Content Isnt King
ATD Blog

Why Content Is Not King Anymore

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Too many trainers still stand behind a podium, relying on content to drive learning. It's time for an update. What’s more, it’s time for L&D pros to realize that content is no longer king of the learning experience. Here's why.

Because we don't teach content, we teach people. That's right; I put the big answer right up front instead of you having to read the entire post. But you should still read the entire post. 

Because we have information overload. We can watch speakers any time, and in more places than not, it's free! We need the interaction, the engagement, and the experience. We can Google anything. We can find infographics on anything. We can find case studies on anything. We can find blog, vlogs, podcasts, tweets, and sometimes snapchats on anything. It's called the Internet. 

We live in the Information Age—and there's too much of it! According to some estimates, there's more than 120,000 books and texts on leadership development, with 3,000 more being published each year. We don't have a content problem; we have a filter problem. We must filter that content through the context of whom we're trying to connect with and teach.

Content is what we're pouring into people. Context is everything that makes those people unique. It's what their day has been like before the presentation. It's the circumstances that form the setting of an event. It's their age, interests, attention span, engagement level, and beliefs. It's all the things that could change the meaning of the experience.

Because people learn in the silence.We learn in the pauses, reflection, and meditation. Don't you have your best ideas in meditation, in the shower, while driving, or when falling asleep? We learn in the spaces in between life. We can't deliver lectures to learners anymore; that's not how people learn. 

Content is only one part of the equation. We design our experiences around the learn-say-do-reflect model. It's called empowered learning, and it's about providing an experience. We can't teach someone to ride a bike or drive or how to use new technology without putting them on the bike or in the car or the device in their hands.


Ben Franklin is thought to have said, “Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.”

Because we have an attention-span deficit. It's only about four to 20 minutes. The average song you listen to is about three to four minutes. The average YouTube video watching time is three to five minutes. Any scene in a movie runs between a quick moment and no more than 15 minutes before switching to a new scene. It takes no more than 15 to 20 minutes to read any article in any paper. TED Talks are 18 minutes. Stories in the news last no more than a few minutes, unless they are documentaries.

We can't lecture or speak to learners (of any age) for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. The attention is gone. People start wondering what's next. They check their smartphones. They look at the clock. This happens not only during lectures and motivational speakers, but also during great movies and TV shows.

Because we need more space. Spaced learning is about engagement, conversations, and one-to-one interaction. It’s about exercises, simulations, demonstrations, and students teaching students. Spaced learning is about reflection—yes, giving participants time during the session to turn their insights into actions. After the training course, people are going back to their lives, their desks, their email and texts, or the next most important thing on the list—but not back to reflect. 


Practical application is about knowing why we're doing or planning to do the things that we do. It’s about knowing what exactly we need to do immediately to get to the next level, and how to move forward and with what expectations. Practical application is about follow-through on promises made to yourself during the learning experience. It needs to happen in the moment. 

Bottom line: Content is not king anymore because we don't teach content, we teach people. We facilitate learning experiences. That's what we do, and that's why we need to change our approach.

Want to learn more? Join me in Atlanta at ATD 2017 for my session, Make Training a “Want to” (Not a Have to).

About the Author

Joe Urbanski is the COO of the Total Solutions Group (TSG), a strategic consulting, training, and coaching firm committed to driving a transformative impact to what’s really most important to an organization’s value proposition and results. TSG’s core focus areas are organizational and culture transformation, strategic planning and business growth, leadership development programs, and train-the-trainer certifications. When it comes to empowering people and organizations, Joe is committed to helping you co-create your own learning experience. For more than a decade, he has honed his electrifying facilitation style, performing for as many as 2,400 participants during full-day training sessions, three-day retreats, and multiyear programs. He has delivered more than 525 on-site and online workshops for more than 400,000 participants, including executive leaders, corporate trainers, and everyone in between. Joe is honored to be ranked among the top 10 percent of speakers in the Society for Human Resource Management and ATD.

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