Friday, June 26, 2020

There is no content.

There is no content. 

If you are still using the word ‘content’ in your learning conversations, then you are still talking about education and you have yet to begin talking about learning. As soon as you say the word ‘content’ I know you are no longer talking about learning.

I think people sometimes hear me describing the difference between ‘education’ and ‘learning’ and imagine it’s some sort of sophistry – a philosophical debate. But it quickly comes to a head when we are designing a programme and they say ‘but what about all the content?’ and I say ‘There is no content. Content is education. We are doing learning.’

They have a sort of ‘surely you are joking?’ reaction. Perhaps you do too.

Let me try a couple of ways to explain:

Picture your dog (or any dog). Your dog is learning every day. Where’s the content?

Now people have a reaction to this which is ‘but we’re not dogs! Dogs learn differently!’ This isn’t true. Neurologically speaking we are very similar – we don’t have a magical ‘learning’ part of the brain that dogs don’t – we are just more sophisticated, the basic mechanism is the same.

Indeed this weird idea – that staring at some information on a screen & memorising some of it is learning – this is a very peculiar, recent idea, even for humans. Humans have been learning for millennia without doing anything remotely like that. The ‘staring at information on a screen’ thing is called ‘education’. It doesn’t have anything to do with learning. It was just designed to keep small children away from machinery.

You could force dogs to sit in rows, then show them slides with bullet-points and information. This would only be marginally less effective in changing their behaviour than it is with humans, and about equally torturous.

So what about the content?

People’s learning – like dogs – is largely driven by the challenges they face. There really are only two things you can do: you can present a challenge (which will drive learning), or you can provide resources that people can pull on when they are challenged. A resource can be a map, a person, Google, a checklist, a video, a guide…

'Aha!' you say ‘so there IS content!’.

You might want to call it ‘content’; and that’s ok so long as you understand that they or may not memorise it (depending on the circumstance) and that they will only access it when they need it – not sitting in a classroom – and if and only if it is directly relevant to the challenge they face. Honestly, you’re better off calling it ‘resources’. When your dog wants to go for a walk they grab their lead; when a person needs to know how to do a ten-step process they grab the checklist. It's not really 'content'. If your dog remembers where the lead is, is that 'content'?

As for the challenging experiences, humans have a broader repertoire than dogs: listening to a story can be an experience, for example. You can be moved by what you hear (but then if you are sitting crying in a corner, your dog can probably tell you are upset.)

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