Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why content is not king

I still see them around: e-Learning projects in which the main deliverable is one or more packages of content, deployed using a web based platform. It’s obvious that providing attractive, interactive content will engage the learner more than only text based page-turners. But even when you are able to provide attractive content, this is just the beginning. As Martin Dougiamas stated during his presentation at MoodleMoot in April 2009, providing content is the first (of ten) pedagogical levels of e-Learning. Content varying from sophisticated, flashy WBT’s to powerpoints and PDF readers that are published by an instructor to his students. Content has a role in organizing, providing structure, orientation and activating links with existing cognitive schemata. Content can also address prior knowledge. Moreover, content can provide new knowledge elements. Deep level learning, however, is about what you do with the content: how to (re)organize it, paraphrase it, reproduce it, apply it in different contexts and finally incorporate it. Learners need to be actively engaged in discussions, in (group) assignments, in settings where user generated content is a goal. This way they are forced to do something more than passively reading or do some pre-defined exercises. At higher levels of e-Learning peer review, active research, reflection and networked learning provide additional opportunities for a form of information processing in which the learner needs to be actively engaged, including interaction with fellow learners.

There is a lot of writing and discussion on how to use Web 2.0 functionality in different learning situations. For example, Moodle is designed as a social constructivist learning environment, and it does include some of the Web 2.0 functions. It is not just an advanced content player. Then let’s use it that way! The learner is not a sole individual, but has a network of peers, mentors, colleagues, or even experts who can help him reflect on the issues he is working on. It’s ok to start with content first, but only if it is part of a long term roadmap in which further steps are also acknowledged and planned. A full, comprehensive SCORM package may be just one simple hyperlink in Moodle (or any other learning environment), but just think about all the other resources and activities that can be organized around it. The opportunity to do so is just around the corner. In the market of commercial training institutes there is a growing awareness that the competition cannot be beated, only by providing high-end content. Especially in this time of crisis there is a battle going on in which prices for e-Learning modules are dropping. You need to do more to create additional value, a unique selling point in the business of e-Learning. Providing a rich, interactive learning environment is one of the possibilities.