Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

15 December 2009

The Great eLearning Garbage Vortex

Clark @ 1:24 PM

Norbert Hockenberry here, reporting on a giant floating patch of elearning that has recently been discovered.  Like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this has been created by discarded material being gathered by oceanic currents into a giant mess.

Unlike the Pacific patch, this isn’t an environmental disaster so much as a economic and social catastrophe.  The waste of organizational resources, and learner time, is tragic.  Seldom has so much been done, for so many, for so little gain.

What is the cause of this mess?  Two main things: bad design, and mismanagement.

Bad Design

First, bad design means that the content has no actual impact on performance.  Typically, it’s delivered too far away from the time of need, and not reinforced, so it’s liable to have been forgotten when needed.

Even if it is available, it probably won’t get activated.  The content is usually developed as a knowledge dump and recitation, which is well-known to lead to ‘inert knowledge’. Truly, a pathetic misuse of resources.


Good content development practices also imply content management and governance.  Too often we see neither.

Content isn’t well articulated, starting from the objectives, and the development isn’t carefully articulated within a curriculum let alone across the curriculum, so consequently the content is limited in reuse and repurposing. Often, it can’t even be found for updating!  So, when information changes, the content is tossed away.

The flip-side is similar: content that has reached it’s ‘use by’ date isn’t culled from the available contents, and hangs around, making it hard for more useful content to live a full life.  Without content management and governance, content lies around in limbo, rather than be properly recycled or composted.

What can be done?

The clear implication is to start with proper content management up front, following good design principles, and establishing governance across the policy.  Content shouldn’t be developed without a clear view of it’s lifecycle and planned processes for getting maximum advantage and then disposing of it in appropriate ways.

This is Norbert Hockenberry, asking you to help prevent such disasters, and invest wisely in content development. Start with a focus on meaningful impacts, have a development process that supports good design, and has a clear intention about how to develop, access, and make content available for the learner.  Responsibly reuse, update, or appropriately dismiss content that is no longer functional in it’s current state.  It’s just being responsible!


  1. The garbage patch cannot be easily identified. There are few large floating objects that can be quickly tagged as trash, nor can it be seen for example using conventional approaches, (such as satellite photography). It is more like a miasma of small suspended particles that debilitates and confuses the different organisms that come into contact with it. Only close analysis makes it possible to clearly identify it…
    Nice one, Norbert!

    Comment by Nick Kearney — 5 October 2010 @ 3:01 AM

  2. […] Clark Quinn’s blog that Dan appreciated: The Great eLearning Garbage Vortex […]

    Pingback by LearningTimes Green Room » Blog Archive » LTGR Ep. #72 – “Instructional Designers’ 2010 Resolutions” — 27 January 2011 @ 11:29 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress