Friday, July 25, 2008

The Solution to Content Overload: A Thought Takes Flight

I'm intrigued at how an idea can grow, morph, and improve over time. For several months I have made the paradoxical claim that the solution to content overload is to create more content.

What I've meant by this is that the act of creating content helps to teach us how this new world of ever-increasing content works. And when we teach others to be content creators, we help them to better understand this new world so that they can be better consumers of content themselves. A good example of this is how the act of choosing a license under which to publish content gives us (and students) a better understanding of how to respect others' licensing choices.

But it turns out that I'm discovering a richer meaning to the paradoxical answer. One that I instinctively knew was there, but hadn't been able to verbalize fully until now.

I see the Web moving from a "publishing" platform to a "conversation" platform. We will drive ourselves crazy if we continue to think of the Web as an ever-growing repository of information to consume. And so within that vision it would be reasonable to ask--as many have done--why the ordinary user should add more content, much of which will be of questionable value when measure by the yardstick of authoritative voices. However, as the Web grows it is becoming less about accumulation and aggregation of content, and more and more a vehicle for participating in engaged learning conversations (both synchronous or asynchronous).

And when we teach content creation we are actually teaching the ability to take part in these conversations. And the ability to take part in these conversations, I believe, will define our learning, our careers, and our sense of personal accomplishment.


  1. First, I want to say that I totally agree with your assessment of "the Web moving from a "publishing" platform to a "conversation" platform. It truly is. I spend much more time now conversing about information than researching information. However, that conversation does need to come from an area of expertise. Therefore, I do research these ideas before conversing about them.

    Likewise, I think we need to begin to show our students how to participate intelligently in such conversations. Ahhh so much to do, so little time.

  2. Excellent points, Lisa. What this idea of the Web as a conversation does for me is to make it clear that there is an imperative to teach being, and how to be, a part of the conversation.

  3. When I saw your idea on Plurk, I thought isn't that a paradox! You drew me into the conversation. These are transformative ideas.

    Steve, I agree with your idea about creation, content and conversation. I think these are trends we, as educators, can exploit, through technology, to our student's advantage.

    Lisa makes a good point. I agree: it is very helpful to base our conversations on expertise.

    It seems to me that interactive conversations have levels of importance and value. These levels will determine the need and depth of expertise within interactive conversations.

    For instance, if I am asking for others to brainstorm with me, I will NOT, initially, be looking for expertise...only interest and attention.

    Another level of interactive conversations relate to the history of expertise. What is often referred to as primary sources.

    For instance, Dr. W. Edwards Deming is the father of the theories that gave us the models of quality interactions in our lives. We discuss and model derivations of his theories all the time now.

    Initially, his work met with resistance in the USA. He went to postwar Japan where his ideas helped transform their hierarchical business societies into collaborative groups that continue to surpass hierarchical systems, even today.

    Whoa, this is an interesting topic. Thanks for drawing me in. I will think further on these ideas of creation, content, and conversation in our interactive world where we hope to include our students and our communities.

  4. In classrooms, the conversation needs to be about content. If students are responsible for posting content for discussion they are using the skills we want them to be developing. I'm planning to have all tenth graders in my high school post to PBWiki a group project on our local cemetary, and what "tools for historians" they used to create this information. They will ask a question at the end of the post for others to answer. Research and historical accuracy are key, but so is the conversation about that work. Does anyone see any dangers to posting anonymous student work to a world wide audience?

  5. It seems like an overwhelming environment to play or consume in. I mean, I just google searched 'content overload' yours was the first link, I read it quick, semi-agreed, reposted it via G+ and now am leaving a comment, in the blink of an eye, and all because I don't want to waste time thinking about every simple little move I make, is that really the culture we're perpetuating?

  6. It seems like we're perpetuating a culture of speed thinkers and producers. Maybe it's just my overwhelming angst and awareness at what's available in the internet, especially in pursuit of my own goals and aspirations as a director, I always wonder what's out there for me to consume and influence me. With the niches of the net, my own G+ stream was displaying the swaths of cool stuff that I couldn't decide how to pick or where to go, or even to think about who's producing all this stuff and the drive to produce my own stuff. Seems like a vicious cycle.


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