I read, again and again, about the importance of ‘content’ in learning. And I don’t disagree, but…I think there’s still a problem about it. And where I get concerned is about what is meant by the term. Just what do mean by ‘content’? And why should we care about the distinction?
My worry is twofold. For one, I get concerned that talking about content foregrounds ‘information’. And that’s a problem. I’ve been concerned for a while about how it’s too easy to allow knowledge to dominate learning objectives. Know, understand, etc are generally not meaningful objectives. Objectives should be ‘able to use to ___’. Talking about content, as I’ve talked about before, leads us down a slippery slope to curriculum being defined as content.
My second concern is related. It’s about content being meant to include concepts, examples, and practice. Yet, if we don’t separate out interactivity separate from consumption, we can make nonsensical learning interactions instead of meaningful applications of concepts to contexts. Recognition is not powerful learning.
Look, I get it. From a technical point of view, e.g. a content management system perspective, it’s all content. It’s addressable files. They may just report access, or they can report success/failure, or many other things. However, again, this view can make it easy to do bad things. And, as the book Nudge I just read suggests, we want to make it easy to do the right things, and make you have to work to do things inappropriately.
So I may be being a pedant about this, but I have a reason. It won’t be when we’re all on the same page about good learning design, practice foregrounded and concepts and examples as learning resources, not the goal. But I don’t think we’re there yet. And language matters in shaping thinking. It may not be the Whorfian Hypothesis, but it does influence how we think and what we do.
For principled and practical reasons, I think we want to distinguish between content (concepts and examples) and interactives (practice). At least as designers. Others can focus differently, but we have our own language for other things (I’d argue our use of the term ‘objectives’ is different than business folks, for example), and I argue we should do so here as well. What say you?
Ray Cole says
Great post! I agree 100%. I usually put it this way: good courses are not about their content; they’re about what the learner is expected to DO with that content.
Focusing on the “doing” leads to designing courses with rich context challenges that give learners the opportunity to practice the “doing” in realistic situations. Focusing on content leads to designing page-turner courses which are little more than info-dumps with an occasional multiple choice question thrown in. Design the former and you have a shot at helping learners acquire skills they can take with them when they “graduate” from your course. Design the latter and you are wasting your time and theirs on a course that will have no lasting impact.