Informal Learning Insight of the Month: Web 1.0 Technologies Used in Informal Learning

A couple of months ago, I explored the uses of social media (also called Web 2.0) in informal learning.  Because social media is relatively new (less than a decade) and is responsible for much of the current interest in informal learning, many training and development professionals overlook the opportunities that older computer-based technologies offer for informal learning.  Called Web 1.0, these technologies, from online information to older computer-based tutorials, still have a vital role to play in facilitating informal learning.

These technologies use the basic capabilities of computers and permit people to create, store, retrieve and transmit content, and they promote interaction between learners and instructors. Even better, most organizations still widely use these technologies and using them rarely requires an additional technology investment on the part of the training and development group.

Which technologies?  Consider these ten.

1.  Online informational content, which refers to material published online for explanatory and illustrative purposes, including news, policies and procedures, instructions, reference material, and opinion.  This material takes a variety of forms; among the most popular are informative websites, online help, news sites, webzines, online books, user’s and troubleshooting guides, and advice columns.

Online informational content usually appears in one of these formats: as a traditional web page, as a guided tour (an animated sequence, like a movie trailer), online help, or a PDF file.

Training and development professionals create online informational content using software like word processors, desktop publishing programs, web authoring programs, and audiovisual editing programs.

In terms of informal learning, this content often provides the material that workers consult when seeking guidance with an issue.

2. Databases, which refer to information that is stored in an organized manner in a central location, and that users can view in a variety of ways.   Databases typically hold essential information, such as customer and supplier lists, and product inventories.

What distinguishes a database from other types of information is that information is stored in records (such as Customer Joseph H. Smith), each record has the same type of information, and that users can view the information in a way that’s meaningful to them. For example, one user might check all of the customers in a certain geographic region while another might look for the top 10 customers.

Usually, training and development professionals use databases created by others in their organizations.  These others created the databases using database software as well as spreadsheets, as well as analytics and business intelligence software to prepare reports of patterns in the data.

In terms of informal learning, learners often explore databases to discover useful patterns that might suggest future courses of action.

3. Repositories, which refers to specialized databases of resources that are produced by people from several organizations.

In the context of learning, repositories store lessons and teaching resources designed by training and development professionals who hope that their colleagues will also use these materials.   Because many of these materials were designed to promote learning, they are called learning objects.

In terms of informal learning, repositories often offer units of courses or resources that supplement other learning efforts.  Some resources are free to use; others require payment of a usage fee.

4. e-Mail, which refers to formal and informal messages sent by one user at one time, and intended for another user to read when the time is convenient.

Training and development professionals use a variety of e-mail programs to send and receive e-mail messages.

In terms of informal learning, e-mail serves countless purposes. Among the most common is one person asking another for advice, information, or instruction.  Another is as a means of mailing short (2 minute or less) but explicit instructional messages to workers.

5. Chat, which is similar to e-mail, in that it puts people into contact with one another.  The primary difference between e-mail and chat is that, with chat, all parties are online and communicating at the same time, and the chat can occur solely through text, as well as through voice and a live video feed.

Training and development professionals use instant messaging and Internet telephony programs to chat.

In terms of informal learning, chat—like e-mail—has many uses but among its most common is tutoring of individual learners taking e-learning courses.

5.  Discussion boards and  discussion lists, which refers to yet another variation on e-mail, this time involving several users rather than just two.

Discussion boards refer to web sites that let users pose questions and other users respond.  Discussion lists operate similarly, but operate through e-mail.  One user sends a question to all who subscribe to the discussion list and others respond.  The technical name for discussion lists is listservs.

Training and development professionals create discussion boards using software in Learning and Course Management Systems; they create discussion lists using specialized software for this purposes.

In terms of informal learning, discussion boards and lists let learners continue a discussion that began in a formal class, or bring together people who share a common interest. For example, sSeveral listservs exist for various aspects of training and development.

6.  Podcasts and vodcasts, which refer to audio (podcasts) and video recordings (vodcasts) saved in digital formats.

Training and development professionals create this material using a variety of software, from basic recording software included with Windows and Mac, to advanced professional audio and video editing software.

In terms of informal learning, training and development professionals tend to use podcasts and vodcasts in two ways: one is similar to formal, instructional audio and video recordings that trainers have used for decades, the other is for informal, quickly recorded instructional messages .

7.  Live virtual classroom, which refers to live sessions conducted online, in which all parties are online at the same time.  In such a presentation, participants can speak, share slides, show what’s on their computer, chat using text, pose and answer multiple choice and true/false questions, and show a video of themselves speaking.  Presenters can also record the sessions, so people who cannot attend live can see what they missed.  Because these sessions are broadcast over the web, some people call them webcasts.

Because the sessions are like seminars on the web, other people call them webinars.

Training and development professionals create webcasts and webinars using virtual meeting or virtual classroom software.

In terms of informal learning, people use webinars for lectures, virtual lunch-and-learns, product updates, online conferences, and virtual chats with leaders, among others.  People also use the virtual classroom for impromptu, unscheduled work sessions, through which learning occurs unconsciously in the context of work.

8. e-Courses, which refer to courses that have been transferred from another format such as a classroom or workbook to an online format, often with little or no re-imagining of the way that the content is presented.

In many instances, training and development professionals transfer classroom courses online by recording narration to accompany existing Powerpoint slides and transfer workbooks by cutting and pasting the material into a template in an e-learning authoring tool.   Because training and development professionals shuttled these courses from one medium to another, they earned the name shuttleware. More recently, industry analysts have named this type of e-learning Level 1e-learning.

In terms of informal learning, many of these courses are available for just-in-case learning—that is, just in case workers need these courses, they can find and take them.  But these courses primarily offer information rather than instruction.

9. e-Learning programs, which refers to courses designed to develop skills online and that take advantage of the interactivity and intelligence of the computers on which they run.  One of the primary differentiators between e-courses and e-learning is that e-learning programs typically include engaging activities that help learners develop skills and assess their capabilities.  These activities include simulations, games, role plays, case studies.

Because planning and producing these activities takes additional time and resources, these courses can take 2 to 10 times longer to develop than e-courses.  Industry analysts call them Level 2 and Level 3 e-learning to indicate the additional levels of interaction.

Training and development professionals create this material using web authoring software like Flash and Dreamweaver, audiovisual production software, and specialized software for simulations and testing.

In terms of informal learning, most libraries of off-the-shelf e-learning courses include Level 2 and 3 courses.  In addition, many of the learning activities provided on museum and non-profit websites represent this type of e-learning.  Although often designed for younger audiences, such programs teach general knowledge and skills that also benefits workers.

Table 1 summarizes the different types of Web 1.0 technologies you can use for informal learning and suggests some of the impacts of cost and time on using them.

Tip: For descriptions of technology used for informal learning, see Chapter 7 of Informal Learning Basics.  For information on how to integrate technology with particular types of informal learning, see Chapters 5 and 6 of the book.

Table 1   Web 1.0 Technologies Used with Informal Learning

Type of Technology Relative Cost and Development Time Needed Examples
Online informational content  $-$$$$$ (varies depending on extent of production, programming and review)‡‡TT-TTTT ‡‡‡(varies depending on the extent of production and programming required)
  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Word processors, like MS Word and OpenOffice
    • Desktop publishing software, like InDesign
    • Web authoring software, like FrontPage and Dreamweaver
    • Graphics and audiovisual editing software, like Illustrator, Photoshop, and ChopShop
    • Examples of the content:
      • ASTD’s Learning Circuits webzine and online content from T&D
      • Online version of the Handbook of Educational Communications and Technology
      • Articles from the journal, Human Resource Development Quarterly
      • Microsoft Office help center
Databases $$-$$$$$ (varies depending on extent of production and number of copies)‡‡TT-TTTTT ‡‡ (varies depending on the extent of review,  production, and programming required)
  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Databases: MySQL and  MS Access
    • Reports: Google Analytics
    • Examples of the content:
      • Open government databases, such as the U.S. Department of Labor’s database of the U.S. workforce population
      • Bibliographic databases, such as EBSCO, which contains a library of information about business topics, including Workplace Learning and Performance
Repositories $$$-$$$$$ (varies depending on extent of production, programming, and advisors involved)‡‡‡TTT-TTTTT‡‡ (varies depending on the extent of production, programming, and testing required)
  • Examples of repositories:
    • Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT)
    • Foundation for the European Knowledge Pool (ARIADNE)
    • Examples of the content:
      • Units of lessons
      • Exercises
e-Mail $‡T-TT‡‡ (depends on how much time authors need to compose e-mail messages and the need to approve  messages before sending)
  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Public programs, like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo mail.
    • Proprietary e-mail programs on an organization’s server
    • Examples of the content:  An ongoing exchange between an expert on e-learning to help a novice choose  appropriate authoring software
Chat $‡T-TT (depends on how much time is spent chatting)


  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Instant messaging, like MSN and Google Chat
    • Internet telephony, like Skype
    • Examples of the content:  Online office hours held by tutors and teaching assistants of more formal e-learning courses.
Discussion boards and discussion lists $$-$$$ (varies depending on the challenge of setting up and the extent of time spent monitoring discussions, if performed)‡T-TTTT‡‡‡ (varies depending on setup needed and the extent of time spent monitoring)
  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Discussion boards:  Capabilities within Learning and Course  Management Systems
    • Discussion lists: Majordomo
    • Examples of the content:
      • Ongoing discussions for managers of technical communication departments
      • Follow-up discussion to a class for senior trainers
Podcasts and vodcasts $-$$$$ (varies depending on extent of production and use of talent)‡T-TTT‡‡‡ (varies depending on the extent of review and production required)
  • Software used to produce the content:
    • For audio recording: Audacity, iLife
    • For video recording: FinalCut, iLife Examples of the content:
      • Podcasts: A series of interviews with leaders in the organization
      • Vodcasts: iTunes University
Live virtual classroom $-$$$ (varies depending on extent of production assistance required)‡T-TTT‡ (varies depending on production planning required)
  • Software used to produce the content: Live Virtual Classroom or Virtual meeting software, such as Connect, Elluminate, and WebEx.
  • Examples of the content:
    • ASTD webinars with guest speakers
    • e-Learning Guild virtual conferences
e-Courses $-$$ (varies depending on extent of production and programming)‡‡T-TTT‡‡‡ (varies depending on the extent of review and production required)
  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Powerpoint capture software, like Camtasia, and Captivate
    • Templates from Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS)
    • Examples of the content:
      • A series of lectures recorded by specialists in an engineering firm
      • Overview of human resource policies produced by a government agency
e-Learning programs $$$-$$$$$ (varies depending on extent of production and programming)‡‡‡TTT-TTTTT‡‡‡‡ (varies depending on the extent of production, programming, and review required)
  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Course authoring software, such as Dreamweaver and Flash
    • Audiovisual production software
    • Specialized software for testing, such as Questionmark
    • Examples of the content:
      • Off-the-shelf  e-learning programs, especially those with built-in practice exercises that provide feedback within the exercise
      • Activities at the Smithsonian Institution’s website (

$: Estimates of cost are relative in comparison to other items rather than pegged to a financial value

‡T: Estimates of cost are relative in comparison to other items on this list rather than pegged to a specific time range


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