In 1996 Bill Gates coined the phrase ‘content is king’.
Back then Gates was predicting the rise of the internet and the spread of easily accessible online content.
Since that time, this phrase has been used widely from marketing to web design as an all-inclusive catch-cry to stress the importance of well written content. In e-learning this phrase is often used to stress that digital bells and whistles don’t cover up for bad content. It all makes very good sense. Up to a point.
For me, the idea that ‘content is king’ in relation to e-learning made more sense when content was hard to come by and e-learning played an important role in communicating information to people. Now, however, a simple google search can bring up a wealth of articles, information and videos to rival anything that you could put in your training course. For a course to truly engage learners, raw content on its own is no longer enough.
This brings up a phrase that I think is more fitting when talking about e-learning content: ‘telling is not training.’ In other words, to transform content into learning, you need context. Context takes raw information and filters it through how the information relates directly to the learner and how they can apply it in their job roles. For example in a compliance course the content is the legal definitions but the context is cases studies and situations that learners can easily relate to themselves and recognise how they could happen in their workplace. Once you have this context it is much easier for learners to understand the consequences of actions and adjust their behaviour.
In face to face training, it is the teacher that provides this context for learners. Teachers act as learning and subject matter experts, filtering raw content and delivering it back to their class with context and opportunities to practice learning in a safe environment. Good teachers know that information needs to be customised to an audience. Imagine, for example, how boring and ineffective training on workplace bullying would be if a teacher just stood in front of the class and read out the legislation.
It is the same in e-learning. At Learning Seat, our Instructional Designers are our learning experts. Most custom course development projects begin with raw content. To turn this into training, our Instructional Designers work with subject matter experts to build context from raw information. Content isn’t just transcribed into an online format. Good instructional design transforms raw content into rich context.. It turns definitions and processes in relatable scenarios and opportunities to explore consequences. This context takes shape in a storyboard which forms the blueprint our Digital Designers use to build a course.
So, while I hate to disagree with the great Bill Gates, for me, as Instructional Designer, content isn’t King. Context rules the kingdom now. Long may it reign.