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.