Online Learning Communities

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Spring 2006 Stanford course, entitled 'Social Machines', but covering Online Learning Communities

Syllabus by Roy Pea at


"The past year has seen explosive growth of what some technology analysts have been calling ‘Web 2.0’ – a set of principles and practices that use the web as a platform for services that enable users to control their own data and media, and with a central focus on participation so that collective intelligence can be harnessed from distributed user communities. We include as Web 2.0 examples: blogging (weblogs), vlogging (videoblogs), wikis (for online group information editing), social bookmarking (, photo uploading and tagging (Flickr), and video uploading and tagging (YouTube), among many categories. Typically, Web 2.0 platforms are marked by continuous improvements from ongoing participatory design from their most avid users, and increasingly, by rich user experiences (e.g., Google Maps and affiliated mashups). If these examples are foreign to you, you’ll come to understand how they are vital tools for creating new learning architectures. If these examples are commonplace to you, you’ll develop deeper theoretical and historical understanding of their significance for advancing the practices and science of learning. As computers increasingly come to serve as social machines for such collective learning, what incentives and techniques are being used to productively harness user contributions and architectures of participation? What design principles might inform productive design of online learning communities?"

This course will examine historical foundations, theoretical perspectives, underlying learning theories, case studies and key enabling technologies in order to provide a critically informed perspective for understanding, designing, and researching online learning communities using Web 2.0 approaches and tools. We will consider online learning communities for diverse topical areas over the lifespan, and for communities as wide-ranging as professional scientists, teachers, K-12 learners, and learning among informal communities of interest." (