users and have certain characteristics like simplicity and flexibility, provision of rich user experience, compatibility with a variety of media and devices, Open to access, decentralized and using the web as a platform. These tools include but not limited to Wikis, Blogs, Podcasts, social software and RSS(Rich Site Summary/Really Simple Syndication).

Boulos and colleagues (2006) argue that the Web 2.0 tools and specifically blogs, wikis and podcasts are easy, cheap and easily available especially because they are distributed as Open Source. They continue to say that “if effectively deployed, wikis, blogs and podcasts could offer a way to enhance students', clinicians’' and patients' learning experiences, and deepen levels of learners' engagement and collaboration within digital learning environments”. Podcasts “have the potential of offering superior support for auditory learners....and visual learners in case of vodcasts”. The authors note however, that these tools have their own disadvantages like being prone to vandalism because of their openness, copyright infringements, anonymity of wiki authors especially where such wikis are to be used for assessment purposes. To counter these disadvantages the authors recommend moderation and monitoring of open wikis and blogs which can be time consuming; using a closed scenario where the access to the tools is restricted to a certain group of people; and seeking copyright/patent approvals when posting copyrighted/patented information on the blogs and wikis. On the issue of pedagogy and teaching practices, the authors recommend that “research should be conducted to determine the best ways to integrate these tools into existing e-Learning programmes for students, health professionals and patients, taking into account the different, but also overlapping, needs of these three audience classes and the opportunities of virtual collaboration between them.”

Clegg and Heap (2006) shows innovative ways that can be used to deal with the challenges of elearning, especially e-moderation in contexts where learners are independent and the tutors take the roles of facilitators and resource persons. In their paper they address the questions raised by this approach:

• How do facilitators recognize the need to intervene in discussions?

• How successful are they at recognizing potential intervention points?

• What style of facilitation is appropriate in the context of e-learning?

• How do facilitators promote independent learning within the module?

• How do facilitators balance the need to give students space to solve their own problems with the need to address anxieties that students may feel in an e-learning environment?

To deal with these questions, they review three message boards that “can be considered to represent three levels of a hierarchy of abstraction in term of the cognitive skill required by the student.” At each level, they recommend a number of facilitator interventions:

Level 1 - presenting self, relating to each other, making sense of self in relation to others; In this level, the facilitator should be responsive, nonjudgmental, encouraging, promoting discussions and descriptions, validating feelings, acknowledging concerns, giving advice on resources, and acting with prudent inaction(purposefully doing nothing).

Level 2 - relating new concepts to practice, making sense of professional relationships and clinical environments.
In this level the facilitator should demonstrate that is available and listening to the learners, probe and tease out of professional issues, give online support, providing additional resources, give positive feedback and reinforcements, raise subjects for debates and link theory to practice.

Level 3 - relating new (statistical) concepts to challenging academic materials.
At this level the students have some level of control of their learning process and the role of the facilitator is to maintain positive relationships with students, giving clear and positive feedback aimed at developing professional and academic confidence, challenging misconceptions, questioning global statements and ambiguities, encouraging students – especially on intellectual risk-taking and interactivity in difficult concepts, encouraging students independence, clarifying expectations of academic work and encouraging accuracy of referencing.

To achieve this, the facilitator needs to be equipped with facilitation skills. If facilitators adopted the model by Clegg and Heap, some of the concerns raised by Boulos and colleagues would be dealt with making a very successful learning experience for both learners and facilitators.


Boulos, M., Maramba, I., & Wheeler, S. 2006,Wikis, blogs and podcasts: a new generation of Web-based tools for virtual collaborative clinical practice and education, BMC Medical Education 2006, 6(41). Available from External link (accessed September 3, 2006).

Clegg, P., and J. Heap. 2006. Facing the challenge of e-learning: Reflections on Teaching Evidence-Based Practice through Online Discussion Groups. Innovate 2 (6). Available from External link (accessed September 3, 2006).

Further Reading

O'Reilly, T,. 2005. What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software, self published on External link [Accessed September 3, 2006]


Magda Balica said...

Hi Kariuki! Bev related your wiki on the CIARIS friend site ( I am happy to find your wiki so interesting and consistent! I like your questions regarding the facilitation online. And levels of intervention are interesting.

James Kariuki said...

Thanks Magda,
It is great hearing from you. The Ciaris friends site is ( It was nice going through it and seeing names of people I now (virtually).