All Things to all Men or Content Curation?

Who Needs to be Concerned about Content Curation?

Content Curation is important if you are responsible for content on the web that is likely to be referenced over time and, during that time, is likely to suffer a degradation of currency.

All Things to all Men

It was possible, once upon a time, when the technology available to support the aquisition of information/new learning ran at a very genteel pace, and when the technology available to communicate that information needed months to run its course. One person could know everything about a subject.

Traditionally, and that includes the time up to the writing of this post, a ‘source of information’ must know everything, so, build a web presence that has all the latest information about everything to do with thing-a-me-bobs and it will be amazing (the ‘all things to all men’ model).


Err, not so great.


After a while, we need to check all our information and compare it with the latest information (we need to find that first). Then we have to spot the difference and up-date all our content.

That will take ages, and hundreds of people, every day. We can’t afford it. We will be out-of-date in no time. What are we going to do?

The Problem with Content

The life-cycle of Content
Let’s first think about the life-cycle of ‘current information’ (just the main bits):
  1. The most up-to-date information becomes available;
  2. The most up-to-date information is refined and edited;
  3. The most up-to-date information becomes established;
  4. The most up-to-date information is superseded (becoming ‘out-of-date information’);
  5. Out-of-date information is archived;
  6. Out-of-date information may be moved;
  7. Out-of-date information may be deleted.

The Provider of Content
Now, think about providers of content, which could be almost anything on the web. For example:
  • Blog;
  • Chat room;
  • ‘Like’ on Facebook;
  • Search engine;
  • Social media posting;
  • Specialist web site;
  • Tweet, and any link/media in a tweet;
  • Your web site.

The list goes on.

What is Content Curation?

Well, think of Curators, you know, the chaps and chapesses you find in musea. A curator acquires, cares for, develops, displays and interprets a collection of artefacts or works of art in order to inform, educate and inspire. Now take that role and apply it to information on the web. You don’t create the content, or at least not all the content, you act as a Content Curator, providing only part of the content yourself.

Content Curation in Practice

Good Content Curation comprises five essential components:
  1. Identifying relevant content;
  2. Discrimination of content;
  3. Polling external content;
  4. Change notification;
  5. Review of changed content (and taking necessary remedial action).

I know what you are thinking, “wouldn’t it be easier to adopt the ‘all things to all men’ model?” No it wouldn’t.

1. Identifying relevant content
Identify trusted and validated providers of content that is relevant to your purpose. This may not be Wikipedia, but it could be Britannica on-line; this may not be Joe Blogg’s How-To Change a Cylinder Head, but it could be the Institute of Mechanical Engineers How-To. You get the picture.

2. Discrimination of content
Do not overwhelm your Users by presenting dozens of sources of Curated Content. Be discriminating in terms of breadth and quality. For example, the National Science Museum may present an exhibit comparing the properties of light with the properties of pigments, but it does not present copies of artwork from le Louvre.
Less is more, quality, not quantity. Remember, where you send your Users will reflect on you.

3. Polling external content
The problem with external content is, over time it can change, move, or be deleted. You need a means to automatically poll your Curated Content to see if it has been changed (e.g. the file time-stamp is more recent), or moved (a re-direct is in place), or deleted (e.g. a 404 error).

4. Change notification
Once you have identified external content has changed in some way, you need a method of being notified a change has taken place. This is likely an automatically generated e-mail/SMS including salient details.

5. Review of changed content
When the ‘change notification’ is received, you need a human to look at the content to identify what change has taken place, or to identify alternative content, if the original content has been deleted. There needs to be a policy in place to manage this process.

General Points

You may suspect 3 and 4 above require some kind of technological intervention. Yes, you are correct.

If your Curated Content is small, a human can regularly check to see if all is well, however, if you have many sources of Curated Content, or perhaps many locations that forward to Curated Content, you need to automate the process.

One solution is to have all details, relating to ‘displayed’ Curated Content, called from a database. A ‘cron job’ can regularly query the database, and a ‘script’ can run tests and send an e-mail as required.

It’s a lot cheaper, faster, and more reliable than getting humans to do it.

Losing my Users

Now you are thinking, “If I send my users off somewhere else, they will not come back, they will be lost. My boss will have a fit, we’ll loose money. You know where you can stick your Curation.”

That is rubbish. Think about it. How do you behave, how do all the people you know behave?

Why do people follow others on Twitter? When they follow a link in a Tweet, do they leave Twitter behind, forever lost to the Twitterverse? No. They come back to Twitter, time and time again, because Twitter is a Curator you can customise to your personal preferences.

The same with Facebook, you favourite bloggers, even your bookmarks.

Which Curators do you not use? The ones that are rubbish at Curation!

Be a good Curator and your Users will come back time and time again.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive treatise of Content Curation, however, perhaps you have insights to share, examples of what works well, even things to avoid. Why not share?

Thanks. Take care.


The Spread of Mobile Learning

Formal mobile learning (m-learning) is not widespread, yet.

Informal m-learning is as pervasive as mobile communication devices (MCDs). If someone uses a MCD to search for an answer or information on the web or other network, m-learning is taking place.

A very few boring statistics

It is claimed 77% of the world’s population owns a MCD. Even if this is a hefty 33% over estimation, it still means over half the world’s population has a MCD.

In some African countries, almost every student owns a MCD, but very few own a computer.

Android is king in the EU, USA, and Australia. Apple accounts for 16% of sales in the EU, while Samsung have 45% of the market as of the date of this post.
So, how useful can m-learning be in learning?

Consider, how often do you use your MCD, or see others use their MCD, to access on-line information? I think we can all agree the answer is somewhere in the region of ‘very useful indeed’. The next question must be ‘what can we (teachers/trainers) do to take advantage of the benefits presented by m-learning?

Real examples of students putting m-learning into action with MCDs

  • Living in regional areas with access to limited public transport use MCD to download study guides;
  • Working ‘in the field’ download readings and journals for review to support ‘professional’ practice, or listen to audio formats whilst driving to ‘work’;
  • Attending via Distance Learning. Select from a list of prescribed texts by reading samples on-line, then purchase the chosen eBook, which is conveniently to-hand at all times;
  • Students with families. Access complete ‘set readings’ on-line and, podcasts of lectures;
  • Use Digital Object Management System (DOMS) to access resources posted by staff and students. Links to DOMS resources are easily shared;
  • Access e-learning and chat with other students in real time;
  • Update e-Portfolio and add details of any emergent/unintentional learning;
  • Use MCD to take photos of geo-tagged pictures from study guides (e.g. plants identified ‘in the field’) and upload later to discuss with peers thereby supporting contingent learning (reacting to environment/experience) and situational learning (‘in the field’);
  • Studying arts subjects, whilst out-and-about, can share photos via, e.g. Flickr, make comments, and discuss progression. Context Aware learning is strongly supported;
  • Access educational games designed to explain complex ideas in a way that removes the barriers that often appear when a student encounters one of those ‘I just don’t get it’ topics;
  • Respond to classroom/virtual classroom polls then discuss why particular options are favoured over others. The subject matter immediately becomes relevant;
  • Use Twitter to engage in live discussions with remote ‘class mates’. The character limitation requires participants to effectively and concisely express opinions;
  • Share experiences ‘in the field’ and engage in discussion via a blog, thus supporting authentic learning (meaningful learning tasks related to learning goals);
  • Use a dedicated Fresher Facebook page to get to know and support other students through the first weeks;
  • Use SMS to share information about new on-line resources where internet services may be less reliable;
  • Use Web Application Clients to aggregate and share content in one central location, allowing students to use familiar tools to gain access (personalised learning);
  • Submit on-line multiple choice tests and receive immediate feedback;
  • Access assessment materials on-line and submit comments for feedback by students and staff;
  • Access on-line support tools, information, and interactive tutorials from anywhere at any time;
  • During the Fresher period, Kindles pre-loaded with required text books, guides to academic practices, references, campus maps, and so on, can be borrowed.

Remember, whatever works for the student/learner can also work for the teacher/trainer.

What does this mean for the ‘student/teacher’ relationship?

Some argue m-learning and the use of social networking in learning will transform the ‘student/teacher’ relationship beyond recognition. The premise being the weight of responsibility for learning will shift dramatically from the ‘teacher’ to the ‘learner’.

Such a proposition is overly simplistic. There is no doubt the relationship will evolve and adapt, but it must not be allowed to be transformed as some have advocated. My argument is best summarised as 'why do children need parents?'

Mobile learning is not new, quite the contrary. Mobile learning was almost certainly one of the earliest methods of knowledge and skill transfer. Long before schools came into being masters and their apprentices would roam, discovering, practicing, sharing, and debating. In fact, the ‘traditional’ concept of learning, a classroom containing a whiteboard, a teacher, and a class, is very new. It has existed, for the masses, for less than 100 years.

What is different about m-learning in the digital on-line age is not the fact the master teaches and directs, and the apprentice attends and explores, it is how the roles are manifest. M-learning will not just turn back the educational practice clock to (the modern equivalent of) a master/apprentice relationship, it will do so, not on a one-to-one basis in real time, but on a many-to-many basis in real time, without regard for distance or the relative location of the master and the apprentice, for the first time in human history.

Of equal importance is the capacity of supportive technologies to:
  • Convert, what has always been unintentional, contingent, situational, and authentic learning (but transient and vulnerable) into recordable, shareable, submit-able, and media rich ‘evidence’;
  • Enable access to formal and informal sources in support of learning from anywhere in the world, at any time.

We are living in very exciting times promising almost magical opportunities to ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ alike, never before experienced. But let us keep our composure. Remember ‘Gartner’s Hype Cycle’, let us learn from the mistakes of the past.

The future’s bright. The future’s... m-learning (but it needs to be ADC).

What about evaluation?

Teachers/trainers can use on-line resources to seek feedback from students about subject delivery and coverage. This helps do identify where the teacher/trainer needs to focus more effort to ensure understanding. Such systems also identify what works well and why.

Students/learners can use their MCDs like ‘clickers’ to provide feedback in-class or from remote locations. Notifications can be sent by ‘teachers’ regarding evaluation activities. The student is able to respond immediately, which improves participation, and can expedite remedies.

Of course, the technology means that not only can students/teachers evaluate learning/teaching, students can evaluate each other.

Points to consider

  • Not everyone has access to MCDs, but they can be provided.
  • Need to be aware of phone number identification where anonymous participation is required.
  • M-learning integrates well with blended and flexible learning.
  • Real vs mediated communication?
  • Use of ‘mobile’ language is not always acceptable.
  • Variable web access and platforms (Apps vs Proprietary OS vs Open Source vs broadband/satellite network availability vs mobile phone network availability).
  • Is it just a fad (Gartner’s Hype Cycle).
  • Mobile security;
  • Currently, mobile browsers are not too clever, and MCD’s are not true computers;
    Supportive software. Don’t forget, e.g. QR codes in the workplace can support learning access.

What about the Future

The age of the computer (as known since the 1970s) is coming to an end. The rule of the mobile phone is also on its last legs.

“You must be delusional!” I hear you call. Please, humour me...

A pivotal event in human history was the advent of the printed word, the eventual democratisation of knowledge. However, this democracy had limitations. The learner must be where the books are kept, and the learned reside.

I suggest we are now standing at the next pivotal moment in human history. It was not the advent of the computer or the mobile phone, it is the two combined with a third vital ingredient, MOBILITY.
For the first time in human history the world’s knowledge exists wherever you are right now as you read this blog. One in seven humans is already ‘connected’. It will not be long before the inter-net finally satisfies its name in a literal sense, an interconnected-network of the human race with access to the sum of human knowledge and experience, but more, the ability to communicate and organise. This is very dangerous.

For millennia, governments have determined what people will worship, what they will know, what they are allowed to do, and what they will believe to be the truth. It is still true today, in your country and mine. I don’t care where you live, how free you think you are, it is true.

Governments were too slow to impose total control of the printed word. They are far more fleet-of-foot today. You will certainly be aware of recent attempts by governments to control the internet in the name of ‘national security’, ‘the war on terror’, ‘protecting interests abroad’ Legislation that can also be used against you to protect the state’s hold on power. They will not give it up without a fight.

“For god’s sake stop ranting, what has this to do with mLearning?” I am glad you asked.

Everyone is asking “How do we use mLearning, how do we integrate social networking, blogging?” The list goes on. IT DOES NOT MATTER.

The first thing we need to do is ensure the opportunities opening-up to us are not squandered and sacrificed at the alter of some deceitful and perverse political ideology. Keep abreast of planned legislation and scrutinise it. Consider the implications not described, assume it seeks to control you, and support calls to action.

If you are not sure how to tell if your politicians are lying, just look to see if their lips are moving.


Making the Web Faster

It's all in the 'oblique' action (i.e. '/' (aka forward-slash))

You can make a difference to the speed of the web. Really!

If everyone who can, takes note of this blog, the web will really work more quickly, and it's very easy.

URLs and Oblique

Have you ever noticed, if you copy a domain, e.g. http://www.autarkik.com

and then paste it into your browser, the domain becomes http://www.autarkik.com/

The same works if you copy http://www.autarkik.com/elearning and then paste, you get http://www.autarkik.com/elearning/


http://www.autarkik.com/ and http://www.autarkik.com/elearning/ are directories, and web servers require web directory URLs to end with '/'.


When you type or paste, e.g. http://www.autarkik.com/elearning the server looks for a file with the same URL. When it doesn't find one, it looks for a directory. When it finds a directory with the same URL, the server effectively executes a redirect and adds a '/' to the end of the URL and then goes to the directory and returns the index document.

So Where is the Saving?

The server needs to look twice for the URL if you omit the trailing '/'. If you include the trailing '/' for domains and directory URLs you are reducing the number of look-ups by 50%. If everyone who uses the web includes the trailing '/' every time they should, then tens of millions of look-ups will not be necessary, every day.

That's how you can make the web faster :-)


Rendering Flash in Mobile Browsers


Rendering any Flash (Adobe) file in a mobile browser is problematic to say the least.

It is important to remember that current (2012-09) 'smart' phones and 'tablets' are not computers in the accepted sense, but still, we expect them to be.

So, is there a solution, other than converting your Flash files to HTML5, or some other format?

The crux of the matter

Well, let's reiterate the problem...

"Flash assets do not render in a mobile device's browser."

The main protagonists are 'Flash' 'Mobile' and 'Browser' (I think we can agree that 'Mobile' is beyond our influence).

Possible action

We can change 'Flash' (lots of time, planning, staff, MONEY)...


We can change 'Browser' (probably free, easy to install, available to everyone via the web, the device owner solves the problem not the Flash asset owner).

You can see where this is going, can't you?

Solutions (free)


The Nomensa Accessible Media Player 2.0 does exactly what it reads on the tin and also runs on iDevices.

Android and Mac

Puffin Browser 2 is a candidate for your iPhone/iPad or Android device.

Android only

Dolphin Browser will even run Articulate courses (tested on Samsung Tab 10.4)

Your contribution

If you know of other solutions, please share your insights here. Thanks. Take care.


Agile Manifesto and E-learning Development

Agile is an approach designed for the development of software.

I have duplicated the Agile values and manifesto below. The only change I have made is to replace the word 'software' with 'e-learning'.

The Agile approach values:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  2. Working e-learning over comprehensive documentation;
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation;
  4. Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, the items on the left are valued more.

Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
    through early and continuous delivery
    of valuable e-learning;
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in
    development. Agile processes harness change for
    the customer's competitive advantage;
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a
    couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a
    preference to the shorter timescale;
  • Business people and developers must work
    together daily throughout the project;
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done;
  • The most efficient and effective method of
    conveying information to and within a development
    team is face-to-face conversation;
  • Working e-learning is the primary measure of progress;
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development;
  • The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely;
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility;
  • Simplicity, the art of maximizing the amount of work not done, is essential;
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams;
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

If you are interested, you can learn more.

I certainly recognise well established learning models encompassed in the descriptions above.

Do you think this approach has merit within e-learning?

Perhaps you are already using it. How has it worked for you?


Supporting On-line Debates

I was prompted to write this blog following a conversation on LinkedIn. I thought the topic deserved a more 'public' airing, and perhaps it may develop into something more expansive. So, thanks are due to LinkedIn member Vicki Brace for asking the question and to Marisa Davis, and Lee Webber for their comments.

Discussion Boards

WallWisher (http://www.wallwisher.com) FREE

The instructor creates a 'wall' then attaches electronic post it notes. The URL of the wall is distributed to participants.

Participants can attach post-it notes with questions, answers, and so on.






Video Posts

Intervue (http://intervue.me) FREE

The instructor posts a video clip of a question and distributes the URL to participants.

Participants follow the URL and respond by posting video clips (e.g. via webcam).





Video Chat

Oovoo (http://www.oovoo.com) FREE (for up to 12 people)

Oovoo provides the facility for up to 12 people to video conference and message.

The instructor can engage with participants directly and use messaging to record outcomes and post on, e.g. the discussion board.


(http://www.skype.com/intl/en-gb/get-skype) FREE

Skype can be used for collaboration in pairs or groups. 'Chats' can be used to record outcomes, written-up, and then posted.

Tips for On-line Debates

What has been your experience with regard to great, free, technologies to support on-line debate/learning?

What did you do to ensure it worked well/was successful?


What is Social Learning (within the context of e-learning)?

I have recently (2012-08-14/15) engaged in a discussion on LinkedIn on this very topic. It was interesting and thought provoking.

Logos of various social networking sites.

Firstly, I will define social learning as being within the context of e-learning, and describe this as On-line Social Learning (OSL).

I have read much of social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, and various writers describing these as examples of social learning. Is this a lax use of language, or are they to be taken literally? I trust it is not the latter.

Learning may well take place via such networks but that is, largely, an unintentional consequence of their use.

The phenomenon of OSL is new, we (in the e-learning community) have not had access to such facilities before, and many are asking the question ‘What is Social Learning?’ as a means to generate discussion and find ways of exploiting social networks to integrate effective OSL into e-learning.

Many discussions, not surprisingly, walk the path of social learning theory, gaming theory, and all manner of other intellectual highways. There is nothing wrong with this, but I fear we are doing what we always do in such circumstances.

We humans love to make things complicated, to take every opportunity to exercise and show-off our knowledge of the latest buzz words, and be seen to be towing the party line.

Let’s cut the bull, and get back-to-basics.

“What is social learning? I understand the theory, but somehow that doesn’t really help with actually doing it, especially on-line. Where can I see it in action? I’m human, I understand best by seeing it happen for real.”


No, it’s not a new software.

Toddler is human, about a couple of feet tall, and tends to fall over quite a lot. If you don’t have one of your own, a friend may let you borrow one.

Toddler is pretty much the original ‘back-to-basics’ practitioner of social learning. Alright, Toddler will not have just completed some e-learning and then have been skillfully supported to engage in OSL to support and embed their learning in the workplace, and, coincidentally, contribute to learning evaluation and review. That’s not the point, Toddler is amazing at social learning that is the point.

Toddler does not ask itself ‘What is social learning?’ Toddler just gets on and does it. So, watch the expert, for a few hours, best if it can be for a few days, you will also have a lot of fun while working. Actually, you may have some icky smelly moments, at which point you need to engage another expert, closely associated with Toddler, known as a Mum (I am so dead for writing that).

Now, speaking of a Mum, it is a good idea to watch how Mum collaborates with Toddler in social learning. This tends to be an innate skill of Mum and levels of competence may vary, so be prepared for some odd behaviour.

The types of thing you need to be on the look-out for are:
  1. Mum: Repetition of behaviour or phrases in context
  2. Toddler: Ability to recognise when to practice behaviour or phrase in context
  3. Toddler: Option to encourage Mum to further repeat behaviour or phrase by making Mum-friendly responses
  4. Mum: Always available to provide convenient reaffirmation of behaviour or phrase
  5. Toddler: Is provided with sufficient feedback from Mum to recognise when behaviour or phrase is being performed correctly.

“Well”, I hear you say, “That is all very amusing, I am sure, but how does that help me to effectively integrate OSL into my e-learning programme?”

Funny you should ask. Let me give you some ideas for each of the five points above, and, in true learning style, you come up with ideas of your own. You can tell I used to be a teacher, can’t you?

Firstly, I will assume you have produced wonderful e-learning, which has not simply dumped the trainer’s notes on the web, but has in fact mapped actions to business/curricula objectives, and addresses the changing of learner behaviour. The e-learning also supports the ‘ideas’ given below. The worker has accessed the e-learning for the first time.


1.      Mum: Repetition of behaviour or phrases in context

This could be our good friend, the workplace aide memoir. This could be the notice above the sharps bin in the hospital ward that reminds the worker of the main points for consideration. The aide memoire could also include:
  • The URL to the relevant e-learning;
  • A QR code of the URL;
  • The dedicated Hash tag for use on Twitter (or some other method used on a social network).


2.      Toddler: Ability to recognise when to practice behaviour or phrase in context

The aide memoir is already familiar to the worker. They have seen it in the e-learning. Its purpose and function is therefore immediately recognisable.


3.      Toddler: Option to encourage Mum to further repeat behaviour or phrase by making Mum-friendly responses

The worker can:
  • Note the URL and re-visit the particular part of the e-learning relating to the aide memoire/task;
  • Scan the QR code with a mobile device and access the e-learning;
  • Use the Hash tag to search Twitter and/or ‘join the conversation’.


4.      Mum: Always available to provide convenient reaffirmation of behaviour or phrase

The worker has permanent accès to the aide memoire and may not need to go on-line. Alternatively, the worker may go on-line to confirm learning at that moment to ensure standard of performance.


5.      Toddler: Is provided with sufficient feedback from Mum to recognise when behaviour or phrase is being performed correctly.

Senior staff can:
  • Recover reports of e-learning use and access methods (QR code use can be tracked);
  • Follow Hash tagged comments on Twitter;
  • Refer to in-house controls that report on the standard of performance in monitored functions.

All the above can be used to both evaluate/review the e-learning and evaluate behaviour of workers.


E-learning Expert.
So, there you have it, and you thought I was raving mad for engaging Toddler as an e-learning consultant, and expecting to be paid for playing games with kids.

If you are not sure what to do, go back-to-basics, and find a common-sense expert. Remember to be open minded and don’t let what you have been taught overly cloud your judgement. As the Buddha said ‘everything is teaching us’.

Be open to the metaphors that can be found in most things. I hope Toddler and Mum give you more ideas. If they do, why not share them here.

Thank you for reading. Take care.