Technology Trends in Higher Education: How Web 2.0 Tools are Transforming Learning

It wasn’t all that long ago that the only people using Web 2.0 applications were Millennials and other early adopters. Today Web 2.0 tools are making serious in-roads into the higher education community as valuable weapons in today’s teaching arsenal. And while it’s no surprise that students are drawn to these applications, what may be one of the most unexpected technology trends in higher education is the number of faculty members using them as well.

Electronic portfolios, wikis, do-it-yourself podcasts, and online collaboration tools are just some of the Web 2.0 applications being embraced by faculty as a way to give their students more control over the content and process by which they learn, says Rhonda Ficek, director of instructional technology services at Minnesota State University – Moorhead. In the October 29th online seminar, Creating a Personalized Learning Environment with Web 2.0 Tools, Ficek provided a comprehensive overview on how Web 2.0 tools are transforming teaching and learning through what has become known as Personalized Learning Environments (PLE’s).

While Learning Management Systems like WebCT and Blackboard are course-centered and largely faculty-driven, Ficek says PLE’s are learner-centered systems with four key features:

  • Communication and collaboration
  • Formal and informal learning
  • Flexible roles and structures
  • Electronic portfolios and organizers


The Web 2.0 tools used to create PLE’s are easy to use, and provide anywhere from basic to advanced features for free – two factors that make them attractive to both faculty and students. Ficek demonstrated the ease-of-use for a number of applications during her seminar, including the wiki WetPaint, e-notebooks like Google Notebook and Zoho, and an electronic organizer called Zotero, which is a Firefox extension used to collect, manage and cite research sources.

“Web 2.0 applications are playing a key role in the evolution of these powerful virtual learning environments and are forcing educators to have a different attitude about the role of technology as it relates to the development, delivery, relevance and retention of content,” says Ficek, noting that tools like electronic notebooks also are more efficient for instructors than traditional notebooks and provide her with a quick and easy way to provide feedback.

“These applications are also empowering learning in ways that hadn’t been possible before,” she says.