The University of Manitoba is trying out a new approach to education that borrows from popular social networking and information sites such as MySpace and Wikipedia.

The school's Virtual Learning Commons website lets staff and students create academic and personal profile pages they can use to share information or make new contacts.

The site, launched in September, was designed to take advantage of so-called Web 2.0 technologies commonly used to build online communities.

The approach is meant to foster learning through social collaboration and openness, Peter Tittenberger, the acting director of the university's learning technology centre said.

"The VLC allows students and staff an opportunity to connect, discuss, share and create content online as an entire university community — not at a course level," he said in a written statement. "It also allows students to define what they want to talk about, what's important to them and gives them a platform to discuss those concerns."

Another member of the learning technology centre's staff, George Siemens, took a similar approach to his new book, Knowing Knowledge, launching it as a wiki.

A wiki is a collaborative site that users can edit to share information. One of the best-known examples is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia whose entries are generated by its users.

The approach helps keep the text up to date and the readers engaged, Siemens said.

"People need to be very up to speed," he said. "The process of getting published in a print journal can take one to two years. A wiki is obviously much quicker, and it also embodies the formal peer review process in the right context."