Making the Business Case for Learning Content Management
Introduction: Why Learning Content Is Strategic
Content is the backbone of learning. Without the right pieces in place, your learning efforts — no matter how well intentioned — will fall flat.
We’re probably preaching to the choir, though. As a learning professional, you understand the value and benefits of a solid learning content strategy better than anyone. With the right strategy in place, your organization can:
Personalize the learning experience: Your people are better able to learn when they have resources that are tailored to their needs.
Efficiently author content: Your instructional designers and subject-matter experts (SMEs) need to be able to share their knowledge effortlessly.
Be more agile: At the very least, your learning content needs to change as your business does, helping your people prepare for new challenges.
Drive performance: Learning content is the fuel for individual performance gains, and thus can lead to your organization becoming high performing.
Unfortunately, the other key stakeholders you need to involve as you take on the strategic challenges of learning content won’t always understand or agree with all of these points. Selling process improvements, technology solutions, or involving additional talent and resources can all be a challenge. Learning has been on the losing end of the budget for far too long. Navigating the internal politics of selling a business case for an improvement to your learning content takes knowledge that speaks to stakeholders and the right format to deliver it.
This Lightpaper was created as a resource to help you tackle this challenge head-on. It will cover:
- The key drivers for improving learning content management
- Business risks associated with poor content management practices
- The advantages of a better experience for both content creators and end users
- How to build a business case for change in a way that non-learning experts can get behind it
- Additional resources you can use to bolster your case
The Workforce Drivers of the Need for Better Learning Content Management
Every organization is different, which means that the drivers for better learning content management for your organization are going to be different. The variety of factors can be related to your existing team and the technologies you’re already using, as well as organizational needs and deficiencies.
There are six primary drivers for better strategic use of learning content management. Some will resonate more than others, depending on your organization’s situation, but it’s common to have multiple factors in play as you’re beginning to build out your business case.
1. Closing skills gaps
The skills your people have today aren’t always going to be the ones they need tomorrow. Nearly a third of employers have identified a lack of qualified workers as a barrier to growth, and 84 percent intend to prioritize workforce investment in the next two years. You won’t always be able to hire new people to close those skills gap. You need to be able to have the ability to bring new and existing employees up to speed. A proactive and well-managed learning content strategy can ensure that your entire organization is prepared for what’s ahead.
2. Improving learning agility
People, organizations, and industries can be in extreme states of flux. Learning agility allows people to gain new knowledge at the speed your business needs. It can reduce the time to competence and make them more productive. That future requires a content strategy that values flexibility, so it can be iterated on and changed to stay up to date, as well as appeal to a multigenerational workforce. It can only be done if instructional designers and subject-matter experts have the solutions that enable them to get content published and delivered quickly and easily.
3. Increasing need for learning author collaboration
There may have been a reality where learning authors could simply create and publish content in a bubble. No more, though. Instructional designers and subject-matter experts need to be able to actively collaborate to increase learning velocity and overall effectiveness. Your authors also need solutions that allow them to see what has already been created and reuse the content or remix it as needed to reduce or eliminate redundant or duplicate content. Lack of collaboration with content creation can lead to increased time producing content that needs to reach end users sooner rather than later.
4. Managing a decentralized learning function with a distributed workforce
The era of large corporate headquarters where everyone comes into work at a centralized location is quickly vanishing. In its place is a group of learners spanning five generations who are spread across cities, countries, and continents, and who learn in drastically different ways. In short, your end users look different than they did even a decade ago, and the need for learning has only increased. With 35 percent of people using their mobile devices to solve problems and 20 percent of the workforce being used on a contingent basis, learning content still needs to get into the hands of your learners, no matter where they are. Web-based content is table stakes. Any modern system should be able to deliver that. The next frontier for a distributed and decentralized workforce is bite-size content that is easily accessible and digestible in any language, in multiple forms, and on any mobile device.
5. Understanding how learning content is being used
Many learning organizations can’t tell you how learning content is being used in their organization. They don’t know what the best-performing pieces of content are, nor do they know what’s not working. Organizations spend countless hours and enormous amounts of money on assets — even ones tailored to a specific experience on a tablet or mobile — and they aren’t tracking how they’re being used. Learning analytics can help you understand where your learning content is being best utilized and where it could use improvements. Your resources aren’t infinite, which means analytics are critical in making sure learning authors are creating or curating the right content for your organization.
6. Integrating learning with other talent initiatives
Learning isn’t an end unto itself. It’s meant to move the bar in a lot of different areas in talent management. The next level of learning content management is expanding it beyond the learning technology stack to other areas in talent. Imagine performance and goal management or workforce planning being supported by tailored learning resources. This is a critical factor for many organizations looking for a stronger learning and talent management practice.
Though your organization may be more affected by certain learning content drivers, all of them can play a role in evaluating your current practices against an ideal state for your organization.
The Business Risks of Poor Content Management Practices
Although the drivers for better learning content management can be crystal clear, what might be murkier is defining the objective risks if you fall behind or fail. If you’re like many learning professionals, you’ve been fighting learning content issues for years. You know there are deficiencies and issues, but the problem is elevating the issues to strategic importance.
As you build out your business case, there are several risks to highlight. Pick and choose the ones with the highest applicability or most pain to your organization.
Misinformation or duplicate content
Although there are more up-to-date pieces of content in your library, it’s likely that you have out-of-date, stale, or duplicate content that could be updated if you had better content management in place. Duplicate courses are common and extraordinarily expensive: a single hour of content can cost over $15,000 to produce. Because duplicate content exists, this can lead to outdated training and misinformation scattered throughout your library. Misinformation can be worse than having no information at all. It can give your end users a false sense of confidence that they have the answer when it may be months — or even years — out of date. It not only leads to performance issues but also to possible compliance issues that can be particularly difficult to solve.
Hard-to-find and inaccessible content
You’ve spent time and resources creating (or fixing) content, but now no one can find it. Or it may be that they can find it but they just can’t open it from the device at hand. Ease of use and lack of mobile features are the top complaints about learning management systems. These types of problems aren’t unusual, with nearly 50 percent of companies looking to leave their current learning platforms because of these issues. Most learning management systems aren’t great at being repositories for your learning content. They can be difficult to use for content authors and end users, and when issues that could have been solved with learning show up, most people had no idea the resource existed or how to access it. If the great content you’re producing is buried in your learning or talent management systems, it isn’t doing your organization any good and is ineffective.
Inefficient use of learning resources
Think about your internal team of content creators: Instructional designers, subject-matter experts, and other authors are busy people who are well paid and play a critical role in your overall learning strategy. They can spend anywhere from 40 to over 1,000 hours creating an hour of training.
Giving them solutions that make it easy for them to share their knowledge with your organization makes sense, but it’s easily overlooked. Instead, they struggle to recreate or rework content and make it fit the parameters of your learning system. You can help reduce their frustration and increase their efficiency by using a solution that helps them easily reuse and remix existing content, as well as collaborate and create new, useful content. Only then are you really optimizing these valuable resources and creating an environment that will let you grow your network of experts.
Limited understanding about the business impact of learning content
You would probably agree: Every learning professional thinks they could use more resources in their organization. Analyzing the impact of learning on your organization, as well as aligning your content strategy to your areas of highest need, is paramount. When done right, it has a huge potential to impact the business: The right learning content strategy can boost productivity by 50 percent and online learning has the ability to increase retention rates by 60 percent. And there’s not just a financial cost for choosing the wrong area of focus, but an opportunity cost, as well — when you’re not focusing on the right areas, your limited resources get consumed without having that impact.
Any combination of these can lead to risks that affect not just the learning organization but also the business as a whole.
The Role of User Experience in a Learning Content Strategy
All of these drivers and risks of learning content strategy point to a key theme: Providing a better learning experience overall ensures that content is a performing asset for your organization. The user experience is critical to authors and curators, as well as consumers of learning content, because without it, user adoption can remain low.
While you’re building out a business case, keep these three things in mind as you make an argument for a learning content strategy that is centered on your key stakeholders: learning authors and users.
Learning is personal
No two learners are alike. Your interests, skills, and competencies are not the same as those of your colleagues. The ways you learn best are different from how your colleagues learn. Learning is a truly personal experience, but too often, learning content strategies take a one-size-fits-all approach. In a best-case scenario, learning content should be personalized to an end user and responsive to their individual needs. They need to stay up to date, with resources that are available in a traditional learning environment as well as at the point of performance and need. And because personalization requires a variety of resources — online courses, videos, hands-on activities, and much more — instructional designers and subject-matter experts need to be able to produce bite-size, personalized content from existing resources with minimal effort.
Learning is on demand
For the first time, more training was delivered online in 2014 than in traditional classroom-based instruction. Learning consumers want content available anywhere, anytime, and on any device — online and in the cloud. Not only that, they want it to be contextually relevant to their work. But as you’ve probably found, learning end users and authors won’t jump through hoops to find or create the content they need. They’ll take the path of least resistance to get the information — and get frustrated in the process. Instead of relying on the hope that people will go to great lengths to use the content you’ve so thoughtfully created for them, you need to ensure that they have easy access to it online. That means learning content needs to be available wherever they are and on any device.
Learning is only as good as your content
That means learning authors and curators, such as instructional designers, internal subject-matter experts, and every other contributor you want involved, need the same great experience as end users. The ability to easily author, publish, deliver, and analyze content ensures that end users don’t just get a nice user interface — they also get content that’s up to date, in-depth, and effective at teaching them what they need to know. Better yet, the ability for everyone to easily contribute their knowledge can ensure that learning content is agile and up to date. An ideal solution focuses on increasing collaboration among learning contributors, reducing rework time, and focusing your learning resources on content that will make a difference for your organization.
As you make your case for a better learning content management strategy, make sure to emphasize the benefits to the true stakeholders in the discussion: your people who produce and consume the learning content that will continue to drive results for your organization today and tomorrow.
How to Build Your Business Case
We’ve covered the key background information you’ll need to create a compelling business case for learning content management. Now, you need to create a business case document to help make your case, get executive approval, and ultimately secure funding and manpower for any additional technology solutions or process changes that will need to take place.
Here’s a basic five-part outline you can use to help build a business case for learning content management.
1. Executive summary
This is a critical section for your business case. Even if your audience won’t read the entire document, you can be sure they will read this. You must explain in one page exactly why learning content management is a critical need for your organization. You can use the other sections of the business case to briefly sum up:
- What problems or opportunities are driving the need for learning content management
- The current state of your organization and why it’s unprepared to handle current content challenges
- A possible solution and how technology could help
- Next steps and a high-level action plan
2. Problem statement
This section should be focused on the problem you’re trying to solve while highlighting the benefits to the organization if you were to implement a solution. You can use the section on the drivers of learning content management as a starting point to discuss the issues that may be most important to your organization, such as:
- A coming skills gap in your organization
- The need for better collaboration among learning authors
- A continued decentralized and distributed workforce
3. Current state
Highlight the current state of learning content in your organization, especially the deficiencies that you’re working through as an organization. This is also an opportunity to bring up some of the key risks to your organization should your content strategy fall too far behind. Your business case should make the case that creating a better learning organization is essential for dealing with drivers and the risks brought up earlier.
4. Proposed solution
Once you’ve laid out the problems and current state, this section should address how you would like to solve it. In almost every case, it’s a combination of technology and people, so your solution should address items such as a proposed software solution, costs and staffing associated with it, and a proposed rollout schedule. Additional considerations like shifts in staffing or hiring additional talent should also be part of a well-rounded solution.
5. How better content management can help
Finally, this section should talk about the benefits to the organization as a whole and your key stakeholders. Learning content touches almost every part of the business and is one of the ways your organization can be sure it is on the right path forward. Use this opportunity to not just speak to the strategic advantages that we’ve covered in this Lightpaper but also the learning experience for your people.
As you present this business case, be sure to customize it to what will work best in your organization. For some, a small document may be all that’s required. For others, a larger, more comprehensive overview is necessary — a presentation maybe even be needed in certain instances. Check with your colleagues to understand how to best present your case.
Lastly, if you have any questions as you’re putting your business case together, feel free to reach out to our team here at Xyleme.