What is Content?
Yesterday I planned to buy a beginner fish tank for my daughter. I knew I had to do some research before making a purchase. Monday night, we watched a few videos on YouTube about the best fish to buy for beginners. Yesterday morning I decided to figure out the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). I learned that having a fish as a pet is about building an environment for the fish. It is more similar to farming than dog ownership. The TCO includes the aquarium, a heater, a filter, gravel, food, plants, and probably some other things that I forgot at this point. When we look at TCO, we also need to factor in time. The time it will take each week to clean the tank and test the water. The amount of content was overwhelming. Should I throw caution to the wind, go to a pet store and trust that the salesperson had my best interest at heart? No, I don’t operate like that. Here is the list of questions I need answers to before making a decision:
- At what age can a child take care of a fish on their own?
- Which fish for beginners? (I don’t need a list of 10.)
- What are all the things that I will need to buy to take care of the fish? (I need a checklist)
- What can go wrong (other than the obvious, the fish dies), and how do I prepare my child emotionally to deal with the obstacles?
The Content Funnel
This story demonstrates how much content is available and how daunting that can be. Pet/aquarium stores should be able to answer these questions for me. In the field of education, we strive to organize content for others. We make decisions on the best medium for distributing the content. If I were to write a course or distribute content around this topic, I would start with the burning questions and define performance objectives. I like building content based on performance objectives because performance implies I will be able to do something. In this case: Buy a fish a child can care for independently.
Megan Torrance suggests that we funnel the content in this way:
Simple: We know the answer and how to arrive at the solution. Learning will take place by practicing the task repeatedly to gain speed and accuracy.
Complicated: Troubleshooting may be required to find the best path. Learning will take place by practicing with multiple and varied scenarios.
Complex: The path has multiple dependencies. If this, then that. Learning will take place if you practice different techniques.
Chaotic: Many things are unknown, including the outcome. Learning will take place if you practice triage and decision enhancing tools.
From there, a learning designer would figure out what medium would be best. What are the choices?
- eLearning (Create a digital course.)
- Instructor-led course (Write a class that is taught live by an instructor.)
- Write an article or blog post.
- Create a video.
- Send an email.
- Create a printed job aid.
- Create a poster.
- Create an infographic.
- Create an interactive wizard.
- Send a text message.
- Set up an online discussion group.
- Set up a meeting between 2 or more people to discuss the performance objective.
- Write step by step directions.
- Assign a coach or mentor to the learner.
With all of these choices, how do learning designers make decisions?
- We don’t work alone.
- We ask the right questions.
- We are very curious.
- We think about the audience that will be consuming the content.
- We iteratively create content by creating prototypes and testing them with audiences.
Getting back to the initial performance objective: Buy a fish a child can care for independently. To be able to do this, I need the right content. Since I could not find the content, I will create the content I need. I found a local pet/fish store with a video on the home page. In this video, the owner talked about his best customers. His best customers were 9-year-olds coming to buy their first aquariums. Those 9-year-olds keep coming back as they want to create more complex environments and own more time-intensive fish. They eventually come back and purchase fish with their children. I need to interview this pet store owner.
So my journey begins. Let’s start the interview process!
Are you interested in intentional learning? Meet Heather Leventry. She thrives at the intersection of learning design and training. A born collaborator, Heather helps businesses solve problems with learning products. Connect with Heather on LinkedIn to learn more.