“A poor craftsman blames his tools.” Can you have bad content? I would say that you can have boring content, that you can have irrelevant content, uninspiring content, dated content, and that you can even have content that includes barriers to its effectiveness. But, content is only the start of a process that ends in a learning experience, and the learning experience is only as good as you make it. Content creators are not intentionally developing content that is “bad" and they are not intentionally leaving out pieces of instruction. And even so, it is the job of the Instructional Designer or Learning Designer to turn “bad content” into a good delivery. What we should be striving to create is a valuable resource for the learner, not just a course that they are required to take, and that has everything to do with delivery. How do you know whether you are hitting the mark with a good delivery?
Does the delivery engage?
One of the most important aspects of the delivery is learner engagement. Take the design of the course a step further than just a passive regurgitation of a slide deck. Learning is an active process, so putting the learner in the driver seat will keep them engaged. Any place possible, allow the learner to control or even drive the pace of the information flow. Engagement is also driven by how relevant the content is to the learner, how well it presents the need and process for change, as well as how well the learner is able to access and interact with the content. “Bad content” in the form of passive presentation can be turned into an engaging learning experience.
Is the delivery relevant?
There are several factors to consider when judging the relevance of the learning delivery. Does it address the needs of the age group of the learner? Approaches to learning must be tailored to meet the learning needs of adults versus children. Adults bring life experiences with them, so your delivery should leverage their prior knowledge to stimulate new learning. Is it teaching the learners how to solve a problem that is useful to them? The learning experience will always be more engaging if the delivery is relatable. Making sure that the terminology used matches the environment in which the learning is going to be delivered, as well as making sure that the learner knows why they need to learn can turn “bad content” into. “Bad content” in the form of irrelevance can be turned into learning that speaks to the learner.
Is the delivery inspiring?
At the heart of each learning experience is the desire to effect change: in a behavior, in proficiency, in understanding. Does the delivery of the content make the learner want to change? Does the delivery of the content equip the learner to change? Playing closely with relevance, inspiration should be a side effect of a good delivery of learning materials. Whether mastery of a concept or recognition of a behavior that needs to be altered, the learning experience should spark the desire in the learner to change, and instruct them how to change. “Bad content” that lacks inspiration can be turned into learning that effects change.
Is the delivery up to date?
Personally, nothing is more distracting than learning material that feels neglected. If I am asked to take a course, isn’t it fair to ask that the course should be maintained to not include dated material? Many times, a learner is asked to take a course on an annual or bi-annual basis, and the last thing that the learner wants to see is content that clearly has not been adjusted to be current. Currency does not just mean factually correct. Has the delivery been updated to address any feedback that has been received on the learning content? An effective learning environment is one that solicits feedback and responds to the needs of the learners. “Bad content” in the form of stagnation or ineffectiveness can be turned into learning that is evolving and dynamic to meet the needs of the learners.
Does the delivery present well across different device types?
More than ever, it is important that learning can be accessed from any available device. Learners rely on more than just desktop computers for learning. In general, while desktops are still in use, the tendency towards portable devices is still steadily increasing, and is being adopted by more and more companies.
Ensure that your learning delivery is as effective on a large screen as it is on a screen that fits in your pocket. One consideration is the inherent responsiveness of the content itself. Is it created using an authoring tool that is designed to be responsive to device types and screen sizes? Learning material that has built in responsive behaviors without any additional work on the developer’s part is the most efficient way to prepare your delivery for multiple device types. However, if responsive behavior is a limitation of your authoring tool, be prepared to tackle the learning objective from a different angle and present it in a way that plays well on different screen sizes. “Bad content” due to physical size limitations can be turned into learning that is flexible and adaptable to devices and screen sizes.
Is the delivery accessible?
Similar consideration must also be given to the ability of the delivery’s effectiveness in ways that do not require sight, hearing, or mobility. Effective learning should be accessible to every learner. Often times, the creator of the content is simply getting the point across in a manner that makes the most sense to them, and this might include visuals and media that is not digestible by all learners. Authoring tools can provide some assistance with support for screen readers and keyboard navigation. Regardless of the built-in support, there should always be a thought process involved to create a “barrier free” learning experience. “Bad content” that is reliant on sight, hearing, or mobility can be turned into learning that is effective for every learner.
Content (even if it is boring, irrelevant, uninspiring, dated content, or includes barriers) is only the start of a process. While it may not be ideal, it is still not “bad”. The challenge, and the fun in Instructional Design and Learning Design is to overcome deficiencies in the content with a delivery that fills those needs.