Key Elements of Your Learning Content Strategy (Pt. 1)

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ContentCreating learning content is like making sausage: there’s a lot of ingredients to mash-up to get to the end dish, and it can be gross and messy. During the process, you usually have to research, interview, curate,
create, map, link and review content from multiple sources. Additionally, you don’t want to divorce yourself from the plate you’ll serve the sausage on… or, the delivery mechanisms you’ll use. And in today’s world, there are usually multiple.

A good learning content strategy considers:

  • Content organization and structure
  • Authoring and delivery platform(s)
  • Resources

In this post, I’ll talk about content organization. At the end of the
day, regardless of the process you go through making your sausage, to end up
with effective learning content, you need to focus on these fundamentals:

  • Create content that is meaningful for both the user and the business
    • That means having a deep understanding of both your business goals and your end consumer’s context. This is much easier to say than do. Sometimes your audiences are large, globally diverse, and may have a broad skill spectrum. How do you optimize the content for the diversity of your audience? How do you capture data that informs you whether or not you’re able to meet or achieve the business goals you’ve aligned to? You’ll get closer if you can provide relevant content at the consumer’s time of need so they have the support they need to perform the tasks required. Anticipate their needs in the context of being mobile, without providing everything the consumer needs all the time. The content should help the consumer accomplish his goals in an immediate fashion at his time of need.
    • Attempt to provide content that is perfectly appropriate for your consumers,
      offering them precisely what they need, exactly when they need it, optimized
      for the device or situation they’re in at the time they consume it. To do this,
      you must get into their context deeply, and understand it fully. If you’re
      supporting a UPS driver who delivers packages, you can’t understand her needs while sitting in a cubicle on the 5th floor of headquarters. You may have to argue for the support to do the deep dive. And that may mean sitting in on a few routes with the driver, or a week on the retail floor. It’s a must.
  • Create content based on user behavior
    • Context is not enough. You can’t base your entire strategy just on your consumer’s location or work environment. You need to understand their behavior in their environment, and with the devices they will use to consume your content. Some questions to answer are simple:
      • “What do they do on an average day?”
      • “What do they have to go through to access the content?”
      • “What is their understanding of the devices they use?”
      • “What are their preferences in respect to these devices?”
      • “Are they accessing the content in short bursts?”
      • “Do they ‘pogo-stick’ (constantly jump in and out)?”
      • “Are they using more than one device?”
      • “How are they feeling when using these devices to access your content?”
      • “What do they think they are capable of doing after consuming your content?”
      • “What are they actually capable of?”
    • Try to understand their actions, constraints, emotions and conditions. Think of your consumer as mobile, even if they’re not technically on a smartphone or tablet — because odds are they have a mobile mindset anyway. Understanding their behavior is not simple, and probably hard to get right all the time. We’re humans, and we do a lot different things in different environments. But you have to spend time with them in their world, observing how they function to get a picture of what impact your content will have (if any). If I’m selling electronics on a retail floor, my needs are a lot different at peak periods during the day when lots of customers are in the building, versus those times when it’s slow.
  • Let Content Unfold Based on User Options
    • You’ll never get it 100% perfect on context and behavior. It’s just too hard. However, give your users some control to take over when they need to. Make it easy for them to uncover more content if they need it. Always give them guidance on how to access a deeper level of content if they wish.
  • Ensure Your Content is Sustainable
    • Try to move away from content dumps or linking to “portals” or troves of
      information sources or data that you can’t determine or somewhat control the quality of. I don’t recommend always creating new content. There’s a ton of content already there — but this is where effective curation techniques can really provide a big bang for the buck. What is not effective is to aimlessly link to unstructured troves of documents. It’s not sustainable — meaning  you can’t manage the quality, control the experience, or potentially provide deep relationship guidance between the content objects. Where possible, employ strategies that enable you to reduce your content management effort, while still providing access to credible, substantive content.
  • Ensure Your Content is Useful
    • The one thing you do not want to do is waste your consumer’s time. Especially if that consumer is critical to the success of the operation — and I’d argue the majority should be, or why are you creating learning content for them? But, you don’t want to provide content that doesn’t give them something they need or want. If your sales training course is too basic for the senior salesperson, what mechanism do you have in place for them to get to the content they need? Greater specificity always produces better results. You will always have varying levels of expertise and bias, so provide a way for the consumer to easily find and access the information relevant to them. Be honest with yourself when creating the content: is it appropriate, specific and useful to the consumer? Are you regurgitating marketing material without the
      needed level of uniqueness?

Your content organization should be grounded in determining a way to solve for these  areas based on where you are now. You may find yourself at different levels in each of these
areas. The things to not focus on first include the tools and platforms with
which you’ll work. An effective learning content strategy relies less on
technology and more on the vocabulary of your consumers. Speak their language
first, and then let the other pieces fall into place. I’ll discuss more on content structure next.

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