Content or Experience

Clark Quinn, in the blog post Content or experience has with the term content as a component of education does.  He explains the potential  problems:

What we do is create content.  In elearning, we create introductions and concept presentations, we portray examples, and we make interactivities that provide practice.  Even in F2F training, we have content and structure around actions we ask our learners to take.  At the end of the day, much of what we’re working on is content that is communicated or triggered by learner actions.

However, I think there’s a problem with thinking of it that way. I believe we need to focus on the activity, not on the content. What’s important is the learner’s experience that is created by sequencing content and learner actions, not the content itself.  You could present content in different ways (for instance, labeled slides, narrated slideshow, or video) and it’s be semantically equivalent (and please don’t bring up Clark & Kozma), at least for our purposes here.

The problem is that if we focus on content, it becomes too easy to think that content presentation is equivalent to learning. Even if we test knowledge of the content afterwards, it’s not going to lead to meaningful outcomes.  Thinking about producing content makes it easy to go astray.

The alternative, however, is still uncertain. Technologically, it makes sense to talk about content management systems, but learning management systems above that is the wrong language.  While ‘course management systems’ addresses the real function of such systems, ideally we’d instead be thinking about ‘experience management systems’. Except I don’t think we really have those right now.  You might say that trainers or mentors or coaches are that, and I might agree in the latter sense, certainly, though I’m looking for a better branding for the technology infrastructure.

There’s now an Experience API that provides some infrastructure for creating such an experience management system, but there’re still some intermediate steps needed. Fingers crossed.

Ok, so I’m thinking out loud about our language and what the implications are, but I’m a big fan of reflection and I think it’s useful to stop once in a while and think about where we’re at and how we’re doing.  I welcome your thoughts.

If you want to design online learning that focus first on the activity, and not the content, begin with the 3 Steps to Creating your Online Course.

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