Creating learning content is too easy

OK, let’s back up a bit. Creating new learning content comes with a unique set of challenges, but in the past decade, the tools and capabilities necessary to create modes of learning content have improved dramatically. Technology has evolved across the learning ecosystem and now many rapid-authoring and conversion tools support mobile devices natively.

The demands of learning content are as significant as ever, but on the flip side, it’s never been easier to create courses that can reach so many people in such a short period of time.

The end result of this transformation has a hidden — but significant — issue associated with it: Many organizations actually have too much content.

 

too much content, too little time

In fact, if you look at the learning content libraries that many companies have, there are volumes of work with thousands, or even millions, of dollars attached to that content. Learners are buried under incorrect or out-of-date information while instructional designers and subject-matter experts struggle to manage a growing library of content.

The crux of the issue is that organizations are unable to deliver the right content to their learners at the moment of need.

There are a variety of fixes or shortcuts you can use to temporarily ease the burden, but to truly deal with your content issues over the long term, you need to take a strategic approach.

This Lightpaper was created with this in mind. In it, we’ll cover:

  • Why too much content can actually hurt your learner
  • How content mismanagement can become a bigger problem for your organization
  • Why you need to rethink your learning content strategy
  • How you can take control of your content once and for all

 

Content overload: The problem for the learner

Imagine you’re working on a production line at an aerospace manufacturer. Your job may be to install seats or perhaps configure avionics for a plane. Instead of getting specific training or a manual for your particular job, you are taken into a library full of manuals and training materials and told that everything you ever wanted to know about assembling planes is there.

It sounds crazy, but many organizations have an online version of the library full of content without significant personalization. Having all the resources a person would ever need at their fingertips may sound appealing at first, but it can lead to some incredibly overwhelmed learners. It can create a cognitive load that turns them off to what you’re trying to accomplish.

A survey of 1,700 white-collar workers in five countries found professionals in every market struggling to cope with information overload and looking to their employers for help. On average, they reported that 59 percent of professionals said the amount of information they have to process at work has significantly increased.

Instead of using the resources you’ve developed over many years, the employee ends up asking a co-worker for assistance, searching online, or just guessing. With so little time devoted to learning in most organizations — the average employee spends about 32 hours on learning per year — learners need to be directed to the most efficient resources possible.

A lack of content prioritization and organization creates more than just overwhelmed employees; it can also create an unnecessary barrier that increases the difficulties of learning, including: Disparate learning resources across multiple systems — When you have multiple learning systems and information depositories, you have more content to keep updated, more systems to try to integrate, a higher learning curve for learners, and more issues with learners not knowing where to find the content they’re seeking.

Disparate learning resources across multiple systems

When you have multiple learning systems and information depositories, you have more content to keep updated, more systems to try to integrate, a higher learning curve for learners, and more issues with learners not knowing where to find the content they’re seeking.

Out-of-date and duplicate content

With lean learning organizations and massive content libraries, it’s impossible to keep up with every single piece of content. You need prioritization and organization to help keep your content up-to-date for end users.

Poor search capabilities

Not being able to find content is one of the biggest issues poor content practices can create. If a learner completes a search and they either get very little information or an overwhelming, unfocused amount of information, they’ll seek alternatives.

Inability to access content where and when they need it

Fighting an LMS that isn’t fully mobile-capable isn’t what you want learners to be doing when they absolutely need information at a specific moment. Your content has to be available wherever your learners are.

No personalization

When a learner searches your content, it needs to be relevant for their role in the organization. A service representative doesn’t need to see learning content about accounting or production, for example.

The question every learning organization has to ask itself is, “Are we making the most of our learners’ time?”

For most companies, the answer is a resounding no. Studies have shown that, if given the choice, less than a third of learners take non-required courses. Smart, engaging, and efficient content practices are lacking in almost every organization and they hold learners back from participating in a serious way.

 

Content mismanagement: An even bigger headache for the learning organization

Content overload is a huge problem for learners. It’s an issue that is pervasive across organizations of all sizes and industries. Unfortunately, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Beneath the surface lies a bigger issue: The fundamentals of their learning content development and management practices are broken. If they don’t catch those fundamental issues early, they become more difficult to solve as time goes on. There is a cascading effect as more and more content gets added to their library, too. It’s easy to tag and organize 50 courses, but it’s much more difficult to catch up once you’re hundreds of courses behind.

Though the intention is right — most organizations want to effectively manage content — the way they manage it is all wrong.

 

And that’s just one concept. If you add in targeting for audiences (service support vs. sales support) or mobile optimization, you continue to multiply the issue.

A recent report showed that 24 percent of learning leaders said “content overload” was a huge problem in their organizations, and 38 percent more said that knowledge transfer and retention of content are their biggest challenges. As the survey reported, “Too many courses are being delivered … and learners cannot keep up with the amount of information being thrown at them. When learners are asked to take too much training, or remember too much content, many negative consequences can occur.”

This level of content overload leads to fundamental issues that negatively affect the learning organization as a whole:

  • Instructional designers and subject-matter experts end up starting new content from scratch, instead of using existing resources. Instead of cleaning up and updating a slightly out-of-date piece of content, they’re starting all over again.
  • Your learning organization isn’t able to pull multiple pieces of content together to form courses that are multimodal by design.
  • The content pieces you create can’t be reused.
  • Updating out-of-date or duplicate information is a tired, manual process that requires not just the labor needed to sift through your mountains of information but also the expertise to know what’s still good and what needs to go.
  • Tagging and searchability aren’t consistent. Your content wasn’t created in a day or by one designer, so there are going to be issues with your content being tagged consistently and, with that, the ability to be found.
  • Poor prioritization of creating content puts learning organizations between a rock and a hard place. If they don’t update the old content, current users get frustrated, but if they don’t create the new content they need, they are seen as behind the ball.

Great learning content costs a significant amount of time and money to create. Chapman Alliance has identified the cost to create an hour of e-learning content being anywhere from $10,000 for a basic course to over $50,000 for advanced e-learning courses. When your learning content practices are so broken that the only way to create is to start over from scratch every single time, you’re not empowering your training and development staff to reach their full potential.

 

How can organizations regain control of their learning content?

There may have been a time when you knew every piece of learning content that you had. The problem is, that was sometime in the ’90s. Now?

  • Your learners are overwhelmed with content that isn’t right for their needs.
  • Your learning organization is struggling against itself to create content that meets the needs of the organization.

Poor content management practices are the root cause of all of these issues. Marginalizing the time and resources of both the producers and consumers of learning content is not the best way to show you’re invested in the strategic future of the organization.

So you’re ready to do something about it. Great! But where do you start? Every organization is different, but there are a few ways to get control of your learning content for good.

Bring your content under one system

All of your learning content needs to live in one system, not multiple systems. Without this baseline reconciliation of all of your current resources, you’ll never be able to truly control your learning content. You have to know exactly what you’re working with.

Reduce the amount of content you have

This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a necessary step. If you’re able, look at the usage statistics of your learning content and you’ll see something interesting: Some pieces of content get accessed constantly while other pieces rarely, if ever, get viewed. Figure out a usage threshold that you’re comfortable with and archive the rest of the content that doesn’t meet that threshold — but don’t delete it yet.

Update the most-used content first, then reintroduce and reuse

Take the top 20, 50, or 100 pieces of content that are actually used in your organization and make sure they’re up-to-date and designed for reuse by dividing the content up into smaller, consumable pieces. Once you have that, you can start slowly bringing in new content. You can accelerate the process by reworking and reusing existing content to fit in with the new needs of your organization instead of starting everything from scratch.

Tag and organize to increase findability

Once your streamlined content is updated and you’re starting to bring in new pieces of content, it’s time to focus on consistent tagging and organization of it all. Starting with a smaller library can help you figure out organization and tagging schemes more easily. Plus, it should be easier to test search functionality so you can make finding your content as important as creating it.

Increase availability of learning content

Content overload can also be a symptom of not having an optimized experience for a mobile or tablet device. If you don’t have it already, make your content accessible to the devices your learners use every day, so they have information where and when they need it.

Analyze and revisit

Use analytics to see what learning content is working and what isn’t. Especially as you reintroduce content and focus on findability and availability, you should see those usage numbers start to change dramatically. And since your content is improved, it should help learners better solve their issues. Based on those reports, you should adjust as frequently as you and your learning organization can handle.

 

Conclusion

Right now, learning organizations are stuck in two realities. 

The first reality is that learners can’t learn effectively because they can’t find the right content. There’s either too much to sort through, it’s unavailable to them, or it’s so out-of-date that it’s useless. Instead, they turn to unreliable sources of information or they just give up, never finding the right information.

The second reality is that learning organizations are stuck between managing and updating a huge library of content, creating new content that increases management headaches, and wasting their time creating content from scratch. Their effectiveness is minimized and it perpetuates a content overload cycle in which everyone loses.

There are ways to fix both of these realities yourself, but it’s easier with a partner and technology that was purpose-built for this role. Xyleme specializes in content management for learning and development organizations.

With Xyleme, your organization can:

  • Better know your content and manage it effectively
  • Sort and prioritize content development
  • Easily reuse content across multiple courses and programs
  • Add deep content search capabilities anywhere your content appears
  • Deliver content to any device, anywhere your learners are

In short, we help you take control of your learning content strategy, helping your organization move beyond content overload headaches and on to success.

Interested in learning in how Xyleme can help? Contact Us for more information.