Friday, 17 September 2004

The role of content in eLearning Activity

My comment on the "recipe analogy" sent me pondering what is the role of content in a meaningful e-learning activity. One disclaimer is appropriate here. I am not discounting the value of content. A good grasp of facts, knowledge and theory is important. What I want to look at in this post is the relationship between content and activity.

"Activity" has been a buzz word recently in learning technology standards circle. Most of the work is concentrated on "sequencing activity" - it sounds similar to those discussions we had when we were talking about "sequencing content"!

I always believe that "quality" has an element of "fitness of the purpose". Without a clearly defined purpose of the activity, there is no sense in talking about the quality of the interaction. I suppose there is a dimension which can be broadly described by these two extremes:
1. learning to get a skill and
2. learning to achieve a change of attitude.

Skill acquisition is more of a transfer of facts and knowledge. Activities would be used to motivate, practice and assess the transfer. Here, obviously, content IS the focus of the package development.

Attitude or belief system improvement is much more difficult to achieve and measure. However, I do see powerful changes which have occurred to our Fablusi online role play simulation players after playing a persona in our online simulations. When we, or our subject matter experts, design these simulations, the focus has always been on creating an environment which reflects some real life environment - the power relationship between the persona etc. Then we throw in "kick start" episodes which put some the critical issues into sharp focus. The players now have compelling reasons (as part of their game goal) to act, to research and to find out how the persona would respond. In most cases, content was not the primary focus. Actually, in most cases, the players would go out of the "simulation space" to search for information. The game acts as a motivator for information transfer. (This is similar to Marie's free-ranging chicken concept!) However, because in playing a role, a player would inevitably think about how as a real person herself would act versus how the persona would act. The interaction between these two sub-level of reflections is the major driver in achieving attitude and belief system improvement.

I may have been a bit harsh when I wrote the comment on "recipe analogy". After all, it is the "fitness for the purpose" that is important. We use anything to help us learn anyway. I suppose the trick in good elearning design is to understand the need and create an environment to foster the happening of meaningful activities. Content is a mean of achieving this aim.

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