Beyond Difference: Reconfiguring Education for the User-Led Age

Bruns, Axel (2007) Beyond Difference: Reconfiguring Education for the User-Led Age. In ICE 3: Ideas, Cyberspace, Education, 21-23 March 2007, Ross Priory, Loch Lomond, Scotland. (Unpublished)


In recent years, various observers have pointed to the shifting paradigms of cultural and societal participation and economic production in developed nations. These changes are facilitated (although, importantly, not solely driven) by the emergence of new, participatory technologies of information access, knowledge exchange, and content production, many of whom are associated with Internet and new media technologies. In an online context, such technologies are now frequently described as social software or Web2.0, but their impact is no longer confined to cyberspace as an environment different from ‘real life’: user-led content and knowledge production is increasingly impacting on media, economy, law, social practices, and democracy itself. In the 1970s, futurist Alvin Toffler foreshadowed such changes in his coining of the term ‘prosumer’ (Toffler, 1971): highlighting the emergence of a more informed, more involved consumer of goods who would need to be kept content by allowing for a greater customisability and individualisability of products; this indicated the shift from mass industrial production of goods to a model of on-demand, just-in-time production of custom-made items. Going further beyond this, Charles Leadbeater has introduced the notion of ‘pro-am’ production models (Leadbeater & Miller, 2004) – alluding to a joint effort of producers and consumers in developing new and improved commercial goods. Similarly, the industry observers behind speak of a trend towards ‘customer-made’ products (2005a), while J.C. Herz has described the same process as ‘harnessing the hive’ (2005) – that is, the harnessing of promising and useful ideas, generated by expert consumers, by commercial producers. Such models remain somewhat limited still, however, in their maintenance of a traditional industrial value production chain: they retain a producer "distributor" consumer dichotomy. Especially where what is produced is of an intangible, informational nature, a further shift away from such industrial, and towards post-industrial or informational economic models can be observed. In such models, the production of ideas takes place in a collaborative, participatory environment which breaks down the boundaries between producers and consumers and instead enables all participants to be users as well as producers of information and knowledge – frequently in an inherently and inextricably hybrid role where usage is necessarily also productive: participants are produsers (also see Bruns 2006). These produsers engage not in a traditional form of content production, but are instead involved in produsage – the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement. Key examples for such produsage can be seen in the collaborative development of open source software, the distributed multi-user spaces of the Wikipedia, or the user-led innovation and content production in multi-user online games (some 90% of content in The Sims, for example, is prodused by its users rather than the game publisher Maxis; see Herz 2005: p. 335). Further, we also see produsage in collaborative online publishing, especially in news and information sites from the technology news site Slashdot to the world-wide network of Independent Media Centres, the renowned and influential South Korean citizen journalism site OhmyNews, and beyond this in the more decentralised and distributed environments of the blogosphere (Bruns 2005). While there are elements of boosterism in its coverage of such trends,’s identification of the participants behind such produsage phenomena as a new ‘Generation C’ is nonetheless useful (2005b). In this context, ‘C’ stands in the first instance for ‘content creation’, as well as for ‘creativity’ more generally (and Generation C appears closely related to Richard Florida’s idea of a creative class, therefore; see Florida 2002); if the outcomes of such creativity are popularly recognised this can also lead to another ‘C’-word, ‘celebrity’. But also notes that Generation C poses a significant challenge to established modes and models of content production, and importantly, therefore, the ‘C’ can also refer to issues associated with both ‘control’ and the ‘casual collapse’ of traditional approaches. Education must be seen as a key area at risk of casual collapse, as educators stand to lose their privileged position as expert practitioners and theorists in a produsage environment. In many domains, the collaboratively compiled knowledge of produsers is now virtually on par with that of expert scholars (as indicated for example in Nature’s recent comparison of scientific information in Encylopaedia Britannica and the Wikipedia; see Giles 2005); similarly, peer-based advice and instruction as accessible through produsage environments is beginning to replace formal training and education. At the same time, however, there is a growing need for education to address and problematise the process and practice of produsage itself, in order to help produsers develop a more informed, self-reflexive, and critical perspective on their own practices, and to enable a wider range of participants to engage successfully in produsage environments. This, then, requires a reconsideration of established pedagogical philosophies, especially perhaps at the level of tertiary education. If produsage is an increasingly significant element of intellectual, economic, legal and political processes within society, then educational institutions must pay more attention to developing produser capabilities in their graduates – focussing on learners’ collaborative, creative, critical, and communicative capabilities (or C4C, for short – see Cobcroft et al., 2006). Indeed, they must lead by example and base more of their teaching and learning frameworks on produsage models. Social constructivist approaches to education already call for a greater role for learners in the educational process, but even pedagogies based on this framework often still retain a strong role for the teacher, and standard tertiary education practices continue to allow for innovation only within the confines of otherwise persistent and immutable institutional structures. Beyond this, however, there is a potential for more wide-ranging changes which reposition learners as co-produsers not only of knowledge, but also of course and institutional structures. Applying a systematic understanding of current cyberspace trends towards produsage in Web2.0 environments to tertiary teaching practice in the ‘real world’, this paper outlines potential avenues for such pedagogical approaches, and investigates the extent to which they address the needs of what describes as ‘Generation C’.


Bruns, Axel (2005). Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production, New York: Peter Lang. ——— (2006). "Towards produsage: Futures for user-led content production," in Fay Sudweeks, Herbert Hrachovec, and Charles Ess (eds.), Proceedings: Cultural Attitudes towards Communication and Technology 2006, Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 275-84. Also available at (accessed 25 Nov. 2006). Cobcroft, Rachel, Stephen Towers, Judith Smith, and Axel Bruns (2006). "Mobile learning in review: Opportunities and challenges for learners, teachers, and institutions." In Proceedings of the Online Learning and Teaching Conference 2006, Brisbane: Queensland University of Technology. Also available at (accessed 25 Nov. 2006). Giles, Jim (2005). "Internet encyclopaedias go head to head," Nature v. 438, n. 900-1. Also available at (accessed 25 Nov. 2006). Herz, JC (2005). "Harnessing the hive," in John Hartley (ed.), Creative Industries, Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, pp. 327-41. Leadbeater, Charles, and Paul Miller (2004). The Pro-Am Revolution: How Enthusiasts Are Changing Our Economy and Society, London: Demos. Also available at (accessed 31 Oct. 2005). Toffler, Alvin (1971). Future Shock, London: Pan. (2005a). "Customer-made," CUSTOMER-MADE.htm (accessed 25 Nov. 2006). ——— (2005b). "Generation C," (accessed 25 Nov. 2006).

Impact and interest:

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

861 since deposited on 15 Mar 2007
114 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 6622
Item Type: Conference Paper
Keywords: education, user, led, produsage, pedagogy, information, knowledge, collaboration, Internet
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES (200100) > Communication and Media Studies not elsewhere classified (200199)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > SPECIALIST STUDIES IN EDUCATION (130300) > Educational Technology and Computing (130306)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > CULTURAL STUDIES (200200) > Cultural Studies not elsewhere classified (200299)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2007 (please consult author)
Deposited On: 15 Mar 2007
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2010 12:38

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page