The Long Tail – aggregation and context and the role of a “Web 2.0 course site”

The model inherent in most university based elearning and in most LMS/CMS/VLEs relies on course offering based websites that contain content produced primarily by the academic. This is the standard model used by the majority of academics in designing their teaching. Academics can spend upwards of 90% of their planning and development creating information (Oliver 1999) as the primary focus of learning.

Bear Stearns, a US-based consulting firm, have a presentation around the impact of the Long Tail on the entertainment industry. The summary is

  • New technologies are democratising content production
  • This fall in barriers to content creation are leading to user generated content
  • Consequently, the value in the supply chain will shift from content production to the aggregators/packagers of content

If applied to current practice in e-learning then the role of the academic changes from being primarily a content producer to being an aggregator/packager of content. Consquently, the tools available to the academic for e-learning should support this activity.

The various implications of this include, but surely aren’t limited to,

  • The course offering model is wrong. The central model needs to be much more long-lived than that. It also needs to be much more open.
  • The model needs to support aggregation and contribution of knowledge, and possibly more importantly, context.
  • It’s the context, the direction, the principles and the way for the learner to get into the knowledge and understand it which becomes the major contribution of the academic
  • The current LMS/CMS/VLE model is broken.
  • It resonates strongly with the push by Oliver and colleagues over a number of years.
  • This will be extremely challenging for many academics as this requires a great deal of insight and experience in the knowledge area. Something that isn’t generally a requirement for the current model of teaching and learning.
  • It’s still early days in terms of user generated content, where the user is the student. There is a comment from one of CQU’s students in the 2005 Course Experience Questionnaires complaining about being required to produce a Powerpoint presentation for assessment and how the student was new to this and did not receive an appropriate level of support.


Ron Oliver. (1999). “Exploring strategies for on-line teaching and learning”. Distance Education. 20(2): 240-254

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