User-generated learning is learning that is acquired through active curation, reflection, and contribution to a self-selected collaborative space. This basically means that user-generated learning is something you do, not something you get. You have to actively participate in the process through searching, evaluating, and sharing. In user-generated learning, everyone has something to contribute. We are all experts in our own way. This doesn’t negate the importance of educational research or vetted practices. Instead, user-generated learning reflects that all adults recognize their personal applications of ideas and strategies, and this synthesis and community are a valuable part of the learning process.
Let’s break down each part of the definition provided above. First, user-generated learning requires curation. Curation is defined as the careful collection of relevant resources. Just like a museum employee, teachers must find and aggregate content that is relevant to the problems they are facing in their profession. Need resources for a new unit you are teaching? Interested in trying guided reading during your reading block? Need fun sites for students to use to practice mitosis and meiosis? Curation can help! Instead of relying on a content area expert or textbook, you are responsible for finding meaningful information. Curation can occur in many forms, such as file folders, saving pages from professional journals, or copying article excerpts to share with colleagues. However, the Internet provides fantastic new tools that allow you to find, organize, and share content in ways that were previously not possible. Further, using online tools such as Twitter, Google Reader, Pearltrees, iTunes U, and Paper.li fosters sharing. You benefit greatly from what the community selects and shares. The community essentially serves as a functional filter to help you find the best content. By using the Internet to learn from lots of teachers, not just the teachers where you work, you will find better solutions that meet your students’ needs. For example, maybe you are having difficulty engaging your students with a very traditional poetry unit that you have always taught. Curation can help you skim and search lots of different educational blogs each day for ideas.
Reflection is the second component of user-generated learning. As you curate and consume information from a variety of sources, you must take the time to assimilate the new information with your existing background knowledge. Sometimes the information you’ve curated will match what you already know. Other times, it will challenge previously held beliefs. (A good curator always includes a variety of viewpoints when aggregating content.) As you wrestle with the information relative to your beliefs, your reflection will be critical. Just as there are many ways to curate, there are also many ways to reflect. You could simply write your thoughts in a small journal or word-processing document. However, you could also start your own online blog, allowing others in your learning community to comment on your reflections. Blogs are a dynamic space for transactional, or interactive, reflection. Personally, the feedback, questions, and comments I’ve received on my blog (www.kristenswanson.org) have both affirmed my beliefs and challenged me as a learner.
Thirdly, user-generated learning requires a contribution to the learning community that you serve. You can select a community from physical or virtual places. At the local level, you could connect with your grade-level team, department, school, or district. At the virtual level, you could join an online forum, create a list of followers on Twitter, or identify and follow your favorite blog writers.
User-generated learning is thus a three-part process: curation, reflection, and contribution. Each phase can be distinct or they can overlap. Certainly, user-generated learning is not linear or clean. It’s messy. The more you become engaged with it, the harder it is to see clear distinctions between the phases. Welcome to the world of connected, informed, educators!