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

4 September 2013

Content or experience

Clark @ 7:29 AM

I continue to have a problem with the term content as a component of what our field does.  I think there are potential problems with the label, so let me make them clear.

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.


  1. Learning and content management systems are about administration while experiences and actions are about the learner. With technology advances and the speed of which information is availability today, learning functions have tended to move away from creating meaningful experiences to producing content (information) to keep pace.

    I believe the Experience API will raise awareness about learner experiences and actions, and for the enlightened L&D professionals, will provide an opportunity to get back to creating great experiences. What we call the delivery and management of these experience is yet to be determined.

    Thought provoking article Clark!


    Comment by John Delano — 9 September 2013 @ 3:02 PM

  2. Hmmm. I believe you’re over-thinking this one. Just like learning objectives, you have to DO something with content for it to be education or training.I also like the term learning management system because it is (maybe I should say can be) the tool with which we DO something with content.

    Enjoy your blog

    Comment by Kevin Wilcoxon — 9 September 2013 @ 4:43 PM

  3. I think you’re right. The L&D crowd should focus in activities fostering result strengthening behavior. Look at the new world Kirkpatrick model and it’s quite clear it’s behavior that drives performance. Their model is brilliant in its simplicity, however I think they missed a chance to really make an impact by not renaming L2 to something else than Learning since it really isn’t all about learning anymore.
    A course should be a performance change and everything we do to get that is input, what we get out of the change is output.

    Comment by Henrik Svensson — 9 September 2013 @ 10:03 PM

  4. Thanks Clark! I totally agree that in the current climate content presentation is seen as the equivalent to learning. Everyone from CEO, presidents, faculty and students see it this way and it’s scary! There are also exceptions – but too few and without the muscle or $$$ to change minds.

    The concept of learning being experiential really holds true to me and agree that is where our efforts need to be. In this sense though I wonder if our focus needs to be on ‘managing’ them at the moment or actually developing them in a meaningful and authentic way? This is where the xAPI can be come into its own as a tool to evolve out of the current paradigm and we currently are. The fact that the main LMSs are supporting it is a good thing – as it gives us a solid foundation through the LMS and the tool via the xAPI to start thinking and transitioning into a more experiential model of learning. I have hope that change is coming – it’s wearing a Tin Can on its head!

    Comment by Tim Klapdor — 10 September 2013 @ 5:08 PM

  5. The LMSs that I’ve had to work with have been less than inspiring when it comes to ease of use and functionality for creating a true learning experience as opposed to merely hosting content. It’s almost like building a school and saying “this is where learning happens” but not hiring any teachers.

    I think that this post really emphasizes that what software companies are putting out there isn’t always useful for meaningful learning. If an LMS is a rebranded CMS, what’s so special about it? so while I think a further rebranding to an “experience management system” would not be very useful per se, I do think that it would refocus development on instructional designers’ special needs and requirements and the current structure isn’t up to par.

    Comment by Vince Tripi — 12 September 2013 @ 5:39 AM

  6. […] Content or experience […]

    Pingback by Reading List #8 | Tim Klapdor — 15 September 2013 @ 4:32 PM

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