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Content in learning – who organizes it?

I’ve taken many online courses over the last year, and I’m beginning to feel that the instructor/designer hand in organizing content is actually a drawback to learning. Content in courses is presented in a manner that makes sense to the instructor (someone who already understands the content very well). Learners, however, have different approaches to understanding. Some prefer a big picture overview…followed by exploration of its individual parts. Others prefer to experience learning sequentially.

Content is viewed as “the point of learning”…when in reality, content is a conduit to learning (that is, the content should lead to reflection, discussion, exploration…which in turn, result in learning).

Learners also have different reasons for taking a course. Course content should be responsive to the reason for taking a course. A manager may want a basic overview of the subject matter, an employee may need to acquire new skill sets, a student may be building a foundation for future courses. Each has a different need for content…based on their motivations for learning. None are served well by static content presented the same to all learners.

The static content approach creates an additional problem: Courses do not successfully capture two of the most significant parts of the learning process: learner-to-learner interaction, and learner produced artifacts. If content is static and Instructor-selected, contrasting viewpoints will not be heard.

Learning content creation should involve the learner…presentation should be dynamic (personalized to the learner’s learning style and reasons for taking the “course”). While it is unrealistic to simply give learners access to a database of learning objects and say “everything’s in there…go learn”, it is important to minimize the instructor/designer’s voice in content organization…and move the choice to the learner.

A course organized in this manner starts with learning objects…but not as a means of simply creating efficiencies (costs or development time) in course development. The intent is to create learning that is learner focused…moving beyond the current three month model and serving a variety of needs – reference, knowledge management, performance support.


  1. jim sibley wrote:


    I certainly agree with your thoughts on the limitations with other peoples organization of information for individual learner’s

    I saw a great talk at the last MERLOT conference about attaching learning objects to concept maps for course navigation….and thought further…that these should be controlable by student….?

    See below



    Nice Blog by the way!

    Thursday, November 6, 2003 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  2. Howard Davis wrote:

    Yes, you’ve articulated the challenge of moving from F2F to web-based learning: designing student-centric, interactive/integrated learning experiences.

    The tendency, in moving to online, is to replicate the physical classroom, with pedagogy intact, and we know that that doesn’t work. The ongoing issue is to learn to use the Web to facilitate dynamic learning, and not merely replicate our bad teaching-learning habits in glossier fashion.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2003 at 4:16 pm | Permalink