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Content and conversation silos

Our digital learning tools (LMS, blogs, wikis, collaborative suites, listservs, social network sites, instant messaging, etc) don’t play well with each other (or with different devices – i.e. mobile). We’ve seen some improvements in how data (content) is handled through standards (well, in fairness, our standards work may NOT actually be an improvement). Still, content transfer from one application to another is not seamless. Worse, social interactions – as critical as content in the learning cycle – need to be reconstructed in every new space in which we are active. For example, my blogger account doesn’t transfer “friends” from my instant messaging account. The witty conversation I have with a group of learners (at least the content by-product of the conversation) doesn’t transfer easily into my blog or personal knowledge management spaces. Simply put: we are still tying socialization and content to individual tools. I think that a tool should be a space in which to dialogue and learn, but that any content/conversations that I find valuable should be housed in my own “space”. This is becoming a head space issue – how many new tools and approaches do we want to learn? Or expect our learners to learn? I know this sounds a bit cryptic, but I’m convinced that our social and content models related to learning are completely off-base. It’s becoming more evident as we integrate technology into our learning and lives. The silo needs to break.


  1. Elaad wrote:

    Funny you should mention it. In the last couple of days I’ve been looking at some new web-apps and catching up on reading on web 2.0.
    One new term I came accross is “Mash-up”, which means something like embedding a few objects and “mini-apps” into your application or web page.
    A good example is embedding a 3rd party maps app into your web page.
    If I get you correctly, what you are talking about is having a piece of data in a page “tagged” in a standard way. Then, the browser would decide on the appropriate application to present this data. Thus, your browser will be set to using app A while my browser will use app B for displaying the same information. The decision is not hard coded into the page itself. This is like deciding which is the default application your OS uses to view or edit a file with a given extention.
    This takes me one step further in the direction of having xml islands in your page, or even having the whole page be one big xml block. The browser will then use the default viewers for elements with standard tags.
    The outcome is a separation between the data and the application that decifers it.
    The data could also be stored in various places on the web and your page could only point to its URLs. If a standard is used, you will be guaranteed to recieve data that can be presented by your browser.
    When is the next w3c conference on this topic? ;-)

    Thursday, March 16, 2006 at 3:50 pm | Permalink
  2. Vivian wrote:

    Just as I opened up this latest entry in your interesting blog this morning, the phone rang in my office, and I shifted focus, but the “content and conversation silos” remained in the room as a silent witness to the phone conversation that followed.

    Me: “Hi Ulrich, thanks for returning my call! Yes, I wanted to follow up with you on the idea of presenting a session at forthcoming SAKAI conference. But the problem I have with SAKAI is that it just seems to be another group trying to build the next generation LMS, albeit an open source version, and since I personally think all LMS notions are, well, so Web 1.0, is there anything I could possibly offer to the conversation at this conference?”

    Uli: No, SAKAI is more than LMS, there is a movement towards an open framework that is intended to provide a landscape for all sorts of learning and social networking applications.”

    Me: “Framework! Yes I like that term – I was reading an article recently quoting Carl Berger (a sage who recently retired from Dean,Faculty of Education at University of Michigan) and he talks about *frameworks* and this seems to be precisely how we should be talking about this broader domain of tools that support the social construction of knowledge in online communities.

    Uli: Yes, so you have a framework, you know, that Powerpoint slide you frequently talk with, the one that conceptually maps the relationship of LMS, blogs, wikis, CoP tools, web-accessible file repositories, all interconnected but complementary, and provisioned through an identity framework, but rendering wherever the intended audience can access it – sometimes on the WWW and sometimes in authenticated and even role-based environments.

    Me: So is that what SAKAI is trying to get to?

    Uli: Yes, but more importantly SAKAI needs to get from the technical architecture layer to the knowledge architecture layer, incorporating user interests and pedagogical values and organizational support structures.

    Me: Right, I get it for sure, knowledge architecture is what I so believe is what this is about, that I built a company a few years ago using that name.

    Uli: So why don’t you present a conceptual framework that illustrates the emergent support and pedagogical shifts that need to be considered to make this stuff actually work?

    Me: That’s it! OK I will submit an abstract for the SAKAI conference – thanks for helping me think through this. Bye for now.

    Then I returned to my screen and read your article. But oh my, you’re right George, Uli and I had forgotten to consider the “personal knowledge architecture” elements of this framework – how do we get the ideas from one environment into the next except by cutting and pasting text into an adjacent knowledge domain where we want our ideas to be planted next (a kind of non-technical XML process), to better facilitate the idea of knowledge scaffolding and management, the knowledge construction stuff that is attempted in Scardemelia and Bereiter’s Knowledge Forum (CSILE) product, taking us to the next level of intersecting our individual personal portfolio of ideas within the broader social networks we participate in.

    So maybe all of our thought-postings, whether it be in an email, or a blog comment, or a contribution to a wiki, or as a thread in a WebCT discussion, or in any other social web environment, needs to *authored* in a universally standard common template with standards-based editing features that include a really simple tag feature and a “save to” function. Then this posting I am making right now in your blog could be saved to my own personal repository and reused like a miniature learning object. I could “delicious or furl” these comments so that others could track/trace and build on these ideas through a kind of social bookmarking of thoughts/ideas.

    So I am going to add an additional context into my *framework* after reading your article, one that includes something like what I have just described. Anyone out there know of a tool that could be as easy as Flickr or FURL to allow us to do with our text-thoughts what we can do with our photos and our favourite URLs?

    So you see why the screen with the blog seemed a silent witness to my phone conversation? Next idea is to podcast those phone conversations with the press of a button on the handset! And ideally to have the option to render the conversation in audio or in text.

    Friday, March 17, 2006 at 1:30 am | Permalink
  3. George Siemens wrote:

    Hi Elaad – yes – I’m referring to the concept of a mashup, though I don’t know if I would see the browser as being the primary vehicle for the process. Essentially, I’m saying that some how, the content that educators provide has to be viewed in the tool that the learner chooses. Instead of having to log in to an LMS, the content comes to the learner in the format they desire (dare I say myspace??). I’ve discussed this on my connectivism blog as well: and .

    Friday, March 17, 2006 at 4:07 am | Permalink
  4. Hi Vivian, interesting conversation :) . Sounds like your use of frameworks matches with how I’ve come to use learning ecologies – a larger structure that fosters/houses learning. We have spent so much of our time in elearning talking about content, that we give social elements (or personal knowledge management principles) lip service at best. And yet, so much of our learning happens through our convesations. Now that many of our conversations are digital (i.e. like this one), why shouldn’t you retain ownership of the dialogue? Why should it sit only on my site? Why do you and I have to interact in each other’s space? Why can’t we interact with each other in our own spaces?

    Needless to say, that’s a huge challenge are requires much more collaboration than software vendors are likely to pursue. Still, I want my content and conversations in my space…and when I take a course, why should I have to learn WebCT? or D2L? Why can’t your content come to me in my learning ecology?

    Friday, March 17, 2006 at 4:17 am | Permalink
  5. vivian wrote:

    So as a result of this little discussion, and for your “personal knowledge management” entertainment, I hereby vow to start copying and/or writing blog posts in Notepad and saving them in a file folder so I don’t have to try to reconstruct my socially networked thoughts that get scattered like cookie crumbs across WWW. Troublesome it is, though, because as you and I and whoever else adds ideas/knowledge in your blog on this particular theme(“build-ons” – Bereiter and Scardemelia),I then will have to screenscrape those responses. But it’s the only way I know to hold onto my thoughts.

    Blogs run the risk of a whole bunch of people just talking to themselves, and longing for some “link love”, as I note it is referred to, in some blogs. As Brian Lamb says, blogging is/should be a verb, not a noun, a conversation, a dialogue, not a diatribe, and it is only in the act of doing these “build-ons” that the medium becomes interesting.

    So check in with me in a month or so and ask me how my Notepad thoughts are evolving ;-)

    Friday, March 17, 2006 at 5:55 am | Permalink
  6. Content and conversation silos

    Content and conversation silos Our digital learning tools (LMS, blogs, wikis, collaborative suites, listservs, social network sites, instant messaging, etc)…

    Tuesday, April 25, 2006 at 10:20 pm | Permalink