Tools to Learn by – Google Reader

So this post is for those of you who have yet to fully take the plunge into the new information stream. Sure you can find your way around a web browser and search google, but do you know what a blog aggregator is? Now let me say that I am just an ordinary emergency physician who loves what the marriage of my iPad and online educational content has done to my level of daily learning. My daily explorations into the educational uses of  technology have made me designated CIO of our household when the WIFI isn’t working, but I AM NOT, spending my free time debugging source code or longing to be Neo in the Matrix. My goal is really to explore and learn what is available to me online and find ways of using it and sharing it. Opinions here are really based only on my own personal experience of what seems to have worked best over time.

Things online have changed in the last few years. Sure audio, video and written content were out there for you if you wanted to learn, but it was not always easy to find, and you had to go looking for it. Much of the good stuff was locked behind paid content subscription walls, relics of the old ivory tower. Not only that, but you had to go to your computer, navigate to the site, enter your id and password, and then if you ever wanted to bookmark or save your favorite content for future use well, forget about it. If you were lucky you got an email letting you know about new content, but mostly they got hold of you when your subscription was about to run out. Today the landscape has become dramatically more education friendly for two reasons: blogs and aggregators.

First the proliferation and ease of use of blogs and online sites have made it easier and easier to offer regular, high quality educational content online. Second, and equally important is that rather than sitting there waiting for you to retrieve it, this content can come to you. In fact a whole industry has grown up online for this purpose. Tools such as RSS feeds, and social media sites (coupled with smartphones and tablets), make the options for customizing and creating a personal education universe nothing short of revolutionary.

With this kind of unbounded information it is a bit like trying to capture dark matter whizzing by with a butterfly net. Information is not necessarily education. The goal, as I have come to appreciate, is learning to capture content out of that stream with as much ease and sophistication as is necessary for your needs. There are so many tools that it is impossible to list them all, but think of each as simply a way to capture information that is of value to you while filtering out the information that has little or no value. These aggregators of information come in various forms, and later I will post about different ones that may appeal to you depending on your learning style, but for those who want to follow this blog and explore a little bit beyond, here are the big three as I see them.

Google Reader is the king of all aggregators, if you don’t have a google account, you need one (okay seriously if you really don’t have one, stop what your doing and go sign up… I’ll wait). While google offers some amazing online tools, one of the most powerful from an education perspective is Google Reader. Just put in the web address or url of a blog you want to follow and presto you are treated to all its content in one place. Now multiply that by an infinite number and organize them into topics and you get the idea. Google reader will even suggest new bundles of content related to the site you just subscribed to a site. As you can see from the screenshot below you can quickly amass a long list of EM blogs so I suggest putting them all in one folder. Its like having the Emergency Medicine Times delivered to your door everyday. Over time you will edit out the ones with content you never read, and prioritize the ones you do.  On my blogroll is a list of my favorite EM education sites to get you started.

The big issue with Google reader is that while it is a great aggregator it is not visually appealing. Sure you may laugh at the idea that aesthetics and visual page layout are important if you want to learn, but let’s face it do you want to read your content like this:

Or this:

There’s a reason a big beautiful National Geographic style cover pic with cool typeface gets lingered over while a webpage cluttered with ads and unreadable font gets quickly deleted. Bottom line you want to love what you read.  Don’t worry, this doesn’t matter in the end because you can think of Google reader as just your organization drawer for EM content. If you love it you can stick with it (it has gotten better over the last few months) or link it to a number of other readers that will make your content mobile, easy to browse, and beautiful. In upcoming posts I will show you how to make picking up your and iPad, and seeing what you are going to learn about today a true pleasure.

Up next. Facebook and Twitter as EM education tools.

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