Stock & Flow

Lee Lefever at CommonCraft has re-linked to a series of three posts that he made last year on stock and flow in online communication. There’s a neat graphic at the main link, summarized as:

Flows = Timely & Engaging (e.g. radio, speeches, e-mail, blogs)
Stocks = Archived, Organized for Reference (e.g. web site, database, book, voice mail)

Lee discusses the changes that are happening within television, as TiVo (TV on demand) changes the medium from one of flow (and therefore engaging) to one of stock (and therefore of less value). He also says that blogs are so engaging because they allow flow.

This got me to thinking about the whole notion of digital content in education. Fewer people are willing to pay for content which is just stock, such as self-paced online courses. Stock is like product – over time, price tends to zero. You need flow to provide value (context), enabled through social interaction. For instance, MIT’s open courseware initiative makes the stock available for free, but you have to pay to participate in the flow (class membership). On the other hand, flow without any stock could become noise; everyone talking but no one taking notes or referring to previous knowledge. I think that you need both stock and flow, especially in education. It’s just becoming harder to offer one of these alone for a fee.

On this blog, it’s the flow that keeps the conversation fresh, and the stock that gradually builds in value over time. To keep this valuable, you need to have steady flow and an easy way to access the stock that you may need. I’m going to work on a site redesign in the near future and see how I can improve both stock and flow.

4 Responses to “Stock & Flow”

  1. Andy

    The Open University also offers its content for free. The OU offers distance learning courses and course participants attend workshops and online discussions etc. but I think the value (not educational value) comes from the fact that the participants can receive qualifications – how many students would pay their university fees if there were no qualification? Would the OU or MIT say – here’s all the course material and if you can pass our assessment (whatever that might be) we’ll award you the credit/degree? Unlikely, but it could be a way of making education, and its rewards more available. So, yes there’s value added through ‘dynamic input’ but also through credit/qualification.

    We create short, explainer videos (stock) which focus on the core of the topic (hence the name) the videos are designed to be supplemented with material which is, for example, particularly relevant to a group of users, dynamic in the sense of changing quickly or localised etc. So, as you say, both stock and flow are important, but we believe, to some extent, they can be separated.

    One way I look at learning is it being made up of four areas: knowledge, skills, attitude and awareness (KASA), to me this helps to focus on what you’re trying to achieve and therefore how you go about it. For example, explainers are great for knowledge, on the job training can be excellent for some skills, attitudinal change can come about through awareness raising etc – obviously there’s overlap and I’m simplifying. So in the sense of stock and flow, I’d also look at KASA to see which dynamic is dominant.


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