Consumption vs. Creation

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As I listen to Mitch Resnick toss out gem after gem of soundbites and ideas, his initial statement of people becoming “makers of things” sticks in my mind as a concept that needs further exploration.

On the surface, it’s a wonderful idea. Who would argue that creativity and making things is in anyway a negative? Mitch goes on to say :

We wouldn’t consider someone literate if they could read but couldn’t write. Are we literate if we consume content online, but don’t produce? (paraphrased)

Again, at first glance that seems logical. We want to help our students create and be makers of things. But given the habits of most of us, we generally consume far more than we create. In fact as we consider reading and writing, very few adults write regularly beyond grocery lists and post it notes and emails. We read way more than we write. One of the reasons we teach students to write, is to make them better readers and vice versa.

As I listen to Resnick discuss the virtues of Scratch, it’s hard not to see the deep learning that comes when using a versatile tool like this to tell stories, build games, make music or design avatars. But as a society, what are the expectations that adults become makers of things? Do we need everyone to be makers of things? Is consumption and creation supposed to be balanced or do we recognize that consumption is the predominant role with content? The emergence of the iPad had many educators questioning it as an educational tool because of its lean towards consumption. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Clay Shirky’s recent book Cognitive Surplus and accompanying TED talk, suggests that even if we carve out a small portion of our time to contribute (create) it can make a significant impact on society. I’m thinking about this issue and if we need to back off a bit on our zealous push to make us all creators. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we stop encouraging and helping our students create, I’m just wondering if our expectations are unrealistic. I can think of many folks who don’t actively “make” things but are intelligent, competent, successful individuals. Is this a question of empowerment and simply allowing our students to choose or do expect everyone to become “makers of things”?


  1. I agree that the consumption vs creation in society may be out of balance and that might not be a bad thing. But in our day to day schools how much do we ask students to create?

    Students are forever creating content for their teachers. It may be a worksheet or an essay, a video or a podcast. How much stuff do kids create every day in our schools? Is what we ask students to create out of balance? Maybe students should be creating less but higher quality artifacts of learning.

  2. I think that there is a distinction between producing/making things and being creative. I knit by following patterns. I find it quite relaxing. But As an author of almost 90 books I well know the creative process. A lot of it involves a certain amount of cognitive dissonance that I’m not sure today’s kids can endure. Read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. As electronic media is making us addicted to distraction and shortening attention spans, we are losing some of our ability to read and think deeply. If Scratch lengthens attention spans, it’s probably a good thing.

    Achievement in any field involves discipline, perseverance and commitment. There are no shortcuts. I don’t think you need to narrowly define producers vs. consumers.

  3. I just started reading Shop Class as Soul Craft and have been thinking about the value in creating things. (by this I mean physical things although I think you refer to a broader definition of ‘making things’ than that).

    But based on that broader definition, I think most people do create–they create a smoother running workplace, they create a home, they create a Halloween costume, they create a method for delivering mail, etc. I think what we don’t see so much of, that Shirky refers to, is people sharing what is made.

    I see that it comes pretty naturally to my son and his friends to share their art or ideas with a “larger” world, but I don’t see it coming as naturally to everyone.

    In fact, I’ve been feeling a bit stymied today and reflecting in this whole notion of sharing.

    A team from my own district is there at BLC, but because in our district we don’t really have a networked method of sharing things, I can’t share in their experience or see who they are meeting or what sessions they are attending or suggest to them great sessions to attend. And that’s just because not very many in our district are active on Twitter and if they are on FB, they aren’t using it to share the actual conference. Probably because it isn’t occurring to them that someone else might want to know synchronously what they are experiencing. (Of course, I might be one of few in the district that might want to do that, but I know I’m not the only one!) (And I’m sure they are learning a great deal and will be sharing when school starts at workshops, etc.)

    So my question spinning off of this post is should we “promote” sharing? I think there is value in having teachers understand what many of our students do as a matter of daily living. Even if they don’t initially “get it” or “adopt it” as a way of communicating, it does help them to be better educators if they have a better understanding of how many of our students work. But what if people don’t see a need for it? It’s a dilemma.

    My “off the cuff” food for thought, which may not have answered your question…..

  4. This is indeed a complicated question, one that I’ve thought often about in a different way.

    I teach a bunch of kids who read far below grade level. Some 8th graders I’ve inherited read at a 2nd grade level. The reasons this is the reality is another conversation. Apropos to this one though, is whether or not quality creation can come before they learn to be quality consumers. I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know there is a correlation between what my kids on grade level create and what my lids below grade level create. Part of this is motivation/confidence and part of this is literacy.

    Part of the problem is that we use the word “consumer”, a word from sociological circles that connotes blind and thoughtless intake of things of no value. If instead we said “reader” or “thinker” or “analyst” or “observer”, we are much less inclined to turn our noses.

    I think both need to be strong, and that we do need to push our kids to create. This isn’t the first generation of kids who are able to create things, but it is the first generation of kids who can create things and instantly share them with people they don’t know around the world. However, the kids without quality “consumption” (hate that word) abilities won’t be in the position to create things in the future. They will be forced to consume all the time, rather than being able to create and share when desired.

    Until we reorganize schools to better meet the unique needs of these kids, we should remain concerned with their ability to thoughtfully “consume” someone elses work.

    And if they want to create a crazy mashup and post it on YouTube? Let’s help them do that too.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  5. The notion of “creation vs consumption” was a thread that emerged over and over again in our school’s professional development experience in early June. One of our teachers created an excellent multimedia artifact where she articulates some of the questions and concerns she has regarding online consumption and creation. Here is the link to the object:

  6. I think you discussed, you have to look at the success of the iPad in today’s. It is a focused on being a consumer device (yes you can create with it) where it enables you to easily consume information. It also depends on which definition of create or what we expect our students to make. Is it something electronic or is it on paper or with wood, or so other medium that we can create something in.

    Many people in today’s society will not create or should I say do not create without being pushed to do so. They leave that for others to do, they prefer to sit behind a TV or computer screen and consume. Hasn’t this been the history of the world there are more consumers than there are creators – is that a bad thing?

    But I do believe that we have to provide students the knowledge of how to create in their preferred medium, if our students choose to do it in their future.


  7. We are human BEings, not human DOings, right?!

    Thanks for questioning the expectation to create. There is a large emphasis in our world to create/produce ‘stuff’… We look for very tangible, physical markers of activity. (maybe because we don’t take time to sense the non-physical markers of activity.) But there is much creating that need not be ‘measured’.

    Observing, listening, sensing and the act of BEING are very creative, though their creations might be less physically tangible. We are out of practice in these modalities. Many people have expectations of what a productive or useful way of being looks like, but all of those ideas are based on the past… and maybe on misconceptions. I would think about this when my classroom seemed unconventional, but I deeply knew the kids’ activities were right on.

    Thanks for posting the idea.


  8. We all have a desire to be productive, valued, contributors. This has been a characteristic we all share since the beginning (IMHO). We have always produced and shared because it makes us feel good, feel valued. Does producing and sharing “now” take on a more important, larger meaning than making us just feel good? Is there a more loftier goal than just “making us feel good?” …i know taking this why to deep 😉 Chalk it up to the end of the day. Thanks Mr. Share-Ski

  9. The issue for me is not one of helping students to be creators/makers of things OR consumers of content(neither of which they need our help to do). Rather, its a matter of helping them to do both of these activities really well, or at least better than they would do on their own. This essential question of whether to focus on students as creators or as consumers that been tossed around in the field of art education for much of its 200-year history in the U.S. Among the many authors who have chimed in on this matter Elliot Eisner has in my humble estimation done the most to deepen our understanding of the role of (art)education in these areas.

    I encourage anyone with an interest in this matter of “consumption, creation and education” to examine Eisner’s ideas about artistry, criticism, connoisseurship (e.g., see Here’s a teaser:

    “Artistry, therefore, can serve as a regulative ideal for education, a vision that adumbrates what really matters in schools. To conceive of students as artists who do their art in science, in the arts, or the humanities, is, after all, both a daunting and a profound aspiration. It may be that by shifting the paradigm of education reform and teaching from one modeled after the clocklike character of the assembly line into one that is closer to the studio or innovative science laboratory might provide us with a vision that better suits the capacities and the futures of the students we teach.”

    When I think of BLC (which I last attended 2 years ago) in relationship to Eisner’s statement above, I think of Marco Torres and his studio classroom.

    Well, that’s my two cents. I’m enjoying the blc10 twitter stream.

  10. So if most people don't "make things," how do they get paid?  I think creation is not only what we do online or what we do in our spare time, but rather the impetus that keeps our society moving and our business and industry productive.  That's why we want students to be creators–so that they not only can participate in a productive society, but so that they can be good at creating and perhaps even innovate.  If we're going to progress, someone has to be at the cutting edge.  Why not my students?

  11. Maybe the most significant difference between consuming and creating is that they involve massively different thinking frameworks.  To consume, one must identify what is needed, how it can be "got" and them some evaluation of the "getting".  To creat is to identify a need, envision possible avenues; evaluate them, build/refine/revise, and finally produce a creative work.   This second process seems a more appropriate framework for lifelong learning and developing a mindset that is more intrinsically worthwhile than simply consuming information.


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