Content or context which is more important?

Despite all the hype, desire, tools, and incentives, why have we struggled to make the transition from formal to informal learning? The answer is that we lack a crucial perspective to drive utilization and adoption: CONTEXT.

By the turn of the millennium, everyone said, the content is king. We continued to ride the coattails of e-learning and Learning Management Systems, but our ability to publish, distribute, track and maintain learning content was at an all-time high. Our efforts focused on making learning assets available on a large scale, and our connectivity was the tipping point.

The danger here was that our design models focused on accessibility and not always on relevance and the practical application of content. It seemed at that time that the main objective was getting information and training out there, tracking it, and grading it while driving certification, credentials, and compliance. Content indeed was the king, and rightly so.

But, believe it or not, the context itself is almost like a language, one that every human being has been speaking since they were born. Say you are at a famous tourist spot, and a stranger comes up to you and says something in a language you don’t understand. But, she is also pointing at her camera and her family, so you can easily surmise that she probably wants you to take a picture for them.

Similarly, if a man is struggling to put his bag in the overhead bin of a plane and signals to you, you can probably guess that he’s asking for help to lift his bag.

As these examples are straightforward, they are universally applicable, no matter how you look at them. Whether you are teaching someone a foreign language or explaining how to navigate the latest version of their EHR, the context itself will communicate a lot to you without words. A good content design will effectively incorporate the contextual subject matter and help with the overall flow of communication. In most cases, this can lead to higher levels of learner retention and recall.

As more organizations move towards non-traditional learning concepts, context takes center stage as that drives the effectiveness of the content. However, it is the unique pairing of the two that makes the holistic approach work. Paying particular attention to both will serve not only the content developer but the instructor as well.