What’s the difference between using digital tech for learning and personal consumption?

Leading on from yesterday’s blog post, Myles Runham asked the above question.

My assertion was that

consuming digital for personal purposes is fundamentally different to consuming digital for learning purposes.

It comes down to the way we use digital for both and highlights just how poor learning solutions tend to be in this space.

A lot of people with modern mobile phones will have an array of apps to help them get on with day to day life. Mobile banking, social media, messaging, it’s all there and easy to access and in most cases easy to use.

When we’re using these or web apps / websites to help us either peruse life or get stuff done, there’s normally a navigation which makes sense. I want something on Amazon, I search for it, I click buy, and that’s job done. I want to watch something on Netflix, I search for it, hit play or download, and I’m consuming the content. I want to transfer money, log on to PayPal, hit transfer, and make it happen.

That’s the kind of ease of digital we’ve come to not only expect, but are very comfortable with.

Using social media / digital for learning purposes, though, requires fundamentally different digital savvy skills.

If I want to engage with a community on a Twitter chat, there’s several things happening I have to learn about the tool to help me engage with the chat. E.g. you have to know what hashtags are used, and how they’re used. You have to know the format of the chat. You have to know the practice for responding to questions and replying to other people in the chat using the chat tools. Those are specific ways to use, in this case Twitter, to build that learning capability of Twitter.

If you’re learning how to knit, YouTube is a great learning resource for that. You find the right videos and watch them to help guide you, see what others have done, emulate them in most cases, and keep trying to advance your knitting skills. If you want to further engage, you may choose to write in the comments. You may choose to create your own content to share what you’re doing with others and gain feedback so you can develop your knitting skills. You may ask questions in the comments and see what others have to say. All quite different to LOLing or using an emoji at a funny meme video.

So when I say that digital is fundamentally different for learning purposes, this is what I mean. We use the tools, in many cases, beyond what they’re designed for, to allow for them to still use their functionality but in a very different way.

This also then speaks to why many learning tech solutions are so lagging and lacking. Having an app on your phone to consume content is a very consumer based approach to product development. Instead we should be looking to use digital tech to build capability or deliver content in ways that help people in actual work situations. E.g. if you’re working in a project team and are finding you’re not leading the team well, one of the things you might do is watch a video on how to lead a team. What is likely to be more useful in that scenario is for you to have a community you can tap into, where you explain what’s happening and can seek input from others. That’s likely to be far more powerful and relevant in improving your performance as a leader than a generic how to be a leader video or top insights into leadership e-learning.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

One thought on “What’s the difference between using digital tech for learning and personal consumption?”

  1. Thanks Sukh for taking the time to elaborate your point. I think that makes sense – the intent of the outcome is crucial to shaping how you approach and apply the tools.

    I am not entirely sure I agree (or grasp the point?). The tools that we typcially consider as consumer applications that we can use for learning are probably those in the top 20 on the Jane Hart annual list https://www.toptools4learning.com/home/. These are designed in large part for individual use but are not only leisure or non-work related. The functions they develop can be applied to many needs (relaxing, communicating, learning, watching, making etc.). This is why they are so successful – they support multiple goals very well from a single UX. Learning is one of those needs with a different intent but not a different beahviour.


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