But Do They Work?
What's New on Work Literacy: Social Bookmarking and a Webinar on Blogging and Reflective Practice

The Power of Blogging ISN'T Just in Reading Them

Picture_1_2 (RANT ALERT!) In a few weeks we're going to be looking at blogs in the Work Literacy course. As we think about that module and the fact that for most people, their primary interaction with blogs is to read them, I'm growing impatient with this idea from a learning perspective.  In fact, I have to go on record right now as saying that reading blogs is only a small part of what makes blogs powerful for learning. Yes, there's a lot of great stuff available out there, but honestly, if you think that reading blog posts is the key to learning with blogs, then I think you're missing the boat.

A few things that have led me to this place. First was my experience last week in talking with people about blogging and learning. Most organizations still see blogs as a way to push their content to learners, which to my mind makes blogs simply a multimedia e-newsletter. OK as far as it goes, but so NOT getting to the real opportunities.Blogs are a conversation between the blogger and him/herself (a form of reflection) and between the blogger and his/her readers. THAT'S where the real learning takes place. Not just in the passive absorption of someone's post.

Then I read this this article (cited by Stephen Downes) about the so-called decline in literacy that is happening from people doing their reading online. Somehow the fact that people tend to scan when they read online leads to a diatribe on how we've wasted our money by trying to get schools to come into the technological 21st century by bringing laptops into schools.  Well if you regard laptops as simply a combo TV and book, then yeah, I guess it's been a waste. But again, we can do so much more than that.

Last week I  liveblogging several conference sessions at Brandon Hall. This is the first time I've done this and it added a depth and dimension to my workshop learning that I simply have not experienced before. Liveblogging forced me to listen more carefully to the presenters and the conversations that took place. I found myself paying even more attention to the temperature in the room--were people engaging with the presenters, did the presentations seem to resonate, what  were their questions?

Taking notes online also made my notes more multi-dimensional. For every website a presenter mentioned, I was able to grab the link and supporting materials to fill out my notes immediately, something I wouldn't have been able to do if I took notes with my traditional paper and pen. Instead of having scribbled thoughts on a scrap of paper I'd likely never look at again, the posts I developed became rich with resources and links. Further, because I posted them on my blog, they were available not only to me, but to anyone who wanted them.

There's huge learning power in that. Sending one person to a conference can potentially educate your entire organization. The same thing can happen in meetings and as part of daily work. When people are actively engaging with and reflecting on their professional experiences, which blogging encourages us to do, that's where ongoing learning really takes place.

I think my frustration right now is that I've realized how firmly entrenched people are in a sort of passive, one-way view of the web. There still doesn't seem to be a full recognition of the power of co-creation and the idea that Web 2.0 tools give all of us an opportunity to participate in and manage our own learning. If you see social media as primarily a more simple and efficient way for the usual experts to be able to share their opinions and content, then you're missing the point of the revolution.

Web 2.0 isn't about the fact that learning professionals can now publish learning content without going to a webmaster or needing highly sophisticated tools. It's about the fact that EVERYONE can participate in co-creating learning. Our jobs as learning professionals shift from being primarily content producers to facilitating others in creating their own content, showing them how they can actively engage with information and learning materials, teaching them how to be self-directed learners. We have to get past this idea of the Web as simply a more efficient mechanism for dumping information. 

As long as we persist in seeing Web 2.0 through the lens of Web 1.0, we're never going to appreciate the true power and opportunity here. (END RANT)

Flickr photo via Nesster


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I agree that changing to contributing from just passive reading makes a huge difference.

I have recently made the change and find that the process of producing a post or comment makes you properly think about the issue, whereas just reading tends to mean skimming an article and moving on.

If you participate then you have to read properly and the value you gain from it is many times greater than just reading.

Absolutely right. What makes the internet valuable is not that it's an alternative passive media source, like the radio or the TV. What makes it valuable is that passive readers and listeners become active writers and talkers!

Learning is an active process.

Exactly! Blogs are collaborative learning tools, and they allow contributers to build on each other's effort so that there is greater advancement overall.

Kia ora Michele.

My heart agrees with your opinion about the learning worth of the blog post. When I consider the statistics, my head tends to disagree. Here's why:

The main difference between a blog post (Web2.0) and a web page (Web1.0) is the functionality of the comment for feedback from readers.

In that this provides a forum for discussion, then that too contributes to the difference. Opinion ceases to be conveyed by a one-way channel.

The practitioners tell us that in any community interaction, such as occurs on a blog post, the provision of content appears mainly from the blogger who posts.

The current and generally accepted ratio of commenters who feedback is according to the 90-9-1 rule. Interpretation of that is that of 100 people with log-on capability in the community there will be 90 who look (and presumably read) 9 who comment from time to time and 1 who adds to the content regularly in some way (either in agreement, disagreement or providing additional content).

I look around the blogosphere and see many blog posts with 0 comments, some months old. I also see some with up to 20 to 30 - these are very rare. Are we to assume that, of all the millions of people around the world, only those who contribute by posting or commenting gain some learning from the blog post?

I know. It's a matter of opinion. But I guess whether you accept the 90-9-1 rule is also a matter of opinion.

I have many colleagues who pour over the blogs and rave about what they've read (learnt?) but extremely few (practically none) actually comment on these blogs. Surely they cannot be mistaken that what they've read isn't worth learning.

As I say, my heart wants to agree with you Michele. My head cannot based on the accumulated evidence, both statistically and anecdotally.

Ka kite

Kia ora again Michele.

In deference to your opinion, however, I have to add that I feel that we are all different. I suspect that some people, perhaps many, are like me. I learnt a lot by reading blogs loooong before I started commenting on them.

When I began to comment on posts, the make-up of what I learnt was slightly different, I admit that. It certainly was significant from the point of view of me as a (now) blogger. But it did not detract from what I had learn by simply lurking.

But come to that, I lurk a heck-of-a-lot even yet - as much as I did before I started commenting on blog posts. And I also know of some grand bloggers who, likewise, enjoy doing a deal of lurking (I won't mention any names :-)

I'd be interested in your take on this, Michele.

Ka kite

Thanks everyone for your comments!

Ken, I hear what you're saying but I have a couple of thoughts on this.

First I know the stats on spectators vs. commenters vs. bloggers, but I personally believe that these stats represent exactly my point--people are stuck in a Web 1.0 paradigm and these stats reflect that. People passively view content on the web because that's been their experience to this point. I don't think that means that we should just accept that, though.

I'm also not saying that you can't learn a lot from reading blogs or that even bloggers don't end up doing a lot of reading without commenting or blogging themselves. My point is that reading ALONE is not going to really help people really learn. It's only by engaging with the content through comments and blogging themselves that people are actually going to experience the full power of blogging for learning. It's the difference between sitting in a classroom and passively listening to a lecture and actually engaging with the material to do something with it. I may "learn" something by listening to an instructor, but I'm going to learn even more (and likely do something with that learning) if I'm doing more than just listening.

I recognize that we have a long way to go in encouraging people to take a more active role in their own learning. That's what those stats represent. But I feel that it's my personal responsibility to help people see the need to be more actively engaged in their learning processes. I'm no longer comfortable saying "oh, it's OK if you only read blogs and never comment or start your own." That's OK for awhile, but at some point, to really get the full benefit, people have to move on from being passive recipients of information. As Barry pointed out in his great comment above, the process of commenting and producing posts is really what creates learning. I firmly believe this and feel like we need to do more to help other people get this idea, too.

Added to my wish list:


Thanks for the great post :)

Tēnā koe Michele!

Thanks for that.

It is interesting what you say. The statistics (90-9-1) we're discussing have been gathered over a number of years and some citations go back to the beginning of the century. Much of it is based on studies done with young participants, the so-called 'digital natives', a term that, though I am somewhat uncomfortable with, I use for its relevance.

It would appear that the ratios you mention don't vary significantly with age groups.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Hi Michelle,
I agree the reading-only one-way blog isn't tapping into the power of the medium. That's why I cringe when someone tries to convince me that vle X has blogging functionality because you can set up a forum that only the tutor and a student can see. Even if the whole class could see the blog it's still only that cohort of students bringing their life experiences and insights to the comments. I'm enjoying the work literacy course by the way.


Thank you Michele for sharing a not too severe rant about blogging. I believe your comments get at that grey area space between reading (lurking) blogs and creating content. The majority of people who read blogs, myself included are primarily lurking but many of these people will take that leap and eventually start producing their own content.

Your blog and the course work you have created at Work Literacy, along with the Connectivism Course offered by Stephen Downes and George Siemens at the University of Manitoba encourage people like me to take more command of their learning by sharing more of themselves on line and contributing to conversations that result in ongoing learning.


Your point about the value of sending one person who blogs to a conference reminds me of an experience I had with a conference and blogging. Well, micro-blogging, to be exact.

I attended Penn State's 2008 TLT (Teaching & Learning with Technology) Symposium in March 2008 as a requirement for a graduate class I was taking, entitled "Disruptive Technology in the Teaching & Learning Process." For this class, we students were divided into 5 different groups, with each group assigned to one disruptive/emergent technology: Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Wikis, and Twitter. I was cursed to be on Team Twitter. Cursed at first, but later this turned out to be a blessing. In fact, the symposium itself turned out to be the catalyst for change from curse to blessing.

Our team asked the class to create Twitter accounts before the symposium and to experiment with tweeting their experiences, thoughts, and ideas at the conference. What happened was that we all entered a new community of tweeters and further engaged in the different sessions we were simultaneously attending! At one point, I was having a conversation with an individual about our sessions' topic; it wasn't until 10 minutes later that we found out we were in separate-yet similar sessions, and that we each brought a unique perspective to the conversation. Another instance of how we all benefited from attending the conference armed with Twitter was that interesting and useful websites were instantly disseminated to the rest of us via Twitter, no matter where in the conference center we were at!

Micro-blogging at the conference enhanced our engagement with the sessions we attended, as you found during your experience. But it also allowed us to experience and benefit from the other sessions we could not attend...and it happened in real time!

You can read the entire stream of symposium's tweets, which are available at http://hashtags.org/tag/tltsymposium2008/. My recap of the symposium is available at http://theoreticaljunk.com/2008/04/survivor-web20/ (my blog contains a podcast recap as well). Finally, if you are interested in reading all of our class' content regarding the exploration of disruptive technologies through the themes of community, identity, and design, you can check out the class Pligg site (an aggregator, like Digg) at http://engage.tlt.psu.edu/disruptive/.


I completely agree that the most learning value comes from taking an interactive part rather than lurking. However, I believe that alot of people get concerned about their privacy on the internet. Me personally, I avoid putting any personally identifiable information up where it is going to be visible. Call me paranoid, or a fear monger, but I see and hear too many horror stories about identity theft because someone left a trail that some deviant followed. It is what I do for a living (keeping companies/people protected, not steal indentities!)

My solution to this?
1 - Get comfortable with a blog by reading it for a while before leaving a comment, you get a feel for the types of people who read it and the person writing it.
2 - Use an alias, dont identify yourself unless your 100% comforatable to do so.
3 - As far as getting maximum learning, I have a notepad by my computer, I take notes about points of interest, write questions that come to me and investigate myself.

Call me old fashioned (I am a gen-yer though) but I really like to be able to physically pick up my notes, flick through them, actually hear the page turn and the paper crinkle, that is part of my learning style because I'm bibliophile, all while sitting in my big comfy reading chair with soft light rather than the glare of the monitor

Tēnā koutou katoa
Greetings Everyone

I'd like to read the opinion of some of the lurkers to this post. I'd estimate that there would be about 70 - 80 of you out there who must be learning a lot by reading the conversation that's going on here.

How about two or three of you breaking the pledge and telling us what you think.

Do you feel that your learning a lot just by watching and reading?

Ka kite anō
Catch ya later

Hear! Hear!

I read this post a few days ago and knew I needed to come back to comment. By waiting, I got to see all of the other comments, which provide additional insight... and isn't that your point?

It is unfortunate that we don't often comment online, but it is my experience, as a blog reader, that I am frequently pulling bloggers' commentaries into my everyday conversation. Perhaps I agree with the post and want to share, or I disagree with the post and want to engage in a live conversation about it as I mull it over.

But I think the more important point you made is about how much the BLOGGER learns from blogging. If you don't blog, or write a journal, you may not realize how much learning goes into actually writing a post. I sit down and think to myself - I'd like to comment on that article I read... and two hours later, by trying to compose my thoughts in writing, I've finally figured out what I really think about that article I've read. It is the most amazing thing - and something I did not anticipate when I started blogging. Responses to my thoughts have often moved my thinking forward, but these have been just as frequently off-line discussions as online ones. I commented myself on this subject of learning from blogs in this post: http://learningjournal.wordpress.com/2008/08/03/learning-from-blogging/

Thanks for sharing this gentle rant... and thanks, too, to everyone who commented, who enriched my thoughts on this subject.

The comments to this entry are closed.