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):

Charting Tools

This blog contains many posts about ‘charting’ and ‘charting tools’. Although we have had versions of the tools for some time, various issues have meant they were never really public. Recently, we have moved the tools to a new server and it makes sense to make them available for people to explore.

I’ll be demonstrating the tools at the EC-TEL conference in Saarbrucken, Germany on (I think) 19th September 2012. In preparation for that, we have prepared a short (silent) demo as an introduction to the tools:

The demo is accompanied by a short paper available here (under green archiving):  Supporting Goal Formation, Sharing and Learning of Knowledge Workers

Meanwhile, you can access the tools at  The tools are more proof of concept than anything else, but should hopefully be of interest in helping think through some ideas about how knowledge workers might share learning goals for collective benefit. There are some support pages at: including links to further reading, and a set of getting started pages.

The tools are a work in progress, so if you use them and find bugs or problems I’m keen to collect any views – just email them to me. As indicated in the demo, the tools are written in Ruby and will be released under an open source license.

Google + from me at Google –

So I go away to Italy for a fortnight, and Google launches a killer social tool and doesn’t invite me. Hmm.

Everyone and their dog is discussing Google +, and those who are in the beta can at least talk from experience. From the outside, I can only speculate on the tools and services they provide and how they fit with our Charting work.

Google + seems initially to have 4 main components: circles, sparks, hangouts and huddle (mobile only). I’ll elaborate below but in summary, I see circles as about connecting, sparks as consuming (curation?), and huddle as communication (!) It seems there isn’t (yet) much integration with Google Docs, but with Google Docs, you’d also have creation and contribution, making the full set of Charting activities which we recognise.

So in more detail:

CIRCLES is the Plus way of organising the people in your network. In our work on learning among knowledge workers in the workplace, we have observed the importance of reconfigurable (ad hoc) teams. In  addition, a key feature of the modern knowledge workplace is that an individual may work on a number of overlapping projects (tasks), each of which involve a (overlapping) group of co-workers. Circles allows you to easily create and re-assort groups. Ostensibly this is so that you can keep your Saturday night drinking exploits away from your Uncle (I’d appreciate that, I don’t want to see what my nephews have been up to on Facebook, but I do want to connect with them), but it would cope just as well with allowing me to manage the different task based networks I participate in. Could Circles be used to represent a set of individuals with a shared goal?  I don’t know whether circles can be shared, or whether each member of a circle would effectively have to manually create their own circle with that membership?

SPARKS seems to be about saved searches. I’ve heard, and discovered less about this, but it does seem as if it would be a natural mechanism for bringing together resources associated with a given project or goal. I wonder this feature can be used as a  front end to any resource store – e.g. a shared tag on delicious (or Google’s own bookmark service). Is it all RSS?

HANGOUTS and HUDDLE, despite the names are the interesting tools here – I have long argued that Charting tools have to seamlessly integrate (but not replicate) tools for communication. This was a key benefit of the now defunct Wave, that you could seamlessly integrate the sync, semi-sync and async discussions which occur in a way that email and many other tools can’t. It will be interesting to see if Google tries to bring in any of the Wave gadgets to the shared spaces which they are creating here.

In addition to communicating (bringing people together), I think to be useful in the workplace, a Platform like Plus also needs to be able to provide spaces for co-working (co-creation of new content). Integration with Google Docs would give this and would be the icing on the cake.

In our (failed) application to get Google Research to fund some Charting Development, we tried to align our work to existing Google services but with this in the pipeline, it’s little wonder they didn’t fund us.

One final point, I think the mobile integration of Plus will be key to its success. Working across android, iOS and windows devices, seamless integration emerges as a key determinant of whether I persist in using a tool or not. I expect Google has this covered in Plus.

Can’t wait to get into Google +. Yrs, in anticipation.

Thinking about Goals

In our charting work, goals have always been somewhat problematic, and it’s been easy to leave the issues untouched and unexplored. In preparation for a first proper implementation pilot with these tools, I have started to do some reading and thinking. What follows are some ideas, documented before I disappear on holiday for  a couple of weeks. I’ll come back to the topic at the start of July to try and dig in to the academic literature.

We talk about goals, and we always mean ‘learning goals’ [example: I’d like to improve my bid-writing skills], yet we are making some big assumptions – do knowledge workers actually ever articulate learning goals? Can they? Would they want to? Would they benefit from articulating learning goals.  For a knowledge worker, goals are more often expressed in terms of:

  • performance –  most knowledge workers articulate their goals during (or in preparation for) annual performance review. Although much is made of the need to make such goals SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic and Time-Bound), this can actually make them somewhat artificial. performance goals can tend to be quite global reflecting the ‘essence of the job*’ [ex. support the development of new teachers across the institution].
  • tasks – [ex: design a new course]. Goals which relate to a specific task are often easier to formulate as they reflect work activity. Granularity can be a problem here – too big and they end up just describing the different activities a worker is undertaking, too small, and they becomes little more than todo list items: Charting isn’t about task management. | On the other hand, one benefit of task-based goals is that (as knowledge work is often collaborative) these goals often naturally represent shared goals.
  • outputs – [produce a briefing paper about wind farms in local region] have the advantage that they are probably at the right level of granularity and represent  discrete activities which are relevant to work.
But these goal types all reflect business’s focus on achievement, and sit at odds with learning goals which should focus on creating capacity for achievement in the future but may not pay immediate measurable dividends.
In addition to the types described above, we can think of goals in other ways. Some might find it useful to thinnk in terms of short and long term goals to get round the granulairty problem. In TenCompetence**, they discuss proximal and ordinate goals, relating to how an overall learning goal can be achieved through a series of actionable ‘proximal goals’.
Learning goals are all too common from formal education – linked to learning outcomes/learning objectives etc. In the workplace, there may be a tendency to see them in tandem with formal training provision (ex: learn to program in python … TR101: Programming Python.) Yet we know that much of the learning which occurs in the workplace occurs outside the classroom. Would learning goals articulated in such a way that they elaborated how the individual might achieve their goal be more use.

Our test implementation for the prototype charting tools will be a small community of PhD researchers. Although the primary focus of our research is learning in the workplace, I see the learning which occurs during PhD study as being a very special type of workplace learning. Although a formal qualification is gained at the end of the study, the activities undertaken during their study are pretty typical of knowledge workers.

One of the interesting things about PhD study is that it allows us to think about learning from two different perspectives, the learner and the policymaker.  PhD students have a core goal in mind (gaining their doctorate), but this exists within the wider aim of ‘becoming a researcher’ which is an essential component of the PhD process. How do the goals formulated by PhD students reflect the core and wider goals they have? Through the JSS, and more recently, the RDF we have a list of attributes which we expect PhD students to develop during their studentship. To what extent is there a match between the goals students formulate, and these skills?

(to be continued after the holidays …).

* Four types of employee performance goals

** TenCompetence deliverable 8.2

***Joint Skills Statement

****Researcher Development Framework




Another C

In our work on Charting, we have tinkered with the naming and definition of the different activities which an individual learner engages in as they interact with their personal learning network/the collective to learn. For a while now we have been settled on four C’s: Consume, Connect Create and Contribute. These activities map to other groups of terms that various authors have put forward.

Recently I  have come across two instances of another ‘C’ which has caught my eye. First, a post about new functionality in tumblr, an activity stream tool, then this morning, a post by Dave Cormier on ePortfolios. Both of them pick up on the idea of  ‘Curation’. I like this term and think it relates closely to our ‘contribute’ which we conceptualise as the things an individual consumes or creates which they actively share (as opposed to collect publicly around them in delicious etc).  I don’t plan to change our 4 C’s but I wish I’d considered ‘curate’ at the time.

UPDATE: Curate is certainly the word of the day, now I find another post in my stream from John Tropea which also talks about curation.

Are we closer to defining Charting?

In CA, we’ve been thinking about how we would each describe Charting in an attempt tie down the definition of this concept once and for all. After writing a first draft and then trying to incorporate additional ideas from Allison and Anoush, this is what I have come up with:

The modern workplace has changed in a number of ways:

  • process innovation and optimisation means that knowledge work now consists primarily of innovating, adapting existing knowledge and resources, and synthesising existing and new knowledge to create new solutions and outputs.
  • as a consequence of this, a key attribute of knowledge workers is that they must be self-regulating, able to adapt their behaviour and operate autonomously, as well as being able to work in teams taking and ceding leadership as required.
  • knowledge age tasks are fundamentally interdisciplinary, with transient teams containing a unique combination of experts coming together to solve problems then dispersing once they have fulfilled their shared objectives.
  • ultimate responsibility for career planning resides with the individual, who needs to manage their own development integrating it with their  current practice and responsibilities.

Within this context, how can an individual’s learning be supported in such a way that it benefits the individual and fits with the norms and existing practices of the modern knowledge workplace?

  • Informal workplace learning is inherently tied to and therefore cannot occur in isolation from the work practices which form the core of an individual’s activity.
  • As these work practices are fundamentally collaborative, it follows that learning in the workplace will have some dependency on peers and colleagues within and beyond the workplace. Learning is social, and involves dialogue.
  • For the individual, learning emerges from the processes of planning, organising and making sense of what you have done (achieved) and what you want to do (achieve), therefore systems to support learning should support the individual  in planning organising, recording, reflecting on and sharing  their practice, as well as in learning with other learners within their group.

Charting is the process whereby an individual manages and optimises their interaction with the people and resources who (may) have a role in their learning and development. The expectation is that for a knowledge worker, learning is inseparable from work, and therefore charting tools would be closely integrated with the rest of the tools which an individual uses to conduct their work.

A Charting system would therefore form one component of an individual’s Personal Work and Learning Interface (a unified view , perhaps adopting a Netvibes or iGoogle type interface) which allows the individual to engage effectively with the collective. This environment should allow them to:

  • Discover and Consume knowledge and resources created by others, leveraging value from the collective.
  • Connect with others who share interests or goals to develop ideas,  share experience, provide peer-support, or work collaboratively to achieve shared goals.
  • Create new knowledge (structures) >by combining and extending sources (people and resources and personal reflections etc) to create a dynamic, faithful and individually focused view of the knowledge and understanding they possess about a given topic,  and how different topics inter-relate within their personal world-view. This sense-making process is continual, and ensures that the knowledge space evolves with the ideas of the individual, their network and the whole collective.
  • Contribute new knowledge back to the networkformally (as reports, publications, and other standalone artefacts) and informally (as reflections, ideas, ratings and other context-dependent content) for the benefit of either a local group or the whole collective.

Charting tools would allow the individual to interact with these different elements of their environment in such a way as to allow them to support learning (planning, organising, connecting, recording and reflecting) alongside their day to day practice. Charting systems will incorporate typical tools for:

  • consuming: dashboards, RSS readers, drop-boxes,
  • connecting : email and chat, vc, social media functionality, presence indicators, shared spaces.
  • creating: shared document authoring, online storage, social bookmarking tools, search knowledge structuring tools, activity streaming tools
  • contribute: blogging and micro-blogging tools, knowledge structure visualisation tools (to see how others have organised their knowledge).

In addition, specific Charting tools might include

  • rich goal setting tools to act as organisers for projects and ideas,
  • smart-tagging tools which integrate with colleague networks and disparate repositories of knowledge/information to provide a single point of entry for knowledge structured around their individual conception of their knowledge space,
  • recommender systems etc. to promote appropriate tools and resources from elsewhere in the collective and similarity tools to identify patterns in knowledge acquisition and structuring
  • specialised search tools to allow searching of others with similar goals, others who have used similar resources etc. Search should be integrated across knowledge types and sources with smart-tagging tools to suggest tags and encourage cross-linking where appropriate.
  • tools to integrate charting within existing work practices.

Getting closer. I hope.