Making content better
Posted on: November 10, 2015
Creating content to support learning & development can be an enjoyable task, with great scope for creativity.
In the ideal scenario, the learning designer will work with a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to understand the learning needs, the context and the content. They will then translate that into a set of activities designed to motivate, stimulate, support and embed learning. These activities will then be delivered as a finished product, to the delight of its users.
That’s the ideal.
In practice, it’s a little more complicated…
The SME is usually not the only person with an interest in the product. Often there’ll be a team or a committee of people who need to review it - from varying perspectives: legal, branding, commercial, usability and subject content.
All of these will need to feed ideas back into the design and development process. These ideas will need to be triaged to ensure they don’t conflict with each other. Then any resulting changes will need to be tracked, checked and re-reviewed. All this takes time, and careful management, and is often the place where new content development teams get unstuck.
But it’s not just the review process that gets complex. The design and development process itself, especially when working with multi-disciplinary teams, contains a number of gotchas which can come back to bite the unwary.
The simple process of passing materials around for people to review and make changes can cause havoc. Just take a simple design document written in Word or Powerpoint. As soon as that leaves the designer’s computer attached to an email it becomes uncontrolled. That document may go to a number of people who all make comments and changes. Agreeing those changes, amalgamating them into a new version, and ensuring everyone has the most up-to-date version, can become the stuff of nightmares…
Add into the mix the common requirements…
- to ensure that all the images used are have the requisite copyright approvals
- to produce both online and print versions
- to have consistent boilerplate text and branding across multiple packages of content (which may change at any minute)
We have used a number of approaches to handling these process management problems, ranging from:
- Spreadsheet or Kanban-based tracking tools, combined with complex file-naming conventions
- Issue-tracking systems (eg. Jira, ActiveCollab)
- Online shared document creation - particularly for design documents, eg. Zoho Docs, Google Docs or Office 365
- Distributed and server-based version control systems (eg. git, Sharepoint)
- Online authoring tools (eg. Lectora Online, Nimble, Adapt, Xerte, Appitierre Evolve)
- Full-blown learning content and asset management systems (eg. Xyleme, Exact Learning, Wordpress, Liferay)
We would recommend adopting a continuous, lean approach to process improvement. Sometimes just simple, inexpensive changes, identified by the team itself, can be the most effective.
However, in some cases, you may need to do a larger change, and implement one or more new systems (eg. when moving from single-user authoring tools to team-based processes). What you do will depend very much on the technical abilities of your team, your business model and where the most value can be gained. For example, if you have a technically confident team, then adopting approaches that use generic code development tools & techniques can be very worthwhile. But, if your team comprises the typical learning & development professionals, then you may need to use tools that are geared towards that audience.
We will be exploring some of these ideas during a short workshop session at the Elearning Network Conference on 11th November. If you would like to discuss them further and consider how to improve your own content development processes, please get in touch.