Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Content Tsunami: Rethinking the role of Digital Content

Back in the day of the pre-eLearning, Gutenberg-centric era, college campuses were revered, in essence, as the Royal Library of Alexandria, the first known library of its kind to gather treasured collections of books and artifacts representing communal world knowledge. Through well-funded royal mandates that involved ancient “book fairs” and literally pulling the books off every ship that came into port, the library, as the central port of knowledge, was also home to a host of international scholars. Over time the library filled its stacks with new works in mathematics, astronomy, physics, natural sciences and other subjects.

In the days before eLearning became institutionalized, we enrolled at institutions for the on-campus experience—the ability to access the campus Royal Library of Alexandria and to engage with noted professionals in their field of study. In the online world, we create a unique ability to allow faculty and learners of all walks of life and learning styles to access learning from multiple sources of course-related content at the same time within the same environment. There's a significant role for content resources—and the social tools that revolve around that content—to be fully integrated into the eLearning experience online. In today’s environment of explosive growth in open education resource (OER) repositories, free course content, online packaged curricula and pre-configured published courses that sidebar LMS businesses, there is a growing, yet, confusing array of choice and value. In this environment, more choice can naturally lead to no choice.

Ultimately, this pre-configured, add-water-and-stir, storefront model replicates the outdated model of copyright-driven publishing and it also hijacks curriculum design and compromises the overall impact and learning objective of the course of study. In an article written for Business Insider, Steve Rosenbaum points out that, “content is no longer king; today, the world has changed, curation is king." With the increasing trend toward the disaggregation of content, social tool mash-ups and crowd-sourced original material created in real time, the LMS platform can now be positioned as a critical tool to create personalized, customized, contextualized collections, as opposed to LMS as a transport vehicle for publishers.

When pre-configured courses and added value content are pushed to a captive audience, “content” becomes a blunt object, void of context, personalization and customization to the particular online teaching style of faculty. In a world where virtually everyone is a content creator, the integrity and unique application of content is determined by context. This industry is not well served with a Clayton Christensen-like disruptive path where a new Amazon model for storefronts of pre-configured courses, course materials and added value content is pushed to a captive audience.

The last decade of growth in online, digital content provides a platform for change in the way instructors craft, share, annotate and engage in context sensitive dialog not seen since the Gutenberg era. I would argue that what higher education needs is not more content; they need to solve domain specific problems with better sharing tools, rather than better buying tools.

I would argue that what higher education needs is not more content; they need “genetic material”, DNA if you will, that are uniquely configured to solve domain specific problems in understanding in order to develop mastery in a course, program and eventually practical application in the workforce. When we study open and shared standards, source, and content, we are studying a new DNA. The genetic material of shared content, social tools, and standards creates a new context for measuring interaction with content, thus learning more about student persistence and understanding.