Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Context is King!

I received an email invitation today to join a webinar to be led by Ed Cohen, the Chief Technology Officer of Plateau Systems, titled "The Future of Learning Content." It promised that I would "learn about the important trends that are shaping the development, deployment and management of learning content," and discover "how content can be more effectively purchased, deployed and managed" (presumably using Plateau's technology). I took a pass. I did so because I think that gathering, tagging, storing, sharing, manipulating, and managing good content is the easy part (whether using Plateau or any other content management system, including customized databases). However, what is sorely missing in the world of eLearning today is CONTEXT.

During the dot.com frenzy of a few years ago, when there were mergers of content providers and those that controlled online distribution channels, one often heard the phrase "content is king." The idea was that the ones owning the "pipe" needed something with which to fill it. You can see some of the same thinking among those developing eLearning programs for companies, associations and educational institutions. There is this obsession with filling the eLearning "pipe" with static content. Hence , there is so much eLearning today that amounts to little more than online books which nobody really wants to read. (Note: I am not innocent in this regard, I have had a hand in such projects.)

In the age of Google, when one can find content on just about any topic imaginable in a matter of seconds, we have to move beyond this obsession with content in eLearning. It is time to focus on context. In other words, we must move past the presentation of content to the creation of context wherein learners can can apply and reflect upon the new knowledge they encounter. It is a matter of moving beyond "knowing" something to being able to do something with this new knowledge (e.g. make a good decision, solve a problem, improve a process, resolve a conflict, etc.)

There are a number of ways to put good content into context in the aid of learning, including:

Creative Learning Design
  • Encourage active and applied learning via immersive cases, games and branching scenarios
  • Challenge learners, allow them to fail in safe environments and to learn from failure
  • Provide learners with opportunities for self-reflection
Enabling Community
  • Connect peers and allow them to learn from each other
  • Connect experienced pros with novices in mentorship relationships
Facilitate Learning on Demand
  • Nothing puts learning into context better than allowing learners to access it at the point of need and then use it immediately
Doing eLearning right is much more than just creating a huge and tidy repository of lifeless content that can be sliced and diced innumerable ways. It is about creating effective learning environments that allow learners to learn in a context that is real and meaningful to them.

I attended a reception last week put on by ExperiencePoint, a Toronto-based company that produces online learning simulations. They announced that early in 2008 they will release tools that will allow others to create their own simulations, with their own content. Now this is interesting - more of a Context Management System than a Content Management System. Perhaps there is hope after all.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am totally agree with you about the ways to put good content into context in the aid of learning. eLeraning is not just transfer text book into a "screen book" but provides more chances and practices to interactive with learners; scenarios, leave messages to instructor and peers to exchange ideas and opinions.
I just saw one very interesting video, Salesforce + Google Apps = Productive Small Biz, from http://www.incsub.org/soulsoup/.
I think they did an excellent job on delivery thier message.

Yuming-

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