Make Your Training Content Reusable

Image by Brigitte Werner @ Pixabay

Introduction

Training materials are well-suited for reuse in a multitude of different business situations, but it’s still rare to find companies leveraging on the corporate knowledge contained within these training materials. Consider the different knowledge repositories that you may need within a business, and indeed, already have, for example:

  • Let’s start with traditional training materials first. These are the typical classroom handouts such as a training manual, quick reference guide or presentation.
  • Moving on from traditional materials we can think about eLearning and blended courses (or even flipped courses if you are that way inclined).
  • Standard operating procedures. These are typically step-by-step instructions on how to carry out a process. A checklist may be a summary of the steps.
  • Support guides and articles for your helpdesk to answer queries. Ideally, it would be best if these were available for the customer (either internal or external) to view before they raise a ticket with the helpdesk
  • Videos and films. These typically contain a whole raft of information in a visual and engaging manner, but are difficult to perform searches on unless you have special video to text search tools in place.
  • Document and file repositories such as SharePoint, which generally have a lot of PDF’s, PowerPoints, web pages in etc.
  • Etc.

Duplication

The problem with these different repositories is that there is often a large duplication of content across them. Different people are contributing to the different repositories and re-inventing the wheel. For example, your IT application trainer may write a quick reference guide on how to download and use the company-branded Word template and save it as a PDF. The helpdesk may have articles on where to access the branded Word document. The branded Word document itself may be residing in SharePoint where the marketing people put it (which incidentally, probably also has some further instructions on when it should be used etc.)

Image by Wolfgang Vogt @ Pixabay

Because these people are working in silos, they re-write what is essentially the same content for their own repository and in the format they prefer.

In this article I will discuss how a training department could reduce this duplication of effort by the rest of the business if they considered making their training materials more reusable.

The Problem With Most Training Content

Content Types

Before we consider what the problem is with training content that stops other people from reusing it let’s first think about what sort of content we are considering. Here are a few bullet points to think about.

  • Film – is engaging and visual but cannot be text searched without specialist tools. It’s difficult to translate to local language without subtitles. Production costs are generally relatively high.
  • Training presentations – provide good introductions and summaries but often lack detail
  • Training manuals – generally text heavy
  • eLearning – click next. click next. click next. click next. The vast majority of it is boring and lacks engagement unless you have been really dedicated in your design work and thought processes up front.  Voiceovers can make translation to local languages difficult.
  • Quick reference guides – you can’t find the guide you want when you actually need to do it, without leaving the system or tool that you are in.

Size Matters

The size of these different types also matters. Consider film again. If you have a 20 minute video covering a topic, locating the exact 20 second clip that matters to you is difficult. Even with better fast forward/rewind and scrub tools. The same goes for a training presentation. We’ve all heard of death by Powerpoint, so presenters add more images and less text, more animations etc.. but a training course slide deck with 50 slides a day is still too big. Also, when was the last time you went back to that eLearning course just so you could review something? Couldn’t bear the thought of clicking next 500 times again huh?

Learning Nugget/Object

Because of these considerations, step forward the idea of a “learning nugget” or a “learning object” (LO). This is where we make the content small and granular. It needs to be in the Goldilock zone though, not too big and not too small, but just right. Normally this equates to something less than 5 minutes in length.

So, armed with this concept as authors of training materials we can adapt. We can make our training videos less than 5 minutes long. Our manuals can be written so they take less than 5 minutes to read. We can create eLearning that takes less than 5 minutes to click through. etc. etc.

*EPSS – Electronic Performance Support System

Once we have our LO’s then we can arrange them (curate) and deliver them to all the different silos that need them. So what’s stopping us?

Content Creation Tools

What stops us from creating all this content in all these different formats are the tools that we use. If the training department needs a short presentation and the support desk wants an HTML support article then they invariable get created using different tools. (e.g. Powerpoint for the presentation and some sort of WYSIWYG editor for the support desk article). The more silos that need the information and the more formats that are required, the more re-inventing the wheel goes on.

Nobody wants to re-invent the wheel though. Each individual person would rather use something else if it was available to them.

Consider what would happen if these people in different silo’s came together and worked as a team to produce content once, but have it available in different formats for the different silos they want to put it in.

The Solution To Reusability

In order to make content reusable, we recommend the bringing together of three different ideas.

Recommendation 1 – Keep It Small, Keep It Focussed

By adopting the learning object approach we can create standalone content. A retired friend of mine once said about object-oriented software programming that each object must be able to walk down the street with it’s head held high in isolation of all of the other objects on the street and be able to say “I am an object and I don’t need anyone else to do what I do!”. This same principle applies to LO’s. Each one should focus on only one objective and teach only one thing. When we curate the LO’s, we organise them into different sequences and for different purposes.

Recommendation 2 – Work Together

Even if there is only one author of the training content, if other people are involved in the workflow then together, they can make sure the content is applicable for all their different needs. We need authors, reviewers, and approvers. Indeed, if the content is resuable enough for other areas of the company, they other people may be happy to help author it in the first place and help out the training department.

Recommendation 3 – Select The Right Toolset

Adobe Premier Pro makes (edits) videos. Powerpoint makes presentations. Word makes manuals. InDesign makes quick reference guides. Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate make eLearning, etc. etc. Each of these tools is great at what they focus on, but what if there were tools out there that let you create content once, edit it once and then distribute it in different formats? Well, the good news is that some tools that do this are actually out there. They are more expensive than standalone authoring tools, but get out there, do your homework and select one. As a hint, you will probably want to evaluate them on:

  • Do they:
    • Support reuseable learning objects?
    • Help you curate content?
    • Have methods which make it easier to efficiently create content in the first place?
    • Help people work together with pre-defined workflows?
    • Produce content in multiple formats?
  • Can they:
    • Translate your content to local language easily?
    • Deliver your content at the point of need?

Summary

I think that if we create training content (knowledge repositories) with a high degree of reusability and in different formats then we can reduce the workload on other parts of the business. I don’t think that LO’s for example are always going to meet the needs for every situation, but even if they are reused only 40% of the time, then that saves a lot of effort elsewhere.

If you would like to find out more about how we help to create content efficiently and increase the reusability of it, then get in touch now.

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