Professor Gilly Salmon

Web & Education Parallels

One way of conceptualising the development of the World Wide Web (Web) is as an evolution from transmissive (1.0) to social (2.0) then 3.0 (semantic). The big changes from Web 1.0 to 2.0 are not the technology so much as the way it’s used. We can map the slow development of higher education to a similar continuum.

Education 1.0: a one-way process

Since the establishment of ‘modern’ universities, students have attended a physical place in order to be at university. The campus (from the Latin for ‘field’) and its buildings are important. Education 1.0 students received information supplied in the form of a ‘stand-up’ routine from a member of academic staff, often lecture-dominated, perhaps with handouts and textbooks.

Hence, in Higher Education 1.0 students were consumers of information and resources that were transmitted to them for their study. Assessment was typically exam based. Only if students became researchers, later in their academic careers, then the results of their activities contributed back to the knowledge corpus.

Education 1.5: expand and digitalise

During the 20th Century, opportunities for people to gain a higher education increased with a very sharp acceleration in many countries from the 1960s. The ‘massification’ and the much greater diversity of students challenged traditional structures and ways of teaching. Large educational innovations such as the UK Open University were established and grew. Funding regimes started to change and for the first time discussions began on ‘students as customers’.

From around 20 years ago, Education 1.5 arrived, and Learning Management Systems/Virtual Learning Environments (LMS/VLEs) with their aspirations and myths grew in popularity. Educators started enhancing the face-to-face experiences with digital resources…whilst still essentially driven by the ‘transmission’ paradigm of teaching. LMSs/VLEs, provided by vendors external to the university, enabled the digital part of what was now called blended learning. The LMSs/VLEs are now used by millions of students and academic staff across the world, dominated by a few big suppliers. There’s a similar continuum for distance and remote learning via print, videos, digital, and mobile resources. By the way, MOOCS didn’t invent entirely online learning — it has been used since the 1990s.

Education 2.0: social connections and contributions

By around 2005, there was discussion about Web 2.0 and recognition that Web services increasingly enabled people to interact and collaborate as creators of ‘user-generated content’ in virtual communities of interest…enter blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, hosted services, Web applications (apps), and mashups.

The impact of Web 2.0 is encapsulated by Time magazine naming ‘you’ (that is, content creators on the internet) as the 2006 Person of the Year

The nature of students and their expectations started to shift. Most students worked as well as studied and needed highly flexible learning opportunities. Education started to leverage Web 2.0 technologies to enhance and challenge traditional approaches to education. Open Educational Resources and crowd-contributed content (like Wikipedia) enabled different approaches to more information and knowledge. Some groundwork was done towards student-centred change.

A great example of Education 2.0 is the ‘flipped classroom’. This means moving information transfer out of the lecture room — often for students to access and work on themselves — and then assimilation, contextualising, making meaning and working together shifts to activities during precious campus-based time. As mobile technologies and much better integration becomes possible, flipping has attracted a lot of interest and experimentation. Maybe we could call this Education 2.5?

Reflecting Web 3.0

The World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee uses the term ‘Semantic Web’, also known as Web 3.0, to describe a network of linked data that can be processed by machines (2001).

Ruby, the NAO Robot in the Centre for Education Futures at the University of Western Australia, represents the possibilities of Education 3.0

In the last ten years, the internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies. The Web influences many people’s way of thinking, doing and being. People constantly contribute and reinvent its development and content. The internet of 2017 has become a portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behaviour of every shade.

Future citizens and users of Web 3.0 — and many of today’s higher education students — have grown up in a world that has always had the internet. Students and educators alike are increasingly mobile device dependent.

So maybe Education 3.0 will be characterized by rich, cross-institutional, cross-cultural educational opportunities, where the learners themselves play a key role as creators of knowledge, artefacts are shared, and social networking and social benefits outside the immediate scope of the core university activity play a strong role. The distinction between things, people and process becomes blurred and many boundaries start to break down.

The characteristics of Education 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0

Creating the Future for Learning

Universities are steeped in governance structures and see themselves as tasked with maintaining and building upon the knowledge and teaching methods through Education 1.0 and 2.0. However, there are huge opportunities, albeit challenging, to create very new futures for learning.

My view is that the values by which a university stands need not change but fixed institutional arrangements, including policies and strategies, preferred and often ’unconscious’ or ‘assumed’ pedagogies need to transform.

The strands of Education 3.0 can be traced back to the 1980s but unlike 1.0 and 2.0, they are a substantial change from the preceding phases and their emergence requires shifts in underlying university structures and a rethinking of student outcomes. Design thinking has become more common as a way of flexibly changing learning and teaching practices.

How can we prepare ourselves to be at the forefront of highly beneficial and innovative approaches in Web and Education 3.0 and beyond? First we need to disrupt our own thinking…since as educators we belong to Education 1.0 or 2.0 cohorts of learners. One way forward is to explore some questions about the future:

  • If education becomes ‘personalized’ or ‘adaptive’, responding to the ‘like’ or ‘need’ culture, then does it kill off the critical element of learners’ own process of discovery? Do we not really need ‘disruptive learning’ instead to create the future?
  • Can we use the power of learning analytics for supporting students’ self-efficacy and independence in their learning (rather than for the paternalistic prediction of risk )?
  • Is another definition of ‘immersive’ going well beyond virtual reality and into seamless portable learning centred around the individual or group?
  • What would you ask?

Sources if you’d like to delve a bit more

From the field of Computer Science, looking ahead to Web 4.0 or the symbiotic web

  • Aghaei, S., Nematbakhsh, M. A., & Farsani, H. K. (2012). Evolution of the world wide web: From Web 1.0 to Web 4.0. International Journal of Web & Semantic Technology, 3(1), 1. doi: 10.5121/ijwest.2012.3101

Exploring the concept of the ‘emotional web’ beyond Web 3.0

  • Benito-Osorio, D., Peris-Ortiz, M., Armengot, C.R., & Colino, A. (2013). Web 5.0: the future of emotional competences in higher education. Global Business Perspectives, 1(3), 274-287. doi: 10.1007/s40196-013-0016-5

Commentary on technology and social patterns that will shape learning futures

Overview of the evolution of Web 1.0 to 3.0


Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J., Lassila, O. (2001). The semantic web. Scientific American Magazine, 21(3).