I was struck today when I read the first section of the book “How People Learn,” published by The National Acadamies Press (you can download it for free here). The authors make the point that asking “which teaching strategy is best?” is the wrong question. The image below, taken from the book (page 22), illustrates how many strategies there are.


That is like asking: which tool in a toolbox is best? That’s a silly question because the best tool really depends on the context of the situation — the task being performed and the materials with which one is working. You’d never try to pound in a nail with a saw and you’d never try to cut a 2×4 with a hammer. Similarly, you wouldn’t try to teach someone how to use new software by describing it in a 90-second podcast without any visual queues or hands-on application.

But there are vendors out there who make a lot of money pushing modality. It seems like for the last year mobile learning has become such a prominent concept that whole companies have sprung up around it.

It reminds me of the whiteboard I had when I was a new instructional designer, fresh out of college. I’d started my master’s degree and to help me build context appropriate content and not let SMEs and old organizational habits drive modality, I wrote the whiteboard in my cube: “Content is King.”


So the next time you’re talking to a colleague, SME, executive … or anyone about the next best instructional strategy or modality, re-frame the question and begin it with something like “given the content and the context, which is the best way to teach this?”