gms | German Medical Science

GMS Journal for Medical Education

Gesellschaft für Medizinische Ausbildung (GMA)

ISSN 2366-5017

Web 2.0 and Social Networks

editorial medicine

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  • corresponding author Jan P. Ehlers - Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, E-Learning-Beratung, Hannover, Deutschland; Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, Kompetenzzentrum E-Learning, Didaktik und Ausbildungsforschung der Tiermedizin, Hannover, Deutschland
  • author Kai Sostmann - Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Dieter Scheffner Fachzentrum für medizinische Hochschullehre und evidenzbasierte Ausbildungsforschung, Prodekanat für Studium und Lehre, Kompetenzbereich E-Learning, Berlin, Deutschland

GMS Z Med Ausbild 2013;30(1):Doc15

doi: 10.3205/zma000858, urn:nbn:de:0183-zma0008588

This is the English version of the article.
The German version can be found at:

Received: February 4, 2013
Revised: February 5, 2013
Accepted: February 7, 2013
Published: February 21, 2013

© 2013 Ehlers et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.


When the term “Web 2.0” was first coined by Scott Dietzen and Eric Knorr in 2003 and then became known worldwide through Tim O’Reilly’s (2005) article What is Web 2.0?, it was actually being used to refer to a “business revolution” in the world wide web [4], [6]. This new form of participatory internet—in which practically anybody can create, share, and edit media (collectively termed “user-generated content”) easily, quickly, and usually free of charge—soon spread to all areas of society, however. The establishment of this new technology was facilitated by almost ubiquitous internet access and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

In the field of electronically supported learning, people soon began referring to e-Learning 2.0 and, in many cases, traditional formal programs of learning and instruction were supplemented by constructive, informal learning environments [3].

Perhaps the best known example of Web 2.0 is Wikipedia. The quality and uses of this encyclopedia, which is collaboratively written and edited by users, have been a subject of discussion for some years now [2], [5], [7]. Initially, most entries concerned internet- and media-related topics and were of high quality. Entries on medical topics, in contrast, did not meet the same standards and were sometimes highly problematic. This led to great resentment among many medical educators and researchers. Others recognized these deficits as an opportunity and—alone or with groups of students—have written many good, evidence-based contributions. In fact, in a Nature study, Wikipedia came close to the renowned Encyclopedia Britannica in the accuracy of its science entries [1].

Many of us now use Web 2.0 applications and social media in our teaching and work: we may communicate with students and colleagues synchronously via Skype or WhatsApp, collaboratively create content in wikis and file-sharing services, write our own blogs, share interesting references via Twitter, stay in contact with colleagues and friends through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or ResearchGate, or use one of the many other new opportunities and tools (

Against this background, a hot topic of discussion at a 2011 GMA board meeting was whether the GMA should be active in social networks—on the one hand, to provide its members with information via these channels as well and, on the other hand, to be visible to others who might have an interest in membership. The question soon arose of whether the GMA has the necessary skills in this area and whether web 2.0 and social networks are adequately addressed in the context of medical education. These questions were to be answered in the special issue you are now reading. This special issue casts light on the broad spectrum of topics relating to web 2.0 and social media that are dealt with by human medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine in the German-speaking countries.

As well as a literature review on the use of social media in medical education, the special issue contains research articles from all areas of medicine on the use of social networks, wikis, and blogs, the development of taxonomies and guidelines with web 2.0 applications, possible uses of learning programs, student expectations and competencies, and the impact of all these on the curriculum. The special issue is rounded off by project papers on the use of smart phones, the simulation network, an online magazine, and a discussion forum. The press release for the ZBMed Science Research Network 2.0 concludes by emphasizing the lasting relevance of this topic.

Not only does this special issue answer the questions raised at the 2011 board meeting, the GMA is now also active on Facebook (GMA - Society for Medical Education) and Twitter (@GMAaktuell) and is looking forward to connecting with you there.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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