From consumption to curation – but where are we headed.


We have previously described four learning behaviours which we feel describe the ways in which an individual engages with their personal and work learning environment/ personal learning network. See Littlejohn, Milligan and Margaryan, 2011 and Milligan, Littlejohn and Margaryan, 2012 for academic papers). We term the behaviours the 4c’s: consume, connect, create and contribute. We tend to argue that learning networks and personal learning environments facilitate connection creation and contribution, whereas traditional learning environments (and their associated pedagogies) were more focused on consumption.

Although we’ve settled on 4c’s, a fifth option: curation describes an important and emergent behaviour in social networks which has clear overlap with these behaviours. This blog post (long and hastly written) captures some of my current thinking about tools in this area.

In the good old days we saved bookmarks. To our own computers. Then along came allowing public sharing of bookmarks, and through tags a great mechanism for discovering trusted knowledge sources and gaining an insight into how other people in our networks conceptualised and structured knowledge. I was an avid user of delicious from its early days – and I think it is an incredibly powerful social tool for learners and for learning. But I hardly use delicious anymore …

I used to have a simple workflow – find things via Google Reader, and save everything useful to delicious, organising with different tags. I shared stuff using the special for:username tag to individuals in my close personal network. and I used to make notes about the resources as i saved them in delicious. This is incredibly powerful in learning terms … Going back to the 4c’s I consumed content, I connected it to my existing knowledge structures (by tagging) and to people in my network (using the for:username tag), I created new knowledge associated with the new resources I’d identified (appending notes) and making all this public through an open social tool represented my contribution back to my learning network, and beyond.

Sometime in the last two years or so, my delicious tagging started to slow considerably and my sharing fell to zero. Sorry network. The reason: the other tools in my personal learning environment evolved, and new ones arrived, while delicious (and Google Reader) stagnated. These new tools have different affordances, but bring some limitations.

In the last 7 or 8 years, the web (and how we interact with it) has moved on, not least with the advent mobile devices and apps. My simple discovery and share workflow has evolved – but not for the better. Now I tend to put things in silos – I save recipes to ‘Pocket’ because they are then easily accessible when I am cooking and have my tablet with me. I store research papers to Mendeley or Zotero where I can search, music videos go on tumblr, tips and tricks articles to Evernote. I’ve gradually migrated many of my newsfeeds from Google Reader to Flipboard where the reading (consumption) interface is much nicer. Managing /curating and consuming my content streams is infinitely easier than it was before. But there’s been a silent cost. In some of these new silos I have retained networks, but not in all. Specifically. FlipBoard and Pocket feel very personal to me and not social at all (they support consume, but not so much connect).

And what about create and contribute … I really like Pocket, and if I am honest I don’t really mind that it is not ‘social’ (in the short run, I don’t suffer) but one thing that does frustrate me is that I can’t annotate the things I keep there. I want to be able to write ‘halve the quantities’ or ‘use butter not margarine’ somewhere to remind me when I make a recipe again, but this online version of a recipe folder doesn’t give that option (it doesn’t support create). And with it not being social, there is little option for me to contribute. That’s a real shame.

Likewise with FlipBoard. Up until now there was no coherent sharing within FlipBoard (you can ‘tweet out’ single articles from the Flipboard app) So it was interesting to read today that FlipBoard is adding a social layer to its app. This immediately made me think – hey, this is a great way to share stuff I discover – I can curate a bundle of content I’ve found which is interesting to me and share it with anyone else who is interested (connect). But a quick look at lunchtime confirmed that their view of social still doesn’t extend to giving me a ‘voice’to annotate my curated selection – there is no facility for creation.

So, where are we? it seems that our social web spaces are increasingly driven by content consumption and curation … and while tools supporting these actions have evolved, this has been at the expense of functionality for creation and contribution. If we are to make use of social web tools for learning, we have to recognise that the functions of the tools we find may not match with the balance of functions we would like our learning tools to have.

If anyone knows of a good tool that gets the balance right then I’d love to know. seems to get creation right (allowing annotation/commenting on resources), but I’m not sure about the others – though in truth i haven’t yet used myself, only seen other’s scoops.

Littlejohn, A., Milligan, C., & Margaryan, A. (2012). Collective knowledge: Supporting self-regulated learning in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 24(3) 226-238.

Milligan, C., Margaryan, A., & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Supporting goal formation, sharing and learning of knowledge workers. In Ravenscroft, A. et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of European Conference on Technology-Enhanced Learning (EC-TEL), LNCS 7563 (pp. 519—524). Heidelberg: Springer. Postprint (under green archiving arrangements):

Author: Colin Milligan

Learning researcher based at Glasgow Caledonian University, and living in beautiful West Stirlingshire.

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