Co-Authored by Gavin Sturgeon and Todd Pezer

For the purposes of investigating abundance of content for lifelong learning, we chose to investigate the distilling of alcohol, specifically Rum. We chose two separate streams of investigation, discussed findings and implications, then summarized our results.

Gavin investigated:

  • Various websites that contained step-by-step instructions
  • YouTube how-to videos
  • Wiki’s that included pictures
  •  Home distillery websites
  •  Alcohol related blogs
  •  Social media sites (Pinterest, Facebook, Reddit)

Todd investigated:

  • Available online structured courses
  • Online communities of practice (forums, chat rooms, etc.)
  • Scientific support literature
  • Supply acquisition options
    • Raw goods
    • Production equipment
    • Testing equipment
    • Bottling/storage equipment
    • Etc.
  • Legal issues

What we found:

  • While rum as basically described can be made from four ingredients that are available to the general public (water, sugar, molasses and yeast), huge variations in complexity exist depending on the maker’s desired final product quality:
    • it can be made via traditional heat distillation or via freeze distilling
    • simple recipes involve common kitchen utensils
    • complex recipes require things like the importation of actual sugar cane and seasoning wooden casks for ageing.
  • There were 126,000 google hits from a search of “how to make rum” yet actual instructions to distill rum were contained to the first three pages of results. After that, sites turned into recipes for rum flavoured or infused food.
  • There are two distinct streams of information, one for professionals involved in, or aspiring to work in, commercial distilleries; the other, dedicated to what is largely an underground (and illegal in Canada) hobby.
  • Because of the legal implications, communities of practice (forums, chat rooms, etc.) were often unstructured and rarely had true professional participation.

Confidence that abundant content exists:

  • The information gleaned from the above sources indicates that the recipe and steps to distilling your own rum are fairly straightforward. However, comments made by online participants in rum production state that there is much trial and error involved to get the process right (Ministry of Rum, n.d.)
  • Variables such as quality of ingredients, type of equipment and facilities available, cleanliness of the water, cleanliness of process, and patience of the maker all play a part in how each batch will turn out. These variables are not always clearly defined, nor are the connections to which variables are most critical to success
  • Given the potentially illegal nature of the pursuit, there was almost no online content available that had any official certification attached to it, or commentary submitted by professionals.

Is abundant content enough?

  • We believe that safety, quality of finished product, and legal issues confound the definition of what could be a successful learning outcome.
  • Aside from an online course from Australia largely covering theory, very few structured online distiller’s courses are available.
  • Almost all distiller’s programs that offered any online content mandated some type of in-person training in a lab or operating distillery for course completion.
  • Only one structured online program without a face to face component was retrieved using four different search engines and multiple search wording choices:
  • This led us to strongly doubt that we could reasonably acquire the requisite skill for a product of any quality through delivery techniques other than face to face.

What is needed to make use of abundant content?

  • Some sort of expert or master practitioner guidance would be required to filter the appropriate content from what is nonproductive, dangerous, or exceptionally resource consuming. This could be through purchasing a subscription to streamed recorded multimedia content, or possibly through the engagement of an individual or group through a forum or chat room.

What ways can we make use of this content?

  • We believe that for the reasons described above, it would be irresponsible for us to use the content of the web for teaching a skills-based course in distilling your own rum. There are very real fire and poisoning risks, legal implications, and many process steps, each with multiple variables. While some theoretical knowledge could be gained on the science behind the process, this would offer very little value to the individual seeking the skills required.


  • This activity was an interesting pursuit. While many seemingly complicated skills, such as upgrading the memory of a laptop, can be acquired through simple online searches and reading or watching free online content, we unknowingly chose a topic that was for many reasons, sophisticated. Research brought us from the peak of huge corporations to the illegal moonshine stills of the American South. Because we both have learned many things online before, we confess an initial bias toward thinking that in the modern era, good web access and some patience will allow us to achieve practically any skill. This particular topic led us toward a deeper respect for considerations such as those proposed by Prensky (cited by Anderson, 2008) that what we are learning has a defining effect on how we should learn it. With much of the distilling process being a skill, Prensky contends that this should be learned “through imitation, feedback, continuous 
practice, and increasing challenge” (p.63). We agree, and believe this to be practically impossible using internet based sources as they are available today, no matter how abundant. In fact, while we appreciate the notion that a connectivist approach may be a more recent and potentially evolved pedagogy, the understanding that “connectivist models explicitly rely on the ubiquity of networked connections between people, digital artifacts, and content” (Anderson & Dron, 2007, p.87) may make these models no better, and potentially much worse, than more traditional pedagogical models, such as cognitive-behaviorism, when skill acquisition is more important that knowledge and the one-to-one approach option exists.
  • We no longer believe it is likely we will be attempting to distill our own rum. A further unexpected consequence of this activity has led us to also cancel plans to perform our own dentistry.




Anderson, T. (2008). Chapter 2: Towards a theory of online learning. In T. Anderson (Ed.), The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., pp. 45-74). Edmonton, AB: AU Press.


Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogyThe International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning12(3), 80-97.


How Rum is Made. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2017, from