Dalsgaard: "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. Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/materials/contrib/2006/Christian_Dalsgaard.htm





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.




LMS research: usage ubiquitous, but primarily for administrative reasons. Argues from OECD  (2005) report "E-learning in Tertiary Education: Where do we stand?" that impact on pedagogy limited. 


"This article will discuss the use of centralized and integrated LMS and argue that they, within a framework of a social constructivist pedagogy, should play only a minor role within organization of e-learning. It is argued that social software tools can support a social constructivist approach to e-learning by providing students with personal tools and engaging them in social networks. Using social software in this way requires that organization of e-learning moves beyond centralized and integrated LMS and towards a variety of separate tools which are used and managed by the students in relation to their self-governed work.
It is argued that social software tools enable a different way of using the web within an educational context. The article discusses how social software can be used to support a social constructivist approach to e-learning, or more specifically, how social software can support self-governed, problem-based and collaborative activities."


Integrating or separating tools?


Multiple tools used (e.g., chat, bboard, etc.). Organization "involves the problem of integration vs. separation." (Standalone/single application or multiple platforms/environments).


Cites LMS as specific approach; names typical offerings. However, social software challenges usage of integrated LMS. Argues only a few social software tools used in LMSs; which tools to be separated or integrated? No answer unless "it is placed within a context of pedagogy." 


Social software


Attempts to define term (kind of slippery concept); notes not specifically developed for educational purposes. Explains blog, social bookmarking, use of RSS feeds, wikis. Also begins to hint at pedagogical applications for social media (e.g., wikis and collaboration). 


Article will discuss ss, LMS, integration/separation from social constructivist approach, advocating for use of ss to support learning, with the caveat that a "certain organization" of ss necessary.


Personal tools and social networks


"Every organization of e-learning depends on the chosen pedagogical approach." "The conception of learning as self-governed, problem-based and collaborative processes is derived from a social constructivist approach (Bang & Dalsgaard, in print). According to a social constructivist approach, learning is considered a social and active process (Vygotsky, 1978; Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Jonassen, 2000)." "


"Resources are not learning materials, until they are used actively by students."


"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."


Argues for an organization using number of different tools: management system, personal tools and social networks.


"Management system" ≠ LMS; instead means limited usage of LMS for administrative purposes, not for self-governed/problem-based activities. Anderson (2005b) describes the potential of social software as "overlay networks."


"Personal tools" = tools owned and controlled by students (e.g., writing, presenting, drawing or programming). At least two kinds: individual (weblogs, wikis, etc., owned and controlled by individual students) and collaborative (controlled by students working in groups, e.g., wikis, discussion forums, file sharing).


"Social networks are defined as connections or relations between people engaged in different kinds of communication. Communication can be one-way as well as two-way and synchronous as well as asynchronous. Networks also include connections to resources, for instance in the form of references to web pages. Within this approach to e-learning it is relevant to distinguish between at least three different kinds of networks:  


      • networks between people working collaboratively,
      • networks between people sharing a context, and
      • networks between people sharing a field of interest."



"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.


"Networks between people sharing a context could be students and teachers within the same course. These are also networks of closely related participants, but individuals within these networks are not working together."


Networks/references can be foundation for discussion among students/teachers; networks between individual students and other people are "networks of more loosely related participants" (think RSS feeds, reading and commentary; bookmarks and references). 


"In a learning process, a student''s problem-solving work constitutes the context. Since the different networks have different relevance to the student''s context, they should be organized differently. Collaborative networks should be independently organized by the participants. Networks of people sharing contexts can be formally organized, for instance by an educational institution. Finally, networks of people sharing a field of interest can be facilitated and encouraged, but should ultimately be organized informally by each individual."


Suggests moving focus away from LMS; instead create a "toolbox of different opportunities." 


"learning cannot be managed. Learning can, however, be facilitated."-- GREAT LINE!


"The educational potential of social software is to facilitate self-governed, problem-based and collaborative activities by supplying students with loosely joined personal tools for independent construction, and by engaging them in social networks. This approach to e-learning empowers students by giving them the ability to navigate and participate on the web and to use it actively to solve problems. It is important to stress that the argument for using separate tools instead of an integrated system is a pedagogical argument. The argument is that the learning activities of students cannot be structured or pre-determined. Choice of a variety of tools will better support the required flexibility of open-ended activities than any one integrated system."


Learning management systems vs. personal tools and social networks


LMS uses integrated system; personal tools/social networks more independent/self-governing/problem-based. 


Personal tools may dissuade from same entry points/ same data; argues "social software tools enable active use of and participation on the web."-- "stumble upon" new ideas and links.


Not advocating "letting students loose on the web" but rather not "confining the activities of students to a system." 


Towards a student-centred approach to e-learning


Possible to integrate different SS tools in an LMS, but inhibits students'' active use of/participation on web. "


A student-centred approach to e-learning is approached by:


      • using a management system for administrative issues,
      • offering students personal tools for construction, presentation, reflection, collaboration, etc.,
      • facilitating networks between students within the same course, and
      • facilitating networks between students and other people working within the field."




Create "problems" for the students'' self-governed work--small problems or basis of students'' entire course work; learning doesn''t take place in management system, but through students'' self-goverened work (through blogs, wikis). Argues most important tools are personal tools-- they "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." Problem-solving may be supported by social networks--"Although the students do not necessarily work on the same problems, they do share a common context and subject area. This means that their problem based work and their personal references are probably relevant to each other." Creates a community (extended into the field) that can be useful, inclusive.




Summarizes above-- moves beyond by citing (Downes 2004a) about creation of social contacts that are far-reaching/more diverse/beyond the realm of the classroom. Cites Koper 2004b-- "envisions a learner-centred and learner controlled model of lifelong learning."


Dalsgaard concludes that the model encourages developing tools to use to solve future problems; networks continue to exist.