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Are we all getting confused by the difference between content & learning?

Blog Post

‘There are at least 17 companies currently describing themselves as ‘the Netflix for Education’!’

What a statement! Many thanks to the team at EdTechX [The Power of Standing Out in a Sea of Sameness (edtechxeurope.com)] for bringing it to our attention and, especially, to Matthew Tower [EdTech Thoughts 6/6 – 6/12 – by Matthew Tower (substack.com)] for making the observation in the first place.

One part of the community here at ESI was astonished when we read this. The other part? Not so surprised.

Through decades of evolution, our learning technology industry – from K12 to workforce and beyond – has struggled on 2 fronts: successfully deploying new technologies in the learning process while at the same time keeping track of rapidly evolving generations of learners: younger, more tech-savvy, more demanding than ever before.

Those twin challenges meet head on in the concept of a Netflix for Education. First off, it is a great, understandable soundbite for investors. Secondly, it might even have a functional educational purpose: a vast ocean of content that self-selects for a new generation of individuals who expect their learning to be consumed like their entertainment.

This desire by an entire industry to keep pace with generational evolution is praiseworthy to say the very least. But, as Jonathan Viner points out, it leads to a ‘sea of sameness’. Far, far worse – it doesn’t work!

Content v Learning

What is really at risk here is the evolution of an industry (& its audience) towards pure content and away from its purpose: learning.

That is not to say there is not great content out there: there is – and great content is very – VERY – hard to produce. But it is only one component of the educational equation. Great content serves some instructional purpose. On its own, however, it is typically insufficient: Great content rarely drives real behavioural change. It rarely drives higher business performance.

This isn’t a criticism – it is a fact. In the domain of commercial skills – where ESI lives – it is simply not possible to learn how to sell through content alone. No library of pure content – no matter how well curated – can make someone truly change their behaviours. Real learning does that. Real, deep instructional design that navigates learners through all that content, that makes them reflect and contextualise what they are learning and then drives them to action: to do something new – to truly change their behaviour. Real learning drives them to improve and to reach higher levels of performance – whether that is in the school or the workplace.

This discussion parallels the very topical and very live discussion about skills in the workplace. Skills are very different from knowledge. With a world cup looming, perhaps we can draw on a more prosaic sporting analogy: content helps me know how to kick a football. But is of limited use in giving me the skills to actually do it. Real learning (or coaching in this instance) does that.

Netflix serves an extraordinary purpose in our ever changing and volatile world. So does education. Here at ESI, we’re just not sure the two need to meet quite so frequently.

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