Content, Content & Content; Learning Technology Separated by a Common Name

I was in a meeting today that reminded me of the small separations that we get in the English language and some of the issues it can cause. It also reinforced for me something that I thought was worth a warning for anyone who is looking for learning technologies and LMS or elearning (especially if you don’t know the difference between them).

The first meaning of content is pretty straight forward. If you’re happy with your learning and learning technologies then you can be said to be content and I think we can all agree on that. Of course, if you are content with your learning technologies you’re either in the lucky minority or blissfully unaware of what other options there are out there (or both of course, it’s not mutually exclusive). Content as in happy is great, you buy anything that you’re happy with and so are the majority of the users I say ‘good score’ and move on.

The second meaning is where we start to get a little fuzzy. To me talking about content in a learning context means learning material. So if you’re talking ‘content’ I’m thinking you’re after some elearning. Or digital learning. Or training. Or blended learning. Or… well, you get the idea, from micro learning to plain old-fashioned learning; you’re after the general misnomer of learning in some form (for those wondering why it’s a misnomer it’s all about what your teaching or training and how it sometimes differs from what is being learnt – another discussion for another time).

So if we have the happy content and the learning content, where does that leave us with content #3? Today I heard someone involved in learning management systems talk about their content. In my ignorance I assumed this was learning in one of its guises. No, they were talking about content as being the LMS itself. The LMS as the learning rather than the LMS as the holder for the learning. Half of me scoffed internally at the idea, the other half kind of agreed with them. If an LMS is something you want to be content about (sorry) then surely it’s more than just a housing for your content (#2)? Social learning is a great example where the content and the system they sit upon become intertwined. Where does the system end and the learning begin? What about when the tools of a modern LMS are used by learners to create content for other learners? Surely the LMS is a part of the learning… does that make it content?

Yeah nah (popular Kiwi expression, I’ll leave you to Google it). I think if we treat the system itself as content it muddies the water. An example of the reason this is dangerous ground is that today I also had a meeting where we were presenting a learning solution for a potential client involving an LMS. They made it clear beforehand that they only wanted to see the system and not ‘content’. Wise call on their behalf because there’s no doubt that lots of LMS vendors demonstrate their system with great elearning content that really has nothing to do with the system on which it’s being demo’d. Don’t get me wrong I truly believe that the LMS should be a part of the learning, I just think we’ve got to be careful to allow for a distinction that it’s not the content. If the LMS is the content too we really mislead potential clients, and that’s not where I want to be.

So content #1 and #2 I’m down with. Content #3 isn’t content. It’s learning, just not THE learning. It’s part of the learning, part of the overall journey, but let’s not call it content, let’s call it what it is; a system to enable learning. Heck let’s call it a learning system… or a learning management system if you want. Let’s call it an LMS if that’s what it is. Let’s call it learning technology, but let’s not confuse it with the learning technology that is elearning. Yikes, I’m not sure I’ve helped!

Learning technologies are technologies that help learning. LMS, elearning, blended learning, content, content creation tools, social learning platforms etc etc etc. Cool, glad I got that off my chest, carry on world.