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Blogs and RSS as Learning Tools July 30, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Many of us techies have been using RSS for years, and you may even run your own blog. This stuff is pretty much second nature to us, and it’s easy to forget that lots of people are still not in-the-know. I think there’s a ton of potential related to RSS in terms of learning and I don’t think many people are harnessing it well (yet). Think of it this way: As a worker, wouldn’t it be helpful to regularly receive bulletins, tips, tricks, and other relevant information while on the job? RSS provides an excellent framework for distributing information to groups of people in settings like this. Blogs can also be a fantastic way to record your progress on projects, take notes, share findings, etc. We, being the more tech-minded people, can help make this happen at our organization. But we may have a few hurdles to jump before we can get there.

What are some of the obstacles we face in using blogs and RSS readers at our organizations? First, blogs and RSS don’t get much respect in the enterprise. Now, I know many companies have executives and employees who blog regularly, but this is still more of the exception than the rule. (This is based on my own observations and discussions with colleagues.) Second, users are either hesitant or scared to use new tools like an RSS reader. Third, people assume blogs take up TONS of time and require expert writing skills. Fourth, people are getting overloaded with unstructured information hitting them in every direction. The last thing they want is another resource or web site to worry about. Finally, we need to figure out how to communicate the fact that RSS is essentially a highly-focused channel of information that, when used properly, can be more powerful than other forms of communication. I’m sure there are other reasons, but I’ll stop here…

The topic of RSS came up for me recently because eLearning Weekly was just listed on a new web site called Alltop.com (actually, the eLearning Weekly link is on Alltop’s Education page). Alltop is a project developed by Will Mayall, Kathryn Henkens, and Guy Kawasaki. At first glance, the site may just seem like a listing of links and stories, but it is being described as a "a ‘digital magazine rack’ of the Internet." It’s a place that allows you to quickly scan a particular subject area and then glean information about its current happenings. Here’s the trick: The site is simply pulling in RSS feeds from various sources across the web. The interface is clean, and I think it does a great job of easing a user into the idea of RSS without throwing too much technology or jargon at them. Plus, the blogs appear as official and credible news sources. Essentially, Alltop is an online RSS reader for the non-techie people on the web.

A recent article on ReadWriteWeb asks, "Will Alltop entice mainstream readers to follow blogs and use RSS more?" I would say that it couldn’t hurt. I’m beginning to wonder if this may be a good site to reference – or possibly use as a model – when beginning to introduce blogs and RSS readers into an organzation. This may allay some of the fears, uncertainty, and doubt around these tools.

What do you think? Do you use blogs and/or RSS at your organization? Has it been successful? Please chime in!

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Comments»

1. Tony Karrer - July 31, 2008

BJ – I’ve struggled with this. Doesn’t it seem overwhelming? Doesn’t it seem not oriented towards me? Maybe it’s a good access point for people who are not regular blog readers, but why not just have a PageFlakes page then set up based on particular content sources. It doesn’t need to be Alltop doing it.

What do you see in it?

How does it compare to something like:

http://browsemystuff.com/browse/elearning/

2. B.J. Schone - July 31, 2008

Hi Tony – True, Alltop isn’t oriented toward the individual user at first. However, if you see a page (topic) that interests you, you’re able to customize it pretty easily by closing feeds that don’t interest you. PageFlakes (which super simple for people like you and me) requires people to set up widgets, set up content sources, tinker with settings, move things around, add pages, etc. This is still too much for some folks, IMHO.

I keep thinking of the term "baby steps." Alltop is the baby steps toward giving blogs more credibility to an audience that may have previously dismissed them. Plus it gives them a safe, easy-to-use interface. I’m not saying Alltop is the only game in town; I would encourage other sites to consider this model. It’s clean and simple.

And how does Alltop compare to sites like http://browsemystuff.com/browse/elearning/ and http://www.eLearningPulse.com? Alltop is just a more generalized, higher-level version. Our sites are more specialized toward a specific audience.

3. adviceforyouorguk - August 2, 2008

Really great post and I agree on many levels. At the most basic level, RSS is a great, targeted marketing tool. And you quite rightly note that this could be expanded to deliver learning tools online. Some people are doing this – for example, with learning English online – but the key issue, as you highlighted, is getting people on board. I see the growth in use of RSS as exponential and blogs and their feeds will become a large and important part of any online enterprise, be it for profit or for providing information, tips and tools etc.

That’s exactly the motivation for my blog, UK Student News and Events, which you can visit here: http://www.adviceforyou.org.uk/blog/

4. RSS and You « MND103’s - October 5, 2008

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