Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Why content is not king

The often-used phrase “content is king” betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of e-learning.

Some software developers and vendors tend to emphasise the technology as the defining characteristic of e-learning, and therefore the most important component. This is natural, as it is self-interest. But it’s not the whole picture.

Others slyly suggest their technology is subordinate to the content. This aims to flatter the client, and to divert criticism of enabling software, but it exposes the limits of their understanding of how learning works.

Learning online is about more than simply automated information. If all software does is manipulate content, then it’s generic software with no special application for learning.

In fact, there are three, interrelated, aspects to e-learning. There’s the technology, there’s content, and there’s learning design. Some prefer the term ‘pedagogy’. Not me. And I’m not going to get into a debate about whether ‘andragogy’ is better. ‘Learning design’ is good, plain English.

If we think of the three aspects as cogs in a machine, we can see that they move each other, and help create a greater whole.
For learning to work, it needs to engage the learner, and involve him or her in as active a way as possible. Simple reading or viewing alone can do this, provided the reader or viewer has a good imagination and is well-motivated to begin with. But interactivity helps a lot. The key is to design a learning experience, not just some interesting reading or viewing.

As Elliott Masie says, "if we don't focus on the experience dimension of learning, we run the risk of mistaking the publishing of information for learning and training".

Successful e-learning is a combination of technology that works, meaningful content, and effective learning design. All three are important; none of them is ‘king’.

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