Understanding what learning is…is king!

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I read with confusion, Robinson’s Content is no longer king.  Here are five things that are at ELTjam, and felt compelled to counter.  Without having read the post, I realized from the title alone that a well-intentioned metaphor had been butchered – to my knowledge, there is no evidence of any country having had more than one official king.  Also, saying, content is no longer king, gives the impression that this is relatively novel idea, which it is not.  It is not exactly clear who the target audience is, but will assume that it is either learners in formal education (i.e., schools) or those interested in more informal educational contexts (learning outside of schools). Terms like businesses and customer are used in the piece, but learning seems to be the real focus.

Robinson concedes in the introduction that content is at best a “minor royal” (para. 5), and that the following have taken its place: 1) user experience, 2) access, 3) choice, 4) cost, and 5) data. I’ll try to unpack each in turn, but struggle with the notion that these (or any) concepts should come before content and if all actually come before content in equal fashion.  Let’s explore…

User Experience (UX)

Glossing over such a complex idea as UX is futile.  Robinson says, UX can be learned and applied with ease.  What does this mean?  The user experience can be learned and can be applied with ease?  Let’s change to the active voice to see if this makes any more sense: Learners learn the user experience?  Teachers learn the user experience?  Teachers apply the user experience with ease?  As an educator it has never crossed my mind that I could apply a user experience to the user.  By definition, it’s the experience of the user, which seems to mean that the user experience is inherently unique, regardless what the educator does.

Access & Choice

I do not really see any argument for access and choice (over content).  Robinson states that the value in Netflix (as a “content access business”) is “…in the easy access to so many films, with no caps on usage and a recommendation system to help you navigate the impossible amount of choice”.  How do these two points (access and choice) reach king status over content?


Cost is king over content?  What’s the argument Robinson is trying to make?  Charging or not charging for classes is really what matters in how, where, when, etc. individuals learn?  And this is more important that content?


I would compare this definition of big data with that of Robinson’s: “sets of data larger, more varied and more complex than we could ever have imagined capturing” (para. 18). How can big data be king over content, when content is at least part of the learning process?  This is like saying assessment (from big data) is more important than learning.  If there is no learning, then there is nothing to measure.  Surely most would agree that content has something to do with learning, and that assessment either occurs concurrently or sequentially to the learning process (but not absent of…).  Of course big data could be used to diagnose or for placement purposes, but this is limited in scope when compared to a more broader use that comes in the form of both formative and summative-types of assessment. The purpose of big data is to assess learning.


Nothing is “king” over content.  Learning is complex.  Learning involves ideas, materials, and social interactions, and none of these three – ideas, materials, and social relationships – are inherently superior over the others.  Learning is the aggregate of ideas, materials, and social relationships that grow and decline over time and are worth understanding at any given point of time.  Just using the word content limits the scope of an idea as it tends to ignore perspective, interpretation, and understandings of each individual (e.g., learner, educator, coach, etc.).  Learning is an ideational, material, and social network that intentionally and incidentally transforms over time.  If businesses want to make money in education, understanding what learning is…is king!

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