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SVU-VOSE: A hybrid model of a virtual, open, and socially driven learning environment

Special Issue: Paradigm Shifts in Global Higher Education and eLearning

By Khalil Ajami, Ola Haidar / May 2019

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Introducing modern technologies in our life is not intuitive. It often requires a balance between two factors: the permanent emergence of modern technologies, and the real and effective needs in application area where new technologies will be incorporated. Therefore, any attempt to invest in modern technologies without taking into consideration the specificities of the applied field could be a failure and gives counter results. In fact, modern technologies could face considerable resistance from a number of practitioners, often because of their adherence to familiar practices and because of their fear of change. However, with the evolution  of modern technologies, a new generation emerges and deals with these technologies, in return, shapes its thinking and lifestyle [1].

During the last 10 years, Web 2.0 technology [2] gave birth to a term, “E-Learning 2.0,” [3] which reflects the future of learning. In fact, Web 2.0 tools could provide revolutionary in supporting the learning needs of a new generation that grew up with these technologies. However, social networks (a manifestation of Web 2.0 concepts) have now spread across the globe and occupy our lives by incorporating new terms and traditions in our cultures and education. This may require a reengineering of educational procedures in order to avoid any failure.

In this article we introduce a hybrid model that integrates virtual learning, open learning, and social learning approaches applied in a learning environment at Syrian Virtual University (SVU) [4]. The first section of this article introduces the learning environment running at SVU. The second section defines social learning theory. The third section explains the proposed hybrid learning model. And we conclude with a presentation   of perspectives on  the new model.

The Virtual Learning Model

The virtual education model is the most advanced e-learning model among the different types of e-learning.

Figure 1. The virtual learning environment.
[click to enlarge]

Using Web technologies, the virtual model of learning simulates, as shown in Figure 1, the traditional educational process. It contains multiple components such as online and offline sessions using virtual classroom tools [5], student’s assignments, quizzes, and follow-up activities. Moreover, the environment guarantees the interaction between tutors and students, between students themselves, and between students and interactive content, using learning management systems (LMS), e-mails, and tracking systems. Finally, the environment is equipped with an online exam system.

Social Learning

Modern technologies have introduced qualitative changes in educational practices. These changes have led to significant changes in the nature of roles played by both tutor and learner. The modifications can be summarized by: (1) the shift from the use of the term “teaching” to the use of the term “learning”; and (2) the transformation in the relationships between partners of educational process (learner, tutor, and content). In fact, the relationship between learner and content has become more important than the one between tutor and learner.

Let’s remember that people working in traditional academic institutions adopt the objectivism theory of learning, where knowledge has a separate and independent existence of human mind. For example, mathematical laws are objective models, where an equation like 1 + 1 = 2 is true even if one thinks it has a different value.

However, regarding the evolution of the educational process during the last century, educators became more sensitive to the constructivist theory of learning. Such a theory gives a higher priority to the human mind, wherein knowledge is a human product generated by mental processes. Consequently, the knowledge of a person becomes a product of his own activities

and experiences; and the nature of knowledge becomes closer to subjectivity than objectivity.

The basis. Starting in the 1970s with the emergence of the “knowledge base economy,” Albert Bandura [6] developed the theory that  learning is a mental process that takes place in a social context. The idea of ??????social learning is based on “learning from others” which means: (1) collecting information from others, (2) observing their behaviors, and (3) evaluating such behaviors positively or negatively.

Today, websites are considered as an important resource of information in the knowledge economy. However, information constitutes only row material from which knowledge is extracted and acquires values from the interests it achieves.

Knowledge, according to this view, is not only a product created by the human mind as a result of a particular activity. Rather, knowledge is also available through the social connections and in the relationships established amongst people via Web 2.0 tools. The consumer needs only to discover and extract this knowledge, and conclude its hidden relationships, in order to produce new knowledge. Consequently, E-learning 2.0 is based on the mechanisms of “knowledge extraction” and “knowledge production” mentioned above [7].

The interaction model. Interaction is defined as a relationship between two ends consisting of two parts and making changes on both ends. In the learning process, interactions are defined between tutor and learner and between content and learner.

In the social learning environment, the relationship (learner/tutor) mostly disappears. It becomes closer to a relationship (learner/learner) while the “tutor” becomes supervisor. The relationship (learner/content) doesn’t change radically. The content becomes diversified, dynamic, and flexible using all kinds of available multimedia items. However, the important relationship in social learning is (learner/learner) where actions and reactions make considerable improvement in the learning process.

Eliminating boundaries between institutional education and self-learning. In a virtual or traditional learning environment, the learning process is organized by lectures (face-to-face or online). It is also subject to predefined curriculum, content, and teaching methods. The courses are designed according to in-depth studies and with respect to a predefined syllabus and assessment criteria.

However, academic institutions have discovered a theoretical approach remains the dominant factor in their educational process and still far from job market requirements. In real life, employees perform permanently new tasks and solve unknown problems during their work. This leads employees to engage in informal learning practices: either discover solutions from online research, cooperate with experienced colleagues, or refer to previous similar situations. These activities bring us to the new form of social learning that uses interaction for learning.

On the other side, social learning occurs without any organization and deadlines and even without curriculum and assessment criteria. It is free from formal constraints with greater adaptability to the needs of learners.

Consequently, by incorporating social learning within learning environment especially the virtual one, and by combining the two concepts, we can provide an open vision of the learning process. This vision becomes easily applicable  using new tools of Web 2.0. It also makes learning closer to a self-learning style and job market requirements where tutors and learners are all human beings.

In the next section we describe a new hybrid model of learning process, VOSE, proposed by Syrian Virtual University (SVU). The model integrates three components: (1) the virtual learning environment established since 2002 at SVU [4]; (2) an open learning environment named SVU-Pedia, grouping all intellectual products of SVU published under a Creative Common license [8]; and (3) a social learning environment for all outclass activities [9].

VOSE:  Virtual, Open, and Social Learning Environment

Firstly, we believe using pure social learning [10] doesn’t imply effective engagement of students during the learning process. Being familiar with social networks in daily life does not mean a person uses such tools in learning. We also believe social interaction within the learning process is lower than expected. Moreover, discussions could be superficial and unhelpful. As a conclusion, we should motivate learners to interact as much as possible with VOSE.

Secondly, regarding the concept of self-efficacy [11], we believe social learning needs accreditation and quality control. Students may not have prior knowledge concerning subjects they have to learn collaboratively. We cannot also guarantee that students have appropriate skills for self-reliance in selecting the right content and suitable colleagues to interact with.

Thirdly, compared with academic institutions where the educational process is governed by educators, teaching methods, and learning theories, social learning actions [12] need to be reliable and measurable. In the world of social learning, Web 2.0 is controlled by learners themselves. This model leads, in its optimistic form, to the absence of any central authority that governs the evaluation process. Some critics argue giving control to learners will shift us from the tyranny of experts to the tyranny of the ignorant.

Based on these hypotheses, we aim to modify the role of academic institutions in order to give students the skills of self-learning. This could be done by preparing web portals with (a) access to interactive and open content via learning management systems; (b) access to online sessions performed by experts; and (c) interaction via social learning networks with experts and peers in a way to improve the learning experience. These components should be governed by the academic institution in order to supervise the process and avoid any deviation that could bring it far away from the learning outcomes.

VOSE benefits from the opportunity offered by Web 2.0 tools in order to introduce social learning concepts within a virtual learning environment (see Figure 2). The model is characterized by the transfer of many outclass activities (discussion, assignments and quizzes, follow-up and academic support, etc.) to the social network deployed as a part of the learning environment.

Figure 2. Virtual, Open, Social learning Environment (VOSE).
[click to enlarge]

VOSE is still governed by exams and evaluations in order to measure the students’ knowledge acquisition. However, an evaluation concerning social networking is also set up. This evaluation focuses on the involvement of students in activities triggered either by themselves or by tutors or by other students. This is done by means of a built-in system of points and awards collected by social network members for each kind of actions (posts and comments, helpful attachments, answers, questions, etc.). A student interacting with peers regarding subjects proposed by tutors, could collect points regarding each kind of interaction. These points are permanently subjected to tutor’s accurate revision and evaluation.

In respect of our hypothesis, the environment is controlled academically by tutors. The intervention of tutors in any academic activity within the network should focus mainly on correcting any deviation or mistakes raised during the discussions. The evaluation of each student should concentrate on the intensity and seriousness of their participation, not on the accuracy of responses and the validity of opinions are delivered.

Conclusion and Perspectives

In this article, we presented a new model of virtual, open, social learning environment called VOSE. The model integrates the social learning environment with a traditional, virtual one. Such an environment, with the knowledge generated by different tutor/student activity, will be objects of deep investigation and search by means of a new intelligent layer seeking to give administration feedback on the main issues of the learning process.

Moreover, a prototype of VOSE has actually been  implemented via the “Academic and Professional Support Program,” which aims to deliver academic and professional support to the 32,000 SVU students worldwide. Some chosen personalities from academic staff maintain periodic social activities using Averroes [9] and all the components of virtual learning. The goal is to clarify the different professional and academic perspectives of each academic curriculum. The interaction of students in such a program will be rewarded in their general evaluation and will be reflected in their graduation results.

In fact, by incorporating social learning within traditional or virtual learning environments, we provide a new vision of the learning process. This vision makes learning closer to a self-learning style by benefiting from the opportunities offered by Web 2.0.



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[3] Chua, F.-F. and Tay, E.-S. Developing virtual learning environment 2.0 using Web services approach. In 2012 IEEE 12th International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, 2012, 230–234.

[4] Khalil, A. and Ola, H.  Applying students evaluation of teaching (SET) in virtual learning environment (Case Study: Syrian Virtual University). International Journal of Teaching and Education (IJOTE) 6, 2 (2018), 24–45. DOI:

[5] SVU Support Team. SVU Virtual Classroom, SVU Webdemo. Video. (Feb. 12, 2017).

[6] Bandura, A. Principles of Behavior Modification. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1969.

[7] Amit Goyal, A., Bonchi, F., and Lakshmanan, L. V. S. Learning influence probabilities in social networks. In Proceedings of the Third ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data mining (WSDM '10), 2010, 241–250. DOI:

[8] SVU Support Team. SVU Pedia. Video. (August 6, 2018).

[9] SVU Support Team. SVU Social Network, SVU Averroes. Video. (November 29, 2018).

[10] Bandura, A. Social Learning Theory. General Learning Press, New York, 1977.

[11] Bandura, A. Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W.H. Freeman, New York, 1997.

[12] Bandura, A. Social Foundations of Thought and Action. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1986.

About the Authors

Dr. Khalil Ajami is actually president of Syrian Virtual University (SVU). He is an academic researcher at SVU and holds an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in computer science from LIP6 (Laboratoire d'Informatique de Paris 6) University Pierre & Marie Curie - France. His area of expertise is online learning, e-Learning quality, and different aspects of learning in higher education contexts. Ajami's recent researches focuses on exploring the impact of using social learning & new technologies, on pedagogy.

Ms. Ola Haidar holds a master's degree in management information system from Damascus University. She is IT Engineer and associate professor and chief of quality control group at Syrian Virtual University (SVU). Her area of expertise is e-learning quality control, and she focuses in her recent researches on the measurement of learning indicators in e-learning & virtual learning environments.

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