The C word


It’s one of the most common words you’ll hear in a conversation about eLearning, but I believe that it’s causing a lot of trouble. The C word. A terrible, sneaky little word that we all need to stop using.


If you have anything to do with eLearning you’ve heard the phrase 'eLearning content'. I hear it many times a day.

“I need some Bullying content”
“We need to develop some eLearning content for our staff”
“How much content do you have?”
“We’ve just purchased an LMS (Learning Management System) and we’d like some eLearning content for it”

Words are powerful things. The words we use, and the way we use them, affect how we perceive things. I truly believe that the word content has contributed to the overall poor standard of eLearning. Let me explain.

Content ≠ Training

Content implies that it is just something that fills a space in your LMS or whatever you use to host your eLearning. When you use the C word you are no longer talking about improving someone’s performance or solving a real problem in your business. You develop what I’m going to call the 'eLearning content' mindset.

Re-read the phrases that I listed as examples. None of them have anything to do with the real reason you need training.

You end up with the wrong focus

When you talk solely about eLearning content your training goal becomes “ensure everyone has completed the course”, rather than actually training the staff and improving their performance.

The C word encourages 'training for training’s sake'. You end up buying or creating anti-discrimination content to tick off a box and avoid liability, not to develop a culture of empathy and respect.

It devalues eLearning

I’m not going to point the finger at anyone specifically, but google “elearning” and “elearning content”. There is a much less offensive C word that could be used to describe what you’d see.


If you’ve ever shopped around for 'eLearning content' you would’ve mostly seen all of this:

  • Hideous PowerPoint slides with next buttons.
  • eLearning that is designed with no consideration of the person who will be using it.
  • Really easy, useless quizzes.
  • Really flashy, pretty screenshots with no substance at all.
  • Meaningless interactive activities.

The only time I use the 'eLearning content' label is when I’m referring to these examples. Because that’s what they’ve been made to be - pieces of content, 'training for training’s sake'.

The 'eLearning content' mindset can prevent us from questioning if we need training at all

When your goal is to buy or develop content it’s pretty easy to forget about analysing performance problems.

There are two questions that I strongly encourage clients to ask:

Is eLearning the best type of training for this situation? and more importantly, is training the best solution for this problem?

It’s possible that you can solve your problem in a much easier, cheaper, more effective way. But it’s hard to think like this when you’ve got the “I need content” blinkers on.

Content is best sold in one of two ways

Having to talk about goals, business objectives and measures of success is harder than talking about content. When you’re selling content you can easily pitch it with the angle of price,  or sexiness.


Most L & D departments fight really hard for their budgets, so it makes sense that price is an important topic during the sales process. The “eLearning content” mindset can really affect this and make price the number one consideration. After all, if it’s something that you just need to tick off a box then why should you pay more for it? A savvy salesperson is going to play on this and your company will end up with another one of those boring one-hour courses that everyone complains about.


When you're talking about content, appearance can become more important than effectiveness. As I mentioned in our eLearning: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly webinar recently, visually appealing 'eLearning content' is dangerous. It’s pretty fair to assume that if someone has put a lot of effort and energy into making something look good then they’ve also invested a lot in making sure it’s effective training, right? Well, maybe. Why would you need to worry about Instructional Design? It’s just content, after all...

An eLearning course shouldn’t be a piece of art that you load into your LMS for everyone to admire. It should be a functional tool - it has a purpose. Of course, you should make it look awesome, but not at the cost of it actually doing what it’s supposed to do.

Less is usually better

When you’re looking at everything through this 'eLearning content' lens then you can get caught up thinking “more is better.”

Hoarders: The eLearning episode

“Our library has 50/200/4000+ pieces of content” can sound pretty appealing. That’s a lot of eLearning that you could make available to your staff. But how much of that will you actually use?

Wouldn’t it be better to focus on what you actually need instead of hoarding 'eLearning content'?

More content inside the content

A really common request that we get is to quote on duration (I’d prefer to quote on value and results, but that’s for another blog post). The request might be something like “How much is it to develop a one-hour course about customer service?”

How did you get to that number? Do you need one hour? Do your staff want to sit through one hour of eLearning?

I understand that duration can be a quick and easy way to get a sense of development effort, cost etc. but the 'eLearning content' mindset will make us to this to the extreme. I’ve actually heard a few stories where the client loves the eLearning, but has asked the creators to extend the duration of the course because “we paid for 30 minutes but people are finishing it in 20”.

Fill ‘er up!

Then, of course, there is the idea of putting as much material into your eLearning content as possible. Once again, this makes perfect sense if you’re thinking about 'eLearning content'. Never mind that this is not going to be effective or engaging.

So let's stop using the C word

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that we should move away from saying 'eLearning content'. But I haven’t written this post to complain, I’ve written it as a plea for change and improvement. I honestly believe that by stepping away from this word we can start to shift mindsets, both with eLearning companies and their clients.

So what do we say instead of 'content'? Do we have to replace it with another word?

In most cases, I don’t think we need a replacement. Here are a few examples:

“We create eLearning content” becomes “We create eLearning”.

“We need some content for our staff” becomes “We need to train our staff to do X, so we can achieve X”.

“Can you upload the compliance content to the LMS?” becomes “Can you upload those compliance courses to the LMS?”

Obviously, I feel pretty strongly about this, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and other suggestions about how we can improve the way we talk about training. You can reach me via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.