Multiliteracies: To Be Continued…

Bryan Alexander’s (2006) article entitled Web 2.0: A New Wave for Teaching and Learning looks at a number of Web 2.0 concepts, projects and practices including some of the issues and implications for education.  While perhaps emergent at the time of writing, Web 2.0 is now a part of everyday life.  Web 2.0 is the product of its users who make use of social software to communicate and interact, capture, store, collaborate, hangout, present, and share in an effort to design our own information architecture.  Thus what comes with the emergence of Web 2.0 is the emergence of a new literacy, or more aptly, multiliteracies.

Alexander (2006) looks at a number of implications of Web 2.0 including the new taxonomy, or folksonomy of collaborative metadata collection and sharing.  Alexander explains how such projects avoid “multisubjective chaos” through the use of tags and helpful tagging tools (2006, p.34).  He also highlights the social nature of tagging as an asset in that taggers can learn from and respond to one another in situated practice (Alexander, 2006).  There seems no end to the list of the projects, practices and services aimed at connecting people through shared interests including social bookmarking, social writing, social photo services, video and podcasting, and search services (including blogrolls) to name a few.

What I find particularly fascinating is the speed with which the web has transformed from static pages of Web 1.0 to the openness of Web 2.0 in a very short period of time.  Such rapid development of openness includes cross-linked microcontent projects (such posting a comment on someone’s blog) as well as the ability of author entire webpages and websites (Alexander, 2008). Looking back at past transformations of text, decades or even centuries passed before such massive changes to text technologies changed how people related to texts.  So what is unique about the last two decades in shaping our networked information ecology?

When the World Wide Web became available to the general public in the 1990s, the global information economy transformed dramatically with the breadth of participation in the shaping of this new environment far exceeding that of print (Dobson and Willinsky, 2009).  To start with, information was suddenly available whenever and wherever an Internet connection could be found.  With increasing and improving Internet access came increases in the variety and value of content.  And this trend shows no signs of slowing down.  Now, any information consumer can also be an information producer.  Such drastic changes in how people consume and produce information will naturally have important implications for education, literacy being just one aspect.  So what does this mean for our definition of literacy?

What is interesting is that the majority of writing that learners do online is unrelated to their studies.  Texting, blogging, emailing, commenting, chatting and so on, are taking place more frequently in social contexts than in educational contexts – a stark difference from the pre-digital age.  What students write in a traditional classroom is also much different than what they write online.  As Alexander (2008) points out, learners nowadays are writing for a global audience and they find themselves questioning their personal identities, representing themselves through writing and understanding an audience (p.156).  Within their working, civic and private lives, our learners are “negotiating a multiplicity of discourses” not only because they are living within (and interacting online with) culturally and linguistically diverse and globalized societies but also because they are interacting with a rapidly increasing variety of information and multimedia technologies (New London Group, 1996).

Even where learning takes place online with course management systems such as Blackboard, Desire to Learn or Moodle, learners are developing different networked environment literacies (Alexander, 2008).  Whether they are web-enhanced f2f courses, blended or fully online courses, digital learning environments require different sets of digital literacy skills (though there will be some overlap).  Internet usage continues to expand, especially with the ever increasing use of handheld devices and tablets, yet  learning management systems remain structured and often restricted.  As Alexander (2008) suggests, “the CMS classroom will languish in localization” in comparison to the Internet (p. 158).

What may surpass the CMS or learning management system (LMS) is the personal learning network (PLN) enhanced by Web 3.0 or the semantic web.   PLNs can be described as networks (or nodes) created by individuals within a like-minded community.  They may be deemed more useful mainly because they are built around subjects and information relationships rather than tools and services (Ohler, 2010).  Subject searches on the Internet would reveal content directly relevant to the topic rather than a list of the most popular sites matching the words searched.  This would not only drastically limit the amount of time learners spend sifting through piles of irrelevant information but would also improve access to more accurate resources (Ohler, 2010).  This of course will require yet a new literacy – from intelligent tagging to grouping intelligently tagged information into ontologies to using shared ontologies and databases.  What this means is as our multiliteracy improves, we will not only be more interconnected and able to make more informed searches, we will develop our ability to create resources that connect more coherently to the greater world of information (Ohler, 2010).


Alexander, B. (2008).  Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies.  Theory into practice. 47(2), 150-60.  Retrieved from

Alexander, B. (2006).  Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning?  Educase Review, 41(2), 34-44.  Retrieved from

Dobson, T & Willinsky, J. (2009).  Digital Literacy (draft version of a chapter for the Cambridge Handbook on Literacy).   Retrieved from

New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures.  Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.  Retrieved from

Ohler, J. (2010).  The power and peril of Web 3.0: It’s more than just semantics.  Learning and Learning with Technology.  ISTE. May, 2010, 14-17.  Retrieved from

This entry was posted in Commentary 3. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply