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Using learning environments as a metaphor for educational change

Martin Weller (Based at the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 14 August 2009




The purpose of this paper is to show that the online learning environment can be seen as the means by which higher education can explore the challenges and opportunities raised by online and digital society.


The paper argues that the online learning environment can be seen as a metaphor for how universities respond to the requirements and challenges of the digital age. Current learning management systems (LMSs) are examined, and compared with the values found in web 2.0 and social media. Current thinking on pedagogy for online learning is then examined. The SocialLearn project at the Open University in the UK is then explained, which seeks to create a disaggregated, decentralised, social system for learners.


The conclusion from the analysis is that there is a conflict between the centralised learning management system (LMS) and the requirements of online pedagogy. The traditional LMS can be seen as embodying the wrong metaphor, that of the traditional classroom. The paper concludes by arguing that such learning environments will be more useful to higher education in coming to understand its response to many of the changes being seen in society, which are facilitated by the new technologies.


The paper provides a framework for considering LMSs and their relation to universities and pedagogy, and an argument for the promotion of more decentralised systems.



Weller, M. (2009), "Using learning environments as a metaphor for educational change", On the Horizon, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 181-189.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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