Monday, March 30, 2020

Berners-Lee – World Wide Web and online learning…

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. He wrote his proposal in 1989, redistributed it in 1990, when it was accepted and the first website, at CERN, was up and running in 1991. With three simple standards HTML (write your letter), HTTP (delivery of your letter) and URLs (postal address), he invented a way to use the internet to publish, distribute, send and receive information. This, for learning, was an invention on a par with writing and the printing press. 
His gift to the world of learning was a virtual world in which teachers and learners could have unlimited access to knowledge and use the network, that is the internet, to do things that were scarcely thought possible. It is one of the greatest of all inventions and of unimaginable importance for the future of education and learning.

Web of people

From the very start the web was used to share academic knowledge and collaborate on learning and research. It was, in effect, a knowledge sharing network. Berners-Lee understood that he was creating a web of people, connecting people and so creating a social effect. Beyond this his vision was also of the intelligent analysis of the data that the web creates. He looks forward to the emergence of a true semantic web, which should make this possible. In this sense the web, for Berners-Lee is always a work in progress. He co-founded the Open Data Institute (ODI) in 2012, which pushes for Open Data in the UK and globally. Sir Tim has advised a number of governments and corporations on ongoing digital strategies.

Enables online learning

Without the World Wide Web there would be no search, web content such as Wikipedia, open educational resources, online learning, online book stores or social media. With the humble hyperlink, it changed forever the way content is written and read. We can move through content, drill down into content, get help and learn in a way that was difficult with largely flat, linear media. Of course, media other than just text was shared as images, audio, animation, video and now 3D worlds became available.
Platforms such as Learning Management Systems (LMSs), Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), content repositories, Open Education Resources (OERs) have been used by organisations to manage and deliver learning. More recently Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs), Learning Record Stores (LRSs) and adaptive learning platforms have used Artificial Intelligence to deliver more personalised learning. All allow learnig to take place at any time, in any place with an internet connection. The Coronavirus, in 2020, led through necessity, to a huge take-up of online learning by schools, colleges and Universities globally.


An important principle for Berners-Lee, is Open Educational Resources. Berners-Lee favours Net Neutrality and defends the position that the web should not be controlled by companies or governments. Some open educational initiatives have become major forces with hundreds of millions of learners using their services, such as Wikipedia, Khan Academy, YouTube and MOOCs. The promise of free at the point of delivery learning has already emerged with new business models, new forms of delivery and new forms of pedagogy.


Billions are online and almost all learners who are online use the web to find things out or to enhance their learning. We have seen the web evolve from websites to knowledge bases (such as Wikipedia), rich media (YouTube), self-paced online learning and social collaboration. Artificial intelligence through adaptive learning promises to make further advances in personalising learning and VR will bring us a new medium for learning. We are only at the start of a process where new forms of learning and pedagogies will emerge.


Berners-Lee T, (1999) Weaving the Web. Orion.
Clark, Donald (2020) AI for Learning

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