Resources or Courses?
In the e-learning business we are increasingly hearing the mantra, “Resources not courses.” It sounds simple – replace courses with resources that are accessible at the point of need to deliver seamless just-in-time learning. In some circumstances it can be a good strategy, and when it comes to mobile devices resources are much simpler to access than courses, but before we get too carried away with this idea let’s take a deeper look at the difference between a resource and a course.
A resource is a piece of information covering a specific topic or sub-topic. It could be a document, an article, a blog post, an image, a video or an infographic. Some resources may be fairly comprehensive (e.g. a 10 page PDF guide to Project Management) while some might be fairly simple (e.g. an image showing the project lifecycle). Most resources are indexable by search engines though additional metadata may need to be supplied for images and videos. This makes them easy to find in a hurry. Resources are normally discrete and unconnected. There might be a collection of resources relating to a specific theme (e.g. Project Management) but it’s up to users to make the connections and to infer meaning from a resource collection.
A course moves things up a gear or two. It differs from a resource in that it has been developed using pedagogical principles. What does the pedagogical approach add? The course designer has identified the areas where understanding is weak and developed strategies to overcome these blocks to understanding. The course designer uses a range of instructional techniques to overcome these issues ranging from metaphor, analogy, stories, visual aids and learning scaffolds. They then check that the material is understood though practice, questioning and reflection.
Some of the best resources are almost like courses while some of the worst courses are almost like resources but it’s important to recognise the role of each as part of a hollistic approach to learning.
There is a lot of value in sharing and using resources (like this blog post) but added value comes from either collecting resources together under a common theme or curating resources to create a narrative journey through a specific topic. To add further value those resources can be developed into a course complete with the whole gamut of instructional approaches and techniques. Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses but it’s important to remember that they aren’t always interchangeable.