According to the 2013 report by Gartner, “Bring Your Own Device: The Facts and the Future,” 70 percent of mobile professionals will conduct their work on personal smart devices by 2018. To reach these employees, it is important to quickly and cost-effectively deliver learning content to multiple devices, venues or applications including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. However, rapid, agile product development cycles have reduced the time and budget learning professionals have to develop content to cover these needs.
One strategy to efficiently develop engaging content is to reuse content that already exists. Another strategy is to design content so it can be reused.
Single sourcing: Single-source learning development uses one source of content for different purposes. For example, technical writers commonly use this strategy to create online help content as well as printable user guides from one file.
To avoid having a printed document with instructions to “click the menu” or an online help menu with a page number, technical writers use conditional texttags that make content appear only under certain circumstances.
The customer advocacy group at automaker Daimler used this strategy to support a large enterprise rollout, but didn’t stop there. Instructional designers promoted a plan to utilize this resource directly within the learning content. This strategy enabled the company to reduce the amount of content designers needed to create and simplify content maintenance required from frequent product feature updates. The learning content looked like this:
- First, learners received the overview, background and business process information.
- Then, learners opened the relevant online help topic from a link on the e-learning page.
- Learners then returned to the e-learning page to answer questions about what they read from the help content.
- Finally, learners engaged with either a guided or non-guided software simulation to reinforce the knowledge and practice their skills.
This approach allowed Daimler instructional designers to focus on producing learning activities rather than repurposing existing or creating entirely new content. It also gave them practice using the existing documentation to be more self-reliant. As a result, Daimler’s help desk received fewer calls than for similar sized projects with conventional learning.
This approach can be applied to help other leaning organizations. For example, Nike’s registration and certification process was being underutilized by its suppliers. Despite having two comprehensive user guides to help them use Nike’s portal and complete the process, suppliers felt it was too complicated. To help, the company worked with a learning vendor to create a blended e-learning program that asked learners to use the supplier guide, which automatically opened to the relevant page, as a reference to answer specific content questions.
Reusable learning objects: Another strategy to maximize content usability is to develop it in a reusable learning object methodology. This is not a new concept in the learning and development community. Robert Mager, one of the founders of instructional design theory and practice, favored modular topics. The aviation industry called them assignable units, and the SCO in the SCORM acronym stands for shareable content objects.
In the aforementioned Daimler learning example, more than 20 roles accessed various portions of the content for different purposes. Rather than developing separate courses for each role that interacted with the system, custom role-specific learning paths linked standalone modules of content into an overall program. This approach was more efficient, as certain portions of the content were shared between different roles.
Cisco has been developing reusable learning objects since the 1990s. In fact, the networking equipment company’s specification for this object-oriented learning was the basis of the digital learning objects component of the SCORM specs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Cisco uses quick learning modules for its sales enablement training, which are typically composed of a series of five- to 15-minute video on-demand presentations. This platform allows account managers and system engineers to access brief, customer-centric content on a variety of new solutions from any device.
While the number of devices people are using in their personal and professional lives continues to grow, learning development timetables and budgets continue to shrink. As a result, learning professionals need ways to quickly and efficiently repurpose content across a variety of mediums. By following the single source learning development or reusable learning object methodologies, learning professionals can save time and money, and create effective, comprehensive learning programs.