Guest editorial: Advances in Technology-Enhanced Learning

Technology-enhanced learning is a multi-disciplinary field with many roots and an even larger range of application areas. From very formal learning situations in different types of institutions to very informal learning situations possibly mediated over social networking sites, from very low-tech but generally available solutions to latest high-tech prototypes, from sober classroom scenarios to game-based learning, two major observations can be made. Technology-enhanced learning is a field which has matured enough in recent years to deliver global learning technologies on all sorts of available devices and it has become an essential part of the discourse when it comes to pedagogic innovations in educational institutions. Nobody denies the value of learning technologies for future learning scenarios.

Talking about recent advances in the field makes it necessary to select from the variety. Hence, this special section comprises extended versions of the best papers presented at the 11th International Conference on Web-based Learning (ICWL 2012), held in Sinaia, Romania, 2-4 September 2012. The conference has been established as a high-standing event covering the newest trends in technology-enhanced learning and providing a discussion forum and social networking opportunity for academic researchers, developers, educationalists and practitioners alike. The 6 high quality papers were selected out of the 105 submissions coming from 33 countries (28 of which were accepted as full papers at the conference). After considerable extension and improvement, the papers passed through another rigorous review process in order to be included in this special section.

The papers cover latest findings in the areas of: Personalized and adaptive learning, Creation, deployment and management of educational resources, Personal learning environments (PLE), Game-based learning, Accessibility and inclusive education, E-learning platforms and tools, Pedagogical issues.

The first paper, "Recommender and Guidance Strategies for Creating Personal Mashup Learning Environments", by Alexander Nussbaumer, Daniel Dahrendorf, Hans-Christian Schmitz, Milos Kravcik, Marcel Berthold and Dietrich Albert, discusses the creation of PLE suitable for self-regulated learning (SRL). An operationalization of SRL in terms of an ontology is provided and a model is introduced for offering guidance for the creation of PLEs containing tools for cognitive and meta-cognitive learning activities. Two approaches are proposed: i) the Widget Store manages a repository of widgets which can be tagged with SRL activities and domain-specific topics; ii) the Mashup Recommender enables the creation of templates of SRL activities, which can be filled with appropriate widgets. Therefore, the resulting PLE offers support for SRL activities, while at the same time the actual creation of the PLE is a SRL activity in itself.

The second paper, "AMASE: A Framework for Supporting Personalized Activity-Based Learning on the Web", by Athanasios Staikopoulos, Ian O'Keeffe, Rachael Rafter, Eddie Walsh, Bilal Yousuf, Owen Conlan and Vincent Wade, introduces a narrative approach to personalization. A novel framework (called AMASE) is proposed, which provides the dynamic generation and enactment of personalized learning activities. The approach was evaluated in a large experimental study, in which learners used a webbased learning portal to interact with automatically generated personalized learning activities in the domain of SQL; the results are encouraging, with students appreciating the learning help received from the framework.

The third paper, "Towards a Low Cost Adaptation of Educational Games for People with Disabilities", by Javier Torrente, Ángel del Blanco, Ángel Serrano-Laguna, José Ángel Vallejo-Pinto, Pablo Moreno-Ger and Baltasar Fernández-Manjón, deals with the improvement of game accessibility by providing semi-automatic support in the game authoring platform. The approach is illustrated with the eAdventure game editor, which is used for making a game accessible for students with different disability profiles (blindness, low vision, limited mobility, hearing and cognitive disabilities). The main findings are that the effort needed to make the game accessible is moderate in comparison to the total effort dedicated to game development and that the level of automation which can be achieved depends on the type of disability and the required type of adaptations.

The fourth paper, "Slicepedia: Content-Agnostic Slicing Resource Production for Adaptive Hypermedia", by Killian Levacher, Seamus Lawless and Vincent Wade, addresses the reuse and customization of open corpus resources in educational settings. A content supply service called Slicepedia is presented, based on Open Corpus Slicing techniques; its architecture and implementation are described in detail. Two user-trial evaluations in authentic educational scenarios are also included and a positive learning experience is reported by the students. This supports the potential of Slicepedia to produce large volumes of content suitable for use in adaptive hypermedia systems, at very low costs.

The fifth paper, "Pedagogy-driven Design of Digital Learning Ecosystems", by Mart Laanpere, Kai Pata, Peeter Normak and Hans Põldoja, proposes a conceptual and process model for pedagogy-driven design of online learning environments, as an alternative to the pedagogical neutrality of traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS). The concept of ecosystem is extended from the biological world to the domain of technology-enhanced learning, outlining the pedagogical approaches that should be promoted by the next generation of online learning platforms. The approach is illustrated with the development of such a Digital Learning Ecosystem called Dippler, a distributed and adaptable portfolio-based learning platform, which aims to combine the strengths of institutional LMS with those of blog-based PLE.

The sixth paper, "Towards PLEs through Widget Spaces in Moodle", by Evgeny Bogdanov, Carsten Ullrich, Erik Isaksson, Matthias Palmer and Denis Gillet, discusses augmenting the Learning Management Systems capabilities with PLE components. The suggested solution is to integrate these PLE components as widgets in the LMS, more specifically using OpenSocial apps. The proposed Moodle plugin offers teachers the flexibility to choose the set of tools they want to use in their courses, improving also the interoperability of Moodle with other Web platforms. The experimental evaluation shows that students perceive the learning environment as useful, while at the same time wish to have the option to manage the widgets themselves. Therefore, a second plugin which allows students to personalize their own environment is envisaged by the authors, being currently under development.

First of all we would like to express our gratitude to the Editor-in-Chief, Prof. Mirjana Ivanović, for giving us the opportunity to guest edit this special section and for her continuous support and guidance. Next, we would like to thank all the authors for their exceptional contributions, for their efforts and cooperation. Finally, we are very grateful to the reviewers for their timely and valuable feedback, which significantly helped authors to improve their papers.

Guest Editors
Elvira Popescu (University of Craiova, Romania)
Qing Li (City University of Hong Kong, China)
Ralf Klamma (RWTH Aachen University, Germany)
Marcus Specht (Open University of the Netherlands, The Netherlands)
Howard Leung (City University of Hong Kong, China)