Content is NOT King

Last week, someone emailed me this article, Writing for E-Learning. to help support a point she was making about adding a search function to online classes. I think her idea of a search function is great, but I mentioned that I disagree with several points in the article, starting with the assertion that “content is king.”

From the article:

Content is King
The quality of e-learning material depends on the quality of the writing from the subject specialist. When converting written materials to web pages it is the original content sets the standard. So what was bad content in print will probably produce poor material online. Conversely, it is usually the case that well written printed material will convert to good e-learning material.

I think it’s the whole idea of whether we are in the business of providing content or providing an educational experience. If teaching was just a matter of presenting content, then those two would be the same, but reading or listening aren’t the same as learning. If our main goal is to provide content to students, then we should be in the publishing business—it’s a much more effective and efficient way to get lots of text content to students. If our goal is to provide an educational experience, then it may start with content, but it can’t end there. With the constructivist theory, it’s about providing active learning experiences; with connectivism it’s about building a learning network and collaborating with others. I’m not so concerned with which theory we label our work, but I do think that learning isn’t just about pouring information into students’ brains.

The “content is king” view is that pouring quality content into their brains is all that’s needed. The reason this article ends by talking about having printable content is because it is written from a publishing standpoint rather than a learner standpoint. His points on quality writing and structure are good, but I disagree with the fundamental purpose of online learning (and probably any learning) that this author presents. The author assumes that the instructor knows everything and must share this expertise to the students; the author doesn’t show that he believes the students have anything of value to share with each other and the instructor. Especially with adult learners, I think that’s the wrong approach; I think our students’ experiences and ideas are very valuable.

I’m not convinced by the connectivist idea that the “pipe is more important than the content.” I don’t want to have to choose either the pipe or the content. Can’t I have both? Does this have to be an either/or, or can it be a both/and? Garbage content in a great network isn’t that beneficial, nor is great content with a lousy presentation and learner experience. Am I just being naive here, or can we find a middle ground that values both the content and the presentation?

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