User Generated Context for Learning

Umair Haque’s short paper on User Generated Context has some insights pertinent to online learning. Haque says that “context” is what most users generate and that content remains an area for professionals or at least the well-known amateurs. The rest of us just add context to what is flowing from the main information nodes, like TechCrunch or the New York Times [kind of like what I’m doing with this post]. Understanding that most of us in the “long tail” generate context, not content, is an important differentiation.

For content players and publishers, user generated context means that connected consumers aren’t their competitors – but are vital, essential complementors, who create very real value for them. The more context there is, the greater demand for their content is likely to be. That means that it’s vital for content players to explode the amount of context connected consumers create about them.

In the online learning business most content is locked down and it is difficult for users to add context that is persistent. I discussed this gap in Learning Content Should be Hackable. Take MIT’s open courseware initiative for instance. The media are available and free but there is no easy way to add context without porting the content to some other place. Blogs, wikis and social bookmarks enable contextualization of learning content but most of this is ad hoc and dependent on the user’s choice of social media tools. Wikipedia is a good example of context being added through links and in the article discussions.

Creating good content on a platform that lets users (teachers & learners) add context may be the the real killer application in education. Content developers and institutions have been so concerned with protecting their content that they don’t see where the real value lies. Letting others add more context will only increase the value of their content.

13 Responses to “User Generated Context for Learning”

  1. Bill Fitzgerald

    Hello, Harold,

    Actually, the whole thing can take place with or without the LMS. The section where the actual “course” takes place can be a discussion-based entity (a group blog, with contributions aggregated, comparable to the course David Wiley ran last year, and the course George Siemens and Stephen Downes will be running this fall); or, it can be within a more tradional LMS.

    Part of the reason why I separated out the assessment piece from the learning/discussion piece is that learning can (and many times should) take place separate and distinct from the reporting — and in this context, when I use the term “assessment” I mean the type of grading required by institutions to determine certification/matriculation, as opposed to the type of reflection that tends to accompany self-directed learning.

    Reply
  2. Randy Fisher

    Interesting article – your quote “Creating good content on a platform that lets users (teachers & learners) add context may be the the real killer application in education. Content developers and institutions have been so concerned with protecting their content that they don’t see where the real value lies. Letting others add more context will only increase the value of their content.”

    …it sounds just like what we are trying to achieve with WikiEducator – http://www.wikieducator.org In creating a vast array of free and open educational resources – at all education levels – educators are experiencing a new way of sharing information and collaborating on projects of interest to them, and connecting to like-minded people all over the word. Moreover, educators are adding value to other educators’ content (i.e., handouts, pedagogy, interactive learning activities, collaborative video, etc.) in a way that reduces development time, cost to the organization and increases individual energy and productivity.

    Glad to see this type of message coming from you and the blogosphere!

    Reply
  3. Jon Husband

    This is so very right. Links, questions, parsing and analysis, quibbles … the whole schmiel is about adding context.

    Reply
  4. Sepp Hasslberger

    I came here through Robin Good’s news, following a string in the George Siemens digest.

    You are making a good point about context being separate from content, and about context usually being user-created. That brings to mind a platform that I recently heard of, which allows just that.

    Shift Space

    http://shiftspace.org/what-is-shiftspace

    seems to be doing exactly that.

    “ShiftSpace is an open source layer above any website. It seeks to expand the creative possibilities currently provided through the web. ShiftSpace provides tools for artists, designers, architects, activists, developers, students, researchers, and hobbyists to create online contexts built in and on top of websites.”

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