Leading horses, the Emperor’s clothes, and rusting Ferraris: in search of good content

Everything takes time. For the past few days I’ve been trying to find a decent metaphor to introduce this post. I’ve been unable to decide between the rather obvious proverb ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink‘ (or it’s even more obvious cousin ‘you can lead a man to knowledge but you can’t make him think‘) and the slightly more complicated inversion of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes where the Emperor actually does have a beautiful set of new clothes made but never bothers to put them on. Either will do really and I’m going to commit the crime of mixing up more than a few metaphors in this post, as this post is about trying to get clients to develop engaging content once you, the organisation delivering the online learning system, have handed over a set of online learning tools which they can use to create brilliant, effective and successful courses. And then … well,  then you sit back and wait to see how they ‘drive’ your Ferrari  … and you wait, and you wait and .. The Ferrari doesn’t get started, haven’t they found the ignition? Didn’t we give them a full instruction manual? And so it so often goes. Why? Should you care? You built the system and it works perfectly – your task has been fulfilled. Why worry about what happens next. Walk away. But it isn’t any easier to do that, is it, than it is to watch an undriven Ferrari turn to rust in dusty garage.  Is there any way to get the horse to the water and make it drink .. or get the Emperor to actually put on his new clothes after being so carefully tailored to fit him?



Unfortunately, if you made the Ferrari (or tailored the Emperor’s clothes) but no longer have a stake then there really isn’t a lot you can do. The Emperor can decide not to wear the clothes, the Ferrari can remain undriven, and the horse can refuse to drink.

When it comes to delivering an online learning platform we can lead our clients, especially during the needs analysis and initial design phase to better understand what online learning content is and how the online ‘tools’ you provide for them can be used to deliver creative and well-thought out content. There is a big caveat here, one that I have come to see very clearly in recent projects – your client may not have the in-house skills to develop creative learning content yet be lured by your delivered LMS technical platform into believing that content can magically be made engaging just because the tools are there.  The problem is twofold: they often have the content expertise in-house and mistake this for expertise in developing courses around the knowledge, and they may feel that they have people ‘in-house’ who can say ‘shoot a video for YouTube’ or ‘aren’t bad at writing’ or who have ‘delivered some training’ and that this is enough to produce the required courses at a level that reflects well on their organisation, actually has learning benefits and leverages the platform’s tools that you have delivered.

Although it has not always worked, I recommend an internal skills audit if the client wants to develop the courses themselves. What skills do they have in-house to design learning? Any type of learning – not specifically at this stage ‘online’ learning. Who are the content experts for each required course? Who are the personnel that can help convert their expertise into a learning scenario and storyboard the courses effectively? Do they have the time to do this? Who knows enough about course design to design the course both in terms of the content progression and the visual design – content types, multimedia, graphics, quizzes, tests, polls, interactive activities, knowledge checks, etc.? Who knows enough about the LMS that you have delivered to be able to program the courses into the platform that you have provided and leverage the tools creatively and effectively? Is there a ‘learning strategy’ or ‘learning philosophy’ within the organisation? Is there a team available to develop the courses and do they have the time to devote to this? Has an audit been done on the required courses and some preliminary evaluations made that provide time-cost-labour requirements? If all of this has been ignored by your client and if the client does not have an experienced training team or department that understands the nature of online learning development then it may be that you will find that the use of your LMS is a long way from where you had hoped it would be.

This isn’t, as I said earlier, really your problem, but clients who never fully use their online learning systems due to a lack of organisation, skills, vision or foresight internally are apt to leave it sitting in the garage gathering dust. Not helpful in terms of your marketing or your project satisfaction.

While an initial internal skills audit and the provision of a clear explanation of content development requirements and course design practices for your client before the project starts can help avoid this scenario it is certainly not bullet-proof. Sometimes we just have to lead that horse to water and watch it not drink.

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