Another new year is upon us and it seems that each new year brings with it the obligatory resolution. I’ve never been a proponent of the type of resolution where I’m going to “stop” doing something, like eating ice-cream, for example. To “stop” doing something sounds so negative, like it’s a bad habit and if it’s not stopped it’s somehow going to adversely impact my life. While this may in fact be true, one can over-indulge in ice-cream, I have found that a more positive approach is to instead identify something I’m going to “start” doing. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking on my part, but my brain likes the thought of “starting” to do something more than it likes the thought of “stopping” to do something. It gives me a sense of control. So, this year I’m going to start reading a book a month – hey I know that’s not much, but I’ve got to start somewhere and if I’m holding a book, or an e-reader, then I can’t be holding a bowl of ice-cream too.
Resolutions are equally applicable to work life as they are to personal life. For education services there are a number of things that organizations can “start” doing, even if it’s just to start thinking about doing it. Below is a list of 10 things that I think are worth thinking about for this year and hopefully thinking about it will lead to “starting” to do something about it. Just pick one thing….
- Collaborative content development – simplify the process between developers and subject matter experts (SME). For years content developers have been lone rangers, left largely to their own devices, lucky to snag a few hours of a SME’s time. Wouldn’t it be much more productive to provide those with the design skills access to those with the product knowledge? This is possible with collaborative content development tools. While you may not want SMEs actually developing the content, you certainly do want them providing feedback and this is what a collaborative content develop platform provides. SMEs can be assigned a content editor role and provide comments directly on the page(s) that require their feedback. Often times developers and SMES are not co-located, so be a bridge builder and get the teams collaborating.
- Crowdsourcing – crowdsource a content development project. Crowdsourcing is the act of sourcing tasks, projects, and/or activities traditionally performed by specific individuals to a group of people or community (crowd) via an open call, or request for help. While this may seem like an unconventional approach, I think it has merit in the arena of content development, particularly as it relates to content revision. Why not let those who are the recipients of the content provide input? After all, as users of the product they certainly have hands-on knowledge that goes beyond that of a content developer. Clearly, approach and guidelines for crowdsourcing need to be established, but what a great way to get users engaged. So join the ranks of Dell, Starbucks, Nike and others who have created digital platforms to enable customers to help create products via crowdsourcing.
- Going mobile – while “going mobile” is nothing new for the general population, by-in-large it is for the education services community. Results from TSIA’s Education Services benchmark reveal that fewer than 16% of education services organizations have made a foray into the mobile space relative to learning. So go ahead, create an app, charge 99 cents for it and see what happens. What have you got to lose? It’s worked for the music industry.
- Single-source authoring – consider single-source authoring, which allows the same content to be used in different documents (deliverables) such as e-learning, instructor-led training manuals, workbooks and DVDs, or in various formats – Word, PDF, HTML, and others. This is achieved by creating information objects once and reusing them. With a single source solution only the one source file for the content needs to be updated and that update is regenerated to other outputs, such as PDF, online help, a web page, and so forth. While shifting to single-source authoring may initially be time consuming, its benefits are quickly realized in the form of improved content quality, increased author productivity, increased content re-use, and/or greater cost savings. So save yourself some time and money and implement single-source authoring.
- Adaptive learning – create a personalized learning scenario, also known as adaptive learning. E-learning is particularly well disposed to adaptive learning, as it takes it a step further by adapting the presentation of educational material according to a student’s weaknesses, as indicated by their responses to a set of questions. Adaptive learning is important because it enables learners to select modular components that they can piece together, to create their own learner-centric learning environments. Think it’s too hard to do? Talk to Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), a TSIA Education Services member, or read the recent research article; Case Study – Parametric Technology Corporation: Best Practices in Education Services.
- Analytics – apply analytics, the study of business data to discover and understand historical patterns, with a goal of predicting and improving future business performance. It’s kind of hard to predict the future if you don’t know what’s happened in the past. Extensive use of the web and movement to the cloud has greatly enabled companies to use data that here-to-fore has been largely inaccessible. Education services organizations stand to gain greatly from this. Think about building content and curricula if you know what the most popular courses/modules/topics are or you have immediate knowledge of the most problematic product features, or the features that are used most often, or how rapidly a product is being adopted. Analytics provide a catbird seat into human behavior and that is the holy grail. So run now to your IT department and start leveraging all that data your company is collecting.
- Content curation – create a content curation position. Rohit Bhargava defines a content curator as someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online. As described in Content Curation: Bringing Order to Information Overload, by Christy Barksdale, April 2010, http://www.pr2020.com/page/content-curation-order-to-information-overload, “with the overwhelming amount of content available on the Internet today, it is difficult for professionals to efficiently manage their daily reading activities, as well as separate useful and accurate content from poor content. This is where content curation comes in; allowing individuals or businesses to provide a valuable service to their audiences by addressing their need for quality content and the lack of available time to find it.” There is so much information “out there” today. Why not steer your customers to information about your training and your company that is relevant, positions you as the “source” for information and demonstrates that your company is a leader in the marketplace? People are busy. Help them out. They’ll thank you for it.
- Piazza - be the first on your block to innovate. In the 1/6/12 issue of the San Jose Mercury News Business Section, I read about a social media start-up called Piazza. Developed by a woman named Pooja Sankar, “Piazza is a system of collective, Wiki-style documents in which students can post questions, then add to and amend one another’s solutions. Today, any college or university professor can create a Piazza page for students in his or her courses.” My immediate thought when I finished reading the article was, hey this is a concept that is just as applicable in the world of technical professional education as it is in academia. Remote/distance learning is the perfect candidate for Piazza as it gives students and instructors a great way to connect and communicate. Check it out – http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_19687785?IADID=Search-www.mercurynews.com-www.mercurynews.com. Who wants to be the first to create a learning piazza for their course?
- Embedded learning – embed learning in the workflow to bring learning and work processes into proximity. Most learning today is still independent of the actual work task(s) being performed. While “help” capability is built into most software these days, it is still uncommon to be able to serve-up learning material directly from the product. I do know of one Education Services member-company that has built such capability into their products. When a tool called LearningConnector is launched, e-learning topics and technical support knowledge base articles are recommended based on the user’s location within the software product. When an e-learning topic is launched, it is to a specific topic within a larger e-learning course. The user can decide whether to focus on just the topic or whether to go ahead and complete the entire course. Why has it taken education services organizations so long to adopt this approach? I found an article online about embedding content into the workflow, Learning in Context of Business Processes and Workflows, Eilif Trondsen, December 2004, http://www.e-learningcentre.co.uk/Resource/CMS/Assets/5c10130e-6a9f-102c-a0be-003005bbceb4/form_uploads/Workflow_Learning__SRIC_.pdf. December 2004 – that’s almost eight years ago, and I can tell you from reading the article little has changed from then to now. So, be a change agent, do something different, pick one product and start embedding learning in it.
- Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) – DITA is a standard, or a template, more commonly used for technical publications and/or documentation and is slowly making its way into the content development arena. DITA is a standard XML data model and its Open Toolkit publishing system features single-source publishing, inheritance, topic-based authoring and content reuse. The” typing architecture” consists of three types; task, concept and reference. As content development gets more and more complicated based on ever-growing numbers of course titles, multiple modalities and localization of content, using the DITA standard makes sense. Go talk to your documentation department and ask if they are using DITA. If so, have them tell you more about it.
So, here’s your new year’s challenge. Be a trailblazer. Dare to be different. Resolve to do just one thing on this list. It’s time to pick up a book and put down the ice-cream.