Book Review: Professional Learning In the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning

As I traveled from conference to conference this spring, I had a opportunity to catch up on some reading. One book I finished was from Kristen Swanson called Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning*. This was a relatively short book, weighing in at 112 pages spread over five chapters and five appendices.

Swanson’s message focused on the curation, reflection, and contribution of user-generated content in support of learning. This is a very similar message of Seek – Sense – Share outlined by Harold Jarche.

Each chapter, Swanson begins and ends with a story about an educator who leverages technology in support of personal learning. She also finishes the chapter with a list of tasks for the reader to complete. These are typically three to four items such as creating a Twitter account, following thought leaders on Twitter, etc.

In the first chapter, Swanson introduces the idea of user-generated learning. She ties this idea to adult learning theories and the growth of online learning. She stresses the point that we have the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere, and from anybody and that learning should be a continuous part of professional development for an educator.

Over the next four chapters, Swanson concentrates on her main points of curation, reflection, and contribution. Curation is addressed in chapters two and three.


Swanson begins her chapter on curation by noting that curating is not a new idea. Educators have been collecting materials in support of learning since the beginning of the teaching profession. Only now, digital collecting and curating can be so much more powerful. Swanson describes the process and tools she uses for curating.

Swanson also stresses the importance of assigning meaning to curated items by evaluating them, organizing them, and interacting with them. She advocates having actual conversations with bloggers and becoming part of the knowledge base.

In chapter three, Swanson discusses the importance of monitoring and shaping your digital footprint. If you do not control your brand, someone else will. She illustrated this concept with a story about someone who was tagged in a photo, yet, managed to shape their digital footprint to deemphasize the negative photo. This was primarily accomplished by participating in the digital task of curation, reflection, and contribution.


In chapter four, Swanson introduced the essential topic of reflection. This is in line with Jarche’s sense making. It is taking the time to review collected materials and assigning personal meaning. Swanson discusses a number of different ways to do this as well as reasons why. Reflection can be very private and done with journaling or be very public through blogging. She advocates for public so that others can benefit from what you learned.


In this last chapter, Swanson discusses the importance of contributing or giving back to the community. It is about raising the level of others as they learn through curation, reflection, and contribution. She provides a number of ways to contribute from Twitter to Twitter chats to online Webinars. She also suggests face-to-face events as a means of learning and sharing.

Throughout the book, Swanson includes many examples of digital leaders leveraging social media tools for professional development. These samples provide great examples of curation, reflection, and contribution.

Tool Repository

In the last 20% of the book, Swanson includes five tool repositories. These repositories include:
  • Aggregation tools
  • Top Ten Twitter Follows
  • Top ten Educational Blogs to Follow
  • Organizing (Tagging) Inside Online Services
  • Kristen’s Top Five Blogging Tips

Not only does Swanson list tools, but she also provides details for using various tools or reasons for connecting with various digital leaders. She talks from experience and her guidance is sound.

This book was a very quick read but it had a wealth of information. For any educator interested in getting started in curation and personal learning environments, I could recommend this book as a primer to get started. I personally have been involved in this topic for a long time, but I also walked away with new ideas.

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