Online Blogucation

Personalization versus The Filter Bubble

I can tell you right now that this will be one of those blogs that throws out many ideas, creates questions but doesn’t quite make it to the answers. Having had the opportunity to attend two very interesting conferences the last two weeks, I’ve come back with my (figurative) bags full of ideas (the bags they previously handed out that we used to collect many documents and flyers that inspired us, we brought the bags home ready to change the face of education and then the bag ends up on the shelf next to last year’s bag and we never really get a chance to dive back into the ideas and put them in action). Since I am making a concerted effort to go back into that bag and spend more time on what inspired me, I’m finding that my exploration is taking me in so many directions that I had to just stop and try to digest the details in small bites.

So, what is the amazing, inspiring, idea with all the tangents? Well it starts with Eli Paraiser and his keynote address he gave at the Building Learning Communities conference a couple of week ago. He presented on the topic of his book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You. It was fascinating based solely on the concept but it leads to so many other questions and specifically questions that do not have clear answers.

I think many of us are aware of the concept of Internet personalization. I would also assert that most of us think it refers mostly to the ads on the right side of my Yahoo email and a few other things but it isn’t that big a deal. I can confirm that 15 minutes into the keynote, I was convinced it is a big deal and we need to pay attention. I purchased the digital version of his book before the keynote ended.

Just so that we have a working definition of what a filter bubble is, we can loosely define it as the result of the algorithm that many sites companies employ to determine personal preferences and display content, ads, search results, Facebook friends, and on and on based on your preferences. A slightly more detailed definition of the filter bubble concept is on Wikipedia and of course you can go to to find out more as well.

Being an educator, I next started contemplating the current focus in education on the concept of personalization in learning versus passive personalization on the Internet where we have no choice but to view personalized content based on who we have clicked on and what we have clicked on in the past. I think it is probably safe to say that personalizing student learning is a good thing and the results of the filter bubble might not be a good thing.

When talking about personalizing learning, a Google search yields 1.7 million hits and the first page results are mostly white papers and articles about the benefits of personalized learning. My colleague, Dr. Jeff Borden has recently taken up the topic of personalization and yields 7160 results when you Google Jeff Borden and personalization in online learning. However, if you Google the same thing, your results will likely differ because of the filter bubble. So do we simply conclude that we must use our powers for good (personalized learning) and not evil (passively accepting the results of the filter bubble)?

This blog article would be complete if it were that easy. Unfortunately, the alarm has been raised and I cannot just stop there. So this is my plan, I will list a few interesting links I found when exploring the topic. The plan will be to start here; get more familiar with the concept and then weigh the value of that information. Think about the implications on a personal level, professional level and of course the implications in education from pre-K to adult education. Perhaps we will have more to talk about next blog post or perhaps this will be my focus for the next Educator’s Voice article I research and write. Let us see where the conversation goes.

In the meantime, check out some of these other Websites:—Blog and site for all information Filter Bubble related.

10 Things You Can Do—on the Filter Bubble Website but worth standing out on its own.—Social media site to help people find important content. Content is important as well as entertaining and funny in most cases.

Who does Facebook think you are?—Direct link for an article found on It includes a bookmarklet that you can open when on Facebook to see how Facebook is ranking the friends you interact with the most (according to their algorithm).

Pamela Kachka
Academic Trainer & Consultant, Teaching & Learning Group