Formal Content: It’s Not Dead Yet!

bigquestionTom Haskins paints an intriguing picture in his answer to the Learning Circuits blog big question this month.  He replies to the question “ILT and Off-the-Shelf Vendors – What Should They Do?” with a description of what things are like “now” and the recommendation that given this set of circumstances “Leave a clean corpse” is perhaps the best choice.

I’m not sure we’re really where Tom thinks we are. Frankly, I’m not sure we have good research to prove our sense that  “we’ve gotten far better results from giving us more feedback and less instruction to build skills,”  though I’d like to think we’ll get there.

And I’m not sure we’ll ever be in the place where we can say, as Tom asserts, “Now that so many of us have built up meta skills (for problem solving, changing strategies, collaborating etc) in online and computer games, it seems silly to teach a concept, skill or policy change as if it’s not something everyone can figure out for themselves or team-up to knock out in a jiffy.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a believer in informal learning.  But I think there will always be value in taking time out to figure out where the gaps exist between what people need to know and need to be able to do, and where they actually are.  And there will always be a place for well-designed, formal content, prepared by people who have taken the time to find out what works for adult learners, in the quest to fill those gaps.

Subscribing to RSS feeds, tags and searches is a great way for an individual to keep abreast of what’s happening in her field. Contributing to communities of practice is a terrific way to pass on hard-won expertise.  It’s all good.

But it’s not sufficient. In the frantic, multi-tasking environments in which we all work, there is perhaps a more urgent need than ever for content which is the product of careful reflection about just what is essential, and how it fits into an overall framework.

We think the future of learning is in the engagement of learners with each other, and with skilled facilitators, around that content.

So we aren’t looking to see our friends and colleagues, the content providers, buried just yet. We think we’ll be needing each other for some time to come.

2 comments on “Formal Content: It’s Not Dead Yet!”

  1. Wendy Wickham

    I suspect that the transition from formal learning to informal learning is evolutionary. If the learner is uncomfortable with the topic, or has next to no prior experience, the formal learning environment is more comfortable and more productive. As the learner gets more comfortable – informal learning techniques become more useful.

    Where I run into problems is the need for context and customization. That’s where many current vendors fall short.

  2. Valerie Bock

    Agreed. As individuals gain more domain expertise, they are better equipped to seek out what they need to know on their own.

    My experience is that it’s not hard to purchase content customized with a high level of context-sensitivity–it’s just really expensive! Vendors know that it takes time and work to get to know an organization well enough to develop content which is a tailored fit to the org’s needs, and the more customized the piece is, the less readily it can be fashioned into a product which can be resold to others. So, understandably, they price such work to recoup full margin.

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