Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ elearnspace

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Mar 01, 2003

This Journal Column published as elearnspace in The Technology Source March/April 2003 online Mar 01, 2003. [Link] [Info] [List all Publications]
Developed by instructor George Siemens at Red River College in Manitoba, Canada, elearnspace is not visually appealing at first glance. But its simple design is misleading, as the site contains a wealth of information for the e-learning practitioner supplemented with a series of smart, leading-edge articles and one of the better e-learning weblogs currently available.

To navigate through the site, a new visitor can click directly on the site map link at the top of the right-hand column on the main page. This site map clearly describes elearnspace's structure: Three major sections are listed under the main heading, and seven sets of subject-specific resource pages round out the rest of the site.

The About page briefly describes the site's philosophy: "Significant changes in most institutions will not come about as a result of a multi-million dollar project. Most organizations will move resources online slowly, probably driven by a small group of dedicated, committed staff." While elearnspace is one such project, driven primarily by a single staff member, its resources and articles capture this trend—the development of e-learning by individuals as opposed to organizations—on a wider scale.

Worth reading are the commentaries accessible through the elearnspace Articles link on the home page. In particular, Siemens's two-part "The Art of Blogging" has attracted a wide readership and is regarded as one of the leading works on the use of weblogs in education. Siemens has also interviewed practitioners in the field and authored guides to practice and pedagogy; these guides address such topics as instructional design, online facilitation, and e-learning adoption and marketing. A number of the guides are based on discussions among various practitioners, which reflects the collaborative ethos behind Siemens's project.

The third major component of the Web site is the popular elearnspace blog. Distributed by e-mail twice a week, this weblog reports (on an almost daily basis) news and events in e-learning with an emphasis on alternative and student-centered pedagogy, learning objects and learning management systems, metadata, and content syndication.

The remainder of the site is dedicated to collections of resources and information organized into seven major categories: developing e-learning, managing it, teaching online, instructional technology, resources, information for beginners, and general information. Each category is subdivided, and each subdivision consists of a page with a short introduction to the topic and a list of selected, annotated resources. The page on accessibility, for example—a subdivision within the category of developing e-learning—illustrates the standard format of these additional pages.

Of final interest is the list of weblogs and resources on the right hand side of the front page. Though the list is relatively short, the educator will find an endless wealth of information from a range of sources. The weblogs and resources listed here represent what could be defined as the cutting edge of online learning, the collective efforts of practitioners who are redefining the concept of online learning itself.

What we are seeing in works like George Siemens's elearnspace is a group of practitioners moving away from the idea that online learning ought to resemble a planned and structured electronic class—and toward the idea that effective e-learning is captured in the ongoing discussions and interactions that occur online. To illustrate this principle, Siemens launched (and advertised through elearnspace) an introductory course about online learning that contained no content. The students and instructor created the course content as a consequence of the information and resources they exchanged.

For Red River College instructors, elearnspace serves as a model in the use of online communications tools to support continuous learning in a given subject or topic area. As described in the elearnspace philosophy, the goal is to foster a new approach to e-learning: Rather than being the result of a massive and centralized e-learning project, this approach is the result of many small initiatives—connected and communicating in cyberspace.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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