Does the acronym “RSS” mean anything to you? Do you hear “XML” and not really understand what value it has for your corporation? Does the concept of launching and editing a wiki take you out of your comfort zone? Can you easily subscribe to a podcast or view it through a content aggregator? Most corporate executives are still months or even years away from fully understanding the tools of content syndication, but learning executives can’t wait. These tools may be an incredibly disruptive force.
Put simply, content syndication is the ability to create a paragraph, page, article or book-sized element of content and easily broadcast it. You can write a page of new corporate policy on a departmental blog and permit it to be syndicated via the RSS model. Suddenly, any category of user can “subscribe,” and all further changes will appear in a special box in their mail viewer, integrate into their departmental intranet or even appear instantly on their Blackberry. Think of it as FM broadcasting where everyone has a radio station and every browser is a radio, capable of continuously picking up your choice of content stations.
Content syndication changes the core of many Web experiences. It moves users away from scanning page after page to a more personalized “push/pull” experience of getting the content they want, how they want it, when they want it. Imagine you are the director of leadership development for an international organization. As you publish content, articles and updates, they all have a series of small icons that a user can click to “subscribe” to that channel of information. If one of your high-potential learners has an interest in exchange rates, he can easily add that topic to the feeds that come regularly to his computer screen.
Within a few years, the tools and technologies of content syndication could have a profound effect on how we create and disseminate learning assets within the organization. Subject-matter experts (SMEs) will add their evolving expertise to multi-authored blogs rather than building traditional course outlines. Learners will select feeds, while other feeds will be selected by learning management systems (LMSs). Users will be given progressive levels of feeds, including text, audio, video, interactive simulations, collaborative elements and assessments. As content changes, learners will get updated feeds with new editions and even importance ratings from fellow learners. This can be accomplished today, but content syndication isn’t even close to most organizations’ radar screens.
Content syndication is already happening in your business, but likely in an unofficial fashion and under the radar of both the IT and learning departments. Consider this a wake-up call to take several key steps to harness, nurture and influence the role of content syndication for learning effectiveness and workforce performance:
- Take a crash course in techie terminology: Just as you had to get used to a lot of HTML code when the Internet first gained popularity, content syndication has its own language that will be a short-term hurdle before it is widely accepted. But you can’t wait. Find a tech-wise employee and ask for a private lesson and demonstration of RSS, RSS readers, blogging software, wikis, podcasting and content aggregators.
- Start a pilot project: Your next course should be developed in an XML format with RSS tags that will allow your learners (and an even wider audience of interested nonregistered members of your organization) to get ongoing feeds. Ask one of your more adventurous instructional designers to experiment with a blog or wiki that has RSS feeds as part of its infrastructure. Even consider using a wiki as a development environment for designers, business sponsors and SMEs.
- Talk to your learning suppliers: Discuss how they are integrating content syndication into their LMS, LCMS and content management tools.
Since I always want to practice what I preach, take a moment and point your RSS reader to my blog at trends.masie.com/index.rdf and get a sense of how easy it is to start using content syndication. Remember, the Web was a strange and awkward place at first. Content syndication is the same. Get ready to start using it!
Elliott Masie is CEO of The MASIE Center, a global learning think tank and home of The E-Learning Consortium, a collaboration of Fortune 1000 companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.