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Blogging as self-education

I’ve done several posts at my Education Blog on the theme of the educational gains to be got from blogging, by the blogger. Of course writing things communicates to others. But it also organises the thoughts of the writer, and makes them more likely to be remembered by the writer. Failing that, it makes it easier for the writer to access his written thoughts later, if only because the writer is likely at least to remember having written on that subject.

I did another such posting yesterday, in connection with something Michael Jennings said to me last week in conversation about how he blogs about computer matters with this benefit in mind.

Rob Fisher commented on this post, in a way that emphasises the point:

I certainly find that the act of writing a blog post forces me to get my thoughts into some kind of order, which is useful. The part of my website that gets the most feedback is a tutorial I wrote about how to use Linux to edit digital video; and I wrote this mainly because I knew I would forget half of it if I didn’t write it down – and if I’m going to write it down I might as well publish it.

I think this could explain the presence of a lot of the wide range of useful information available on the web.

I’m currently investigating the possibility of using a Wiki for publishing useful information. Wikis are interesting because they make web pages so easy to change; and even more interesting because they let other people add and amend information.

By the time I understand that last paragraph I will have had to have made some educational progress myself, although I am sure it is straightforward enough once you understand it. Educationally helpful comments, anyone? “Wiki”? I have heard that word, and the presumably related word “wikipedia”, but what does this stuff mean?

Blogging, it seems to me, blurs the distinction between the private and the public. It is not that this distinction is now of no importance. But blogging does shift the economics of (what do we call it?) message management? … towards combining the public with the private, wherever that can be done without too much risk. Simply, by doing both private and public communication simultaneously, you can save both time and effort, and that might make it economical to engage in forms of communication with oneself and with others that would previously not have been possible.

I think, as I said in my original posting, that this is one of the big reasons for the success of blogging. Constructing a helpful set of notes as one learns a subject area might be too difficult, and hence beyond you. Writing material good enough to reach a wide readership, ditto. But licking your notes into shape and sticking them on a blog, which obviously can be read by millions, but need not be in order to be an economic proposition, adds up to something that can make a lot of sense.

I did not set out with my Culture Blog with the self-conscious aim of learning about new buildings in London, but that is the way it is turning out. And I definitely did start Brian’s Education Blog in order to educate myself, about education, as the ambiguous name, I hope, communicates. Brian’s Blog About Education? A Blog About Brian’s Education? Both.

These friends of mine are in the business of helping businesses to set up blogs. They emphasise the benefits blogging can bring in the form of communicating with customers, and that must be right. But a company which blogs will be, it seems to me, a company which learns, individually and collectively, more than it would learn otherwise.

But of course there is a further potential benefit to blogging as self-education, I have already tried to illustrate with this posting by asking commenters to explain wiki to me. Commenters can help to educate you. Not all such help is truly helpful, but sometimes it can be very helpful indeed.

I would be delighted to hear about any other bloggers who have used blogging as part of their effort to further their own education. I would not be surprised if a consensus were to emerge here, or to have emerged from a comment-fest somewhere else of interest, along the lines of: this is (partly) what all bloggers are doing.

12 comments to Blogging as self-education

  • Eric Jablow

    Wiki-wiki is a Hawaiian slang term for quick. In 1995, computer scientist Ward Cunningham created a collaborative web site for programming and other topics, the Wiki Wiki Web, that anyone can edit. Anyone.

    At the bottom of every page, there is a button that invokes an editor for that page. The scripts that run the site recognize ‘http:’ and turns that into a hyperlink. They take ISBN numbers and creates a link to Amazon.com. They take various levels of quotes and produce italics and boldface. If you type more than one word in title case, all smashed together, like SamizdataNet, it gets depicted as a hyperlink, and anyone who clicks on it gets to create a new page on that subject.

    Sometimes people go off-topic on a page. That’s okay; somebody else can delete the off-topic material. Or, if somebody bandalizes a page, someone else will get the old version and repair the damage. It works.

    There are a number of WikiClones, and the software is open source anyway. Other people have reimplemented the software in their own favorite language, sometimes using different editors and features, but having the same general ethos. There are Wiki-ish sites devoted to programming languages and operating systems, television shows, cooking, the game of go, history, and now the Wikipedia, a communal encyclopedia. Some software publishers provide support through a Wiki.

    Go to the original WikiWikiWeb, and browse around. Try the Wikipedia. Learn about go at the Sensei’s Library. Browse. If you’d like to contribute, go ahead.

  • Tony

    “My one purpose in writing I have explained over and over again: it is simply to provide a katharsis for my own thoughts. They worry me until they are set forth in words.” – H.L. Mencken

  • One of the most amazing things about wikis is that usually *anyone* can edit and create pages, without so much as a user registration. That this near-anarchy does not descend into chaos but rather self-organises into something useful is probably Samizdata relevant…

  • Wiki is a fabulous medium for the individual, closed/structured team(Link), or community of like-minded thinkers.

    I have a page(Link) on my WikiLog(Link) which discussed the key features of wiki in general, and some of its subtypes.

    You can even find items about yourself(Link)! (One cool thing about a wiki is that you can chase links *backwards* – I’ve modified my engine to make those “backlinks” more visible.)

  • jk

    I set up WIki for a collaboration project at work. Amusingly, the politics of the documentation scared me off. It has the anti-capitalist vibe of the open source movement with a bit of “wiki religion” added to the mix: a frightening collectivist anarchy.

    On your real point, I have toiled for a year and a half on a blog with single-digit readership. I enjoy the banter (I post comments right below the posts) but the only reason I can give for continuing is that it forces me to organize and articulate my thoughts. Just yelling them at opponents over beer does not exercise mental acuity.

  • jk writes: “It has the anti-capitalist vibe of the open source movement…”

    The Open Source movement is most definitely not anti-capitalist. Its most vocal spokesman, Eric S. Raymond describes himself as anarcho-capitalist, and the whole argument is about open source making good business sense. Perhaps you are thinking of the Free Software movement and Richard Stallman who believes there is no such thing as intellectual property.

    I’ve personally never got any anti-capitalist or collectivist vibes from wikis – but perhaps I just haven’t read the documents jk refers to.

  • jk


    The book that scared me was “The Wiki Way” by Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham. Maybe I had eaten some bad clams, but they seemed to treat Wiki more as a religion than an application.

    Visited Eric S. Raymond’s site on your suggestion. I enjoyed much of the writing. While he is not anti-capatalist, I cannot extrapolate that enough of the Open Source movement is accepting enough of commercial software and property rights to consider the movement pro-capatalist.

  • Brian, I’ve suggested to my Professor wife that a daily class blog by students be a good way to reduce plagiarism. As well as, possibly, a reasonable way to do research about a subject.

    Naturally, I have NOT followed through, quite, by doing so on any subjects, but now I think I might. It would be on eGov’t …

    Part of the Libertarian ethic is that “force” should not be used to promote social goals, directly, merely to punish violators. So, somebody who steals your car deprives you of it, and this justifies using force to punish him.

    Ideas and digital information, when they are massively and cheaply copied, reduce the “market value” of such digitized info. And, therefore, arguably (probably but not certainly) reduce the incentive to produce the new idea.

    Good inovation, for me, does not justify using force to stop folks from sharing their digital info — the gov’t should get out of the business of enforcing any “property rights” about digital info.

  • George Saint

    Blogging is to education what masturbation is to lovemaking: an unsatisfactory substitute; but then you know that already.


  • Well each to his own, GS, but when I masturbate, I do not do it in public, and I do not invite comments.

  • Blogging is loved by many of my students who study at Dalloway High School . They regard it as a mini essay and strive to produce as much bright ideas as possible.

  • Nicole

    I happened upon your site because i am writing a research essay on blogging and its effects on teenagers. One of my arguments is on how blogging has improved the writing and grammatical use of teenagers in school. So i was wondering where you got your information from and if you have certain contacts that give you this information or if you have places that you get this info. If not, if this your opinion or factual? please e-mail me back at napeters15@wideopenwest.com ASAP. thank you so much.