Most everyone in their career has had to sit through a training that was too general, too long, or too outdated. In this day and age people expect a more tailored experience and more flexibility in how they can learn…but how do you do that?
In this blog, two of our expert consultants, Emily Crockett and Deneena Lanius, will walk you through what reusable learning content is, the basics of how to implement it, and the benefits your organization can expect once it has been implemented.
Question 1: What is reusable learning content and how is it different from what organizations do today?
Reusable learning content is NOT a copy. Reusable learning content is the same object used in multiple contexts across learning materials, courses, or programs. While copies of documents worked for Learning and Development (L&D) professionals when that was the only option for creating differentiated and personalized learning, those copies have created a learning content explosion and version control nightmare. This means that content management becomes really difficult! Content can start to get lost because there is so much to look through, people get frustrated so then they just recreate it, more copies are created, so and so forth.
Perhaps your organization created a compliance training course that uses 85% of the same content across departments while the remaining 15% is department-specific. In the “copy world,” each department would have separate copies of the training to keep updated. When changes need to be made to the 85% of the content that should be the same for everyone, someone has to change it in every copy created to maintain consistency across the organization. Content contributors would also need to know where all copies are stored to accomplish updating the courses. In the “content reuse world,” the 85% of content shared across the courses all comes from the same source objects and you can see clearly where those distributed links are. When you have to update the 85% shared content, you only need to update it once to update every version instance.
Learning and development professionals have always provided differentiated instruction, but the old approach of making copies of the original learning asset and personalizing it for the needs of our particular learners creates an unsustainable content maintenance burden. Reusable learning content allows us to achieve differentiated instructional materials in a more extensible way. Reusable learning content streamlines efforts by repurposing materials, saving time, maintaining consistency, and enriching the overall learning experience.
Enterprise Learning focuses on using reusable learning content that allows us to personalize learning experiences efficiently. The following scenarios illustrate a few examples of how this personalization happens:
- Tailoring Resources by Persona: Envision employees accessing training materials suited to their unique skill levels and professional interests—whether they’re new to an organization and seeking a foundation or veterans aiming to expand their expertise. While the whole of the learning resources is tailored to these diverse needs, there are core elements that are the same. Reusable learning content allows us to personalize relevant portions of the learning asset (i.e. the course) while ensuring core elements are consistent across the different learner audiences’ experiences.
- Calibrating by Proficiency: Picture training modules adapting complexity like a volume knob, catering to each employee’s proficiency. Reusable learning content lets us keep the core concept presentation consistent while providing an appropriate level of challenge, fostering growth without frustration.
- Differentiating by Methodology: As students navigate their learning journey, differentiated learning tailors teaching methods to suit individual needs. For example, learners navigating an online curriculum may have varying levels of proficiency in a language. To accommodate varying language proficiency levels in an online curriculum, educators can employ a varied methodology, including adaptive language assessments, interactive language exercises, and tailored language immersion modules, to provide a personalized and effective learning experience. By reusing effective learning content and fine-tuning materials, educators can optimize their approaches, ensuring that the diverse needs of learners are met while maintaining a consistent and effective learning experience.
- Ensuring Accessibility: Visualize modifying materials to ensure equitable learning opportunities. Whether the adaptation is increasing font sizes or personalizing the reading level, these accommodations foster an inclusive professional learning environment for learners with different abilities.
Reusable learning content redefines content efficiency by repurposing materials across diverse scenarios, setting this approach apart from the conventional practice of crafting separate resources for each training, thus elevating learning outcomes through streamlined efforts and enriched experiences.
Question 2: What technology stack is necessary for creating and managing reusable learning content?
In the realm of learning and performance, content diversity extends beyond traditional classroom materials. Content diversity is a blend of documents, videos, and interactive modules from experts and experienced contributors. Involving all creators, not just trainers, is a game-changer, adding unique performance resources for learners. A typical Learning Management System (LMS) cannot handle this content diversity. LMSs often function as standalone repositories for structured course delivery. The system encounters difficulties handling reusable and dynamic content due to its singular repository design. This limitation poses challenges in accommodating the dynamic adaptability and repurposing needed for diverse content across various contexts.
To optimally implement reusable learning content in your organization, a Content Management System (CMS) or LMS system that only stores documents or pages won’t cut it. You need to be able to store smaller learning objects or components for distribution across a holistic learning ecosystem. A learning ecosystem consists of an environment where learners interact with content in several ways, and their interactions are then shaping how content changes to meet their needs. The graphic below demonstrates the ideal content operations systems:
- Learning Content Management System (LCMS) or Component Content Management System (CCMS) to store reusable learning content.
- Digital Asset Management system (DAM) or a Media Asset Management (MAM) system to store visual media.
- Taxonomy Management System (TMS) to store an enterprise taxonomy for universal application to content and digital assets to aid in auto-tagging and findability needs.
This learning technology stack connects to delivery channels such as Learning and Performance portals, LMSs or Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs), Mobile Apps, or any number of content delivery channels. An API (or integration) layer orchestrates this connection and enables different systems and channels to “talk” to each other and exchange content and data. The final piece in a learning technology stack is a Learning Record Store (LRS) that can collect data about your learner’s learning experience using the Experience API or xAPI standard. A LRS provides part of the feedback necessary to drive relevant changes to content so that learning content can better meet the needs of your learners. This learning ecosystem allows you to build more impactful reusable learning content and manage that content in an agile and efficient manner.
Question 3: What processes and roles are necessary for creating and managing reusable learning content?
Investing in learning ecosystems and cultivating diverse roles within L&D teams is imperative for creating and managing reusable content. Organizations should recognize the essential nature of these investments to establish collaborative, cross-functional, and efficient teams dedicated to Learning and Development (L&D). Instructional designers collaborate with subject matter experts to design content that aligns with learning objectives. If we add a content engineer to this design team, we add the capability to design learning content in task or learning objective sized components suitable for reuse. Meanwhile, content owners, content developers and multimedia specialists step in during content creation, teaming up to fashion an array of learning assets encompassing documents, interactive modules, and multimedia components. This collective orchestration interfaces with the established technology stack, empowering these roles with the tools for efficient content reuse.
The subsequent stages revolve around maintaining content quality and organization. Content reviewers ensure accuracy, while quality assurance professionals uphold design standards. Learning curators and knowledge managers tag and organize content for easy retrieval and categorization. Moreover, learning experience designers take on the task of repurposing existing content to suit different learning contexts. Lastly, the measurement and feedback aspect involves learning analysts monitoring content usage and learner feedback to drive continuous enhancements. Collaborative cross-functional teams, consisting of content contributors and experts, bring diverse perspectives to the content creation process.
Managing reusable learning content is not unlike managing Advanced content with roles to address content strategy, content operations, content design, and content engineering. The key differentiator to create and manage reusable learning content is the content engineer working in tandem with the instructional designer. The instructional designer defines what should be reused based on best practices and content strategy, and the content engineer defines how content reuse takes place across content types and outputs based on a content model.
Another key role in enabling reusable content is a taxonomist. To leverage reusable content, you need to be able to find the components, meaning there needs to be a standard language to enable that type of search. Furthermore, to develop different types of adaptive learning or recommender engines for learning content, there needs to be a foundational taxonomy that drives an ontology, which in turn supports Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Additionally, with a more technically complex learning ecosystem, it is important to have a designated role for managing the technical complexities such as the integrations and APIs of a learning ecosystem.
Governance processes are critical to consider early in your reusable learning content journey. Reusable content is not a “set it and forget it” endeavor, and establishing good scalable governance procedural processes will preserve learning content functionality and reusability for years to come. When enforcing learning content governance, it is important to establish both change management processes and training since creating reusable learning content is fundamentally different from how content was created and maintained before. Establishing a standard process to train new and old instructional designers will help encourage adoption and best practices in maintaining content.
Question 4: What are the benefits of reusable learning content to organizations and learners?
When designing a learning environment, reusable learning content unlocks a host of advantages for both L&D teams and learners, and is a transformational approach in the realm of education and training. The following are three benefits that revolutionize the learning landscape through reusable content:
Efficiency in Action: Recognizing the potential, reusable content becomes a time-saving powerhouse by streamlining content creation for L&D teams. Reusable learning content allows instructional designers and content creators to fine-tune and enhance existing resources rather than starting from scratch.
Consistency Empowers: Imagine a symphony’s harmonious notes coming together. Similarly, consistently reusing content creates a harmonized learning experience. Reusing content is not about repetition, but about reinforcing key concepts across different modules, fostering clarity and a unified learning journey.
Adaptability Unleashed: Learners benefit from content tailored to their personas, contexts, and proficiency levels. It’s like having a personalized guide through the learning landscape, ensuring engagement and deep comprehension.
The adoption of reusable content heralds a new era in education and training, promising enhanced efficiency, consistency, and adaptability for educators and learners.
Key benefits to an organization include:
Decreased cost in creating and maintaining content: Imagine if every time a car company designed a new car, they started over from scratch. That car design process would get expensive! So why are organizations starting from scratch when they design learning engagements? If there is standard or typical content to include in every engagement, or standardized content to build off of, and instructional designers don’t have a standardized library to leverage for reuse, then you’re essentially paying them to do something they’ve already done and developed. Additionally, maintaining numerous copies from the perspective of data storage and the design time it takes to revise each copy, is incredibly expensive.
Decreased time responding to compliance issues: Any endeavor comes with risks, and hopefully your organization has safeguards in place to mitigate these risks. However, how does your organization handle a situation where you must pull content from a learner’s exposure? For example, if there is a rights issue with an image used in a couple of courses, what is the protocol to remove that image? Would a frantic search for every place this content appears take place? By leveraging reusable content, you can more easily find all those places, and replace them at the source to propagate out. This decreases the time it takes to correct the mistake and the likelihood that a copy of that content still exists, thereby protecting your organization from additional risk.
Increased brand consistency: Just like a design system allows your organization to create reusable design components to encourage cohesion, using reusable learning content allows your organization to establish a foundation of brand-compliant content. This branding cohesion supports your image as an organization increasing the trust your customers have in your brand. Furthermore, if your brand changes and you’ve used reusable content, you can quickly change logos and other key brand elements from a single source, rather than dealing with trying to change all of the copies and inevitably missing something.
The incorporation of reusable learning content represents a transformative approach in education and training, streamlining efforts and personalizing learning experiences within Enterprise Learning environments. This shift challenges outdated practices, highlighting the inefficiency of creating separate resources for each training, and emphasizes the need for a strategic and sustainable approach in content creation, reusability, and management. Investing in learning ecosystems and cultivating diverse roles within L&D teams is paramount for efficient content operations. Through collaborative efforts during content analysis and design, instructional designers align content with learning objectives, while content owners, developers, and multimedia specialists contribute to a diverse array of learning assets. This orchestrated collaboration, supported by an effective technology stack, empowers organizations to fully leverage the advantages of reusable learning content, reducing costs, enhancing compliance responsiveness, and fostering increased brand consistency. If you’re interested in creating reusable learning content in your organization, contact us today!