Building Open Learning Environments with OpenSocial
How OpenSocial can be used for assembling learning environments

The project ROLE (Responsive Open Learning Environments) aims to support learners in assembling tools and resources in their own learning environment. This is needed in informal and lifelong learning, but can also be used in formal learning settings. To achieve this, an infrastructure is developed by ROLE which can be used by developers of tools and learning environments. Components of this infrastructure are an extension of OpenSocial and an online store for tools and assembled bundles of tools and resources.



Empowering learners to design their own personal learning environment (PLE) for their current needs and learning activities is one of the main objectives in ROLE. A PLE can consist of different parts, each with their own tools and resources that were found useful by the learner to achieve a specific goal. Learners should be able to use these parts across a border between different institutions to support lifelong learning. An important requirement for this is that technology in ROLE which is used for that purpose is based on widely used standards and specifications. One of the specifications used in ROLE is OpenSocial.



OpenSocial was designed originally for social media platforms and personal dashboards to embed widgets (small web applications) into these platforms and to provide a standardized API to share and exchange social data. Currently OpenSocial is supported by nearly all social media platforms. Moreover many PLEs and learning management systems (LMS) have started to support it (e.g. Clix, Sakai)

To support the assembling of widgets and resources into PLEs while providing responsive functionality an extension of the OpenSocial specification was needed. This extension introduces a Space concept which includes widgets, resources and learners with different access rights who are interacting within a space. Further, spaces are centered on the learner's context and provide information about this context. Such a context can be a part of a PLE with the focus on a specific learning goal or task or a course in a LMS. The newest OpenSocial 2.0 specification is user centered and does not provide such information. The next version of specification (2.1) is planned to concentrate on the support of Space concept within OpenSocial.



Learning environments which support the Space extension, allow learners to organize their learning process into spaces. They can add new widgets to them, add new resources and work collaboratively with other learners on shared spaces. Furthermore teachers can prepare such spaces and share them with their students. Widgets, learners can add to their spaces, can be either provided by the environment itself or a learner can get them from one of the available widget repositories in the Web. ROLE is offering such a store for learning related widgets. The store can be connected to different learning environments.



The ROLE store supports the assembling of learning related widgets. Widget developers who are using either ROLE technology or building other OpenSocial compatible widgets can add their learning widgets into the store. Further, both learners and experts can add widgets they are using to the store to share them with the community.

The store provides functionality to add these widgets either to connected learning environments directly or embed widget into an arbitrary environment.



Besides single widgets, the ROLE Widget Store plans to offer storing templates for spaces. Such template, so called bundle, consists of widgets, resources, a description of targeted learning activities and learning goals. These bundles can either be extracted from learning environments which support spaces or will be assembled in the store directly. Communities of practice, built around the store, will consist of learners and experts. They will assemble exchange and rate bundles according to different topics and domains. Such bundles represent a portable learning scenario that can be shared with people and instantiated back to a learning space in different learning environments.




Currently a prototype of the reference implementation of OpenSocial (Apache Shindig) was developed which supports the core functionality of the space proposal. This Prototype implementation is integrated in the social media platform Graaasp and in a version of the learning management system CLIX, adapted for the ROLE project.

The ROLE widget store provides currently a repository of learning related widgets and an extension for supporting bundles is the ongoing work. Further, the Space extension proposal was accepted by the OpenSocial Community and OpenSocial 2.1 will be targeted to Space proposal integration.

Once the space proposal is included in the specification and the stable reference implementation is available, it will impact the current PLEs and LMS that support OpenSocial.

Exchange between the widget store and a learning environment

 Figure 1 – Exchange between the widget store and a learning environment



E. Bogdanov, C. Salzmann, and D. Gillet. Contextual Spaces with Functional Skins as OpenSocial Extension. In 4th International Conference on Advances in Computer-Human Interactions, 2011.



ROLE project website:


Publicly accessible deliverables:

ROLE Widget Store:

ROLE Showcase Platform:


Apache Shinding:

OpenSocial Space Proposal:



Editor for this story: Daniel Dahrendorf