Using RSS Feeds

“Thing 3″ for the MSc module Theory and evaluation of eLearning:

RSS: Get Connected

An overview of RSS

Godwin-Jones (2003 p15) describe RSS as a supplier of “rich meta-data about Web-based resources”. Data from one or many such feeds can be automatically retrieved and compiled by RSS software, described as Readers or Aggregators. Such feeds can come from news sources or blogs which the Reader collects to provide a single collection point for all posting feeds. Although these feeds may be from several sources they would normally be chosen to relate to a specific topic. Another potential source identified by Godwin-Jones (2003 p15) is Wikis. Following updates from environments such as this would allow progress on collaborative projects to be tracked and contributed to at appropriate stages.

In explaining why RSS is important for educational designers Downes (2002) notes that RSS was the original XML data network. Applied to learning objects and metadata files it is therefore also the “first working example of what such a network will look like for educational designers”.

RSS network architecture for distribution of information / learning object (Downes 2002):

Summarising Downes (2002) text:

RSS provides a model with centralised receiving points rather than a central distribution point such as a VLE. By linking to “cloud based” data, rather than embedding “hard text” in a VLE, information can be more dynamic, and hence more current. This also allows the concept of syndicated educational content to come into play. Anything available on the web becomes a potential education resource which learners can be directed to through a “learning object syndication network”.

These concepts where echoed by Duffy et al (2006 p37) with the observation that “lecturers and students can keep track of their favourite websites from one convenient location”. Rather than visiting many sites to see whether new content has been added, RSS allows learners and teachers to track developments through a single page on a RSS Reader. Duffy et al (2006 p37) also note advantages for lectures: By requiring students to complete work in a blog and / or wiki teaching staff can follow the progress students by creating a Reader page that follows all their contributions.

My RSS experience

Several years ago, as someone new to the world of learning technology, I set up an RSS Reader in Google ( I selected a varied set of eLearning protagonists to follow and approximately once a week I would scan through their feeds and share those that I found useful or informative at the address above. I would periodically review which contributors I followed based on the number of posts from each feed I thought worth sharing. This proved very useful in the early stages while I was gaining familiarity with eLearning tools and techniques, but after several months became more a labour of love, and eventually a chore.

I’d liken this experience to a shorter term version of subscribing to a specialist hobby periodical. After a certain period of time it is possible to detect the repetition and recycling of ideas. Even with regular changes to feed subscription information and ideas new to the reader become less frequent, and are often more easily found through a specific web search at the time of need. That said, for a particular learning or development activity RSS feeds still provide a valuable function.


Duffy, Peter and Bruns, Axel (2006) The Use of Blogs, Wikis and RSS in Education: A Conversation of Possibilities. In Proceedings Online Learning and Teaching Conference 2006, p31-38. [Accessed 30-Jan-11]

Downes S. (2002) Stephen’s Web 2002: An Introduction to RSS for Educational Designers 02-Nov-02 [Accessed 30-Jan-11]

Godwin-Jones R. (2003) Emerging Technologies Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-line Collaboration. In Language Learning & Technology May 2003, Volume 7, No.2, p12-16 [Accessed 30-Jan-11]


About mark8n

Facilitator of Learning Technology adoption and integration. Dad, Granddad and Motorcyclist.
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