A Little Bit of Forethought Goes a Long Way
In June, ASTD Press and Rockbench Publishing released my book, Learning Everywhere. For those of you unfamiliar with the title or having not picked it up yet, this month’s newsletter will serve as an introduction to a key concept outlined in the book, the use of content strategy and how you can use it in crafting a stronger mobile learning strategy.
What is content strategy? In its simplest terms, content strategy for formal learning is a holistic plan for content, the knowledge that you want the learner to receive. This includes the planning, creation, governance, publication and long-term maintenance. In bigger terms, it is looking at the material you produce for your audience from the perspective of a steward or maybe even that of a superintendent, and making informed decisions that improve the transfer of the knowledge shared and also the sustainability of the information source that provided it.
This emerging and critical aspect of instructional design is part of the new normal of being a learning professional in the connected age of ubiquitous access and user-generated content. It is simply not enough to create once, publish and then move on. We must think through the lifecycle of the content and plan for the optimal delivery of that through the mechanisms we have available for us regardless of their technology or platform.
Content strategy may be seen as something unrelated to learning professionals. However, this discipline has been long studied and employed in the marketing and Web worlds to great success and deserves a place among our discipline. Numerous blog articles have been written on it, the most notable being “The Discipline of Content Strategy” by Kristina Halvorson at A List Apart. A number of books have been written on content strategy, as well. The most recent by Karen McGrane, Content Strategy for Mobile, is an excellent, easy-to-read introduction to the subject and offers up a clear plan to action.
Coincidentally, topics in her recent book and mine line up with a lot of the same sorts of ideas, even though the root disciplines are a tad different:
- Perform audience research
- Perform competitive research
- Perform content inventory and analysis
- Choose delivery platforms appropriately
- Don’t fork your content, yet edit to meet delivery needs
An important takeaway in my book and other works is that our roles as learning professionals responsible for the delivery of content are changing (and incidentally will continue to change). We must continue to evolve and work to create a content framework that is scalable and strong, flexible yet authoritative. Candidly, it’s not easy but the very challenge is what makes the role so interesting and important. This is definitely different than the “set it and forget it” approach to creating curriculum and courseware we have used in the past.
This new approach to content creation and lifecycle is needed if we are to keep up with ever tightening product cycles. It is a must if we will deliver content on the devices and platforms of today and tomorrow.
With appropriate planning, it is possible. A bit of time in research and planning pay big dividends here.
We are looking to create a systemic (meaning deeply ingrained in the system), systematic (carried out using step-by-step processes and procedures) approach to delivering content to our learners. This is the How and When of What we are going to share with our audience.
Consider the various ways you interact with websites or platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, CNN.com, Netflix or Amazon. Every one of those companies has a different experience for the users based on the device they use to access the content. An app is different from a set top box, which is also different from the Web browser, which is different from the mobile Web. These experiences weren’t created by pumping their respective sites through a magic transformer of sorts. Some features are omitted or tucked away as they may be unneeded in a particular case, but the key functions the user requires in that particular case – desktop, Web, mobile, etc. – are accounted for and designed.
So, too, will your carefully crafted mobile learning experience account for these platforms. Running your Flash course through some sort of HTML5 mill is not the answer. You must redesign and adapt your applications to fit within your content strategy for mobile. Beyond the basic considerations you must take into account, such as user interface element size and scale, there are some more dramatic shifts you will need to make in your thinking.
Some of this content from your original software may stay largely in tact. A thoroughly indexed and well-manicured company wiki may require only a new mobile theme and perhaps the addition of some basic contextual awareness (geolocation could be really useful, for example) to make it a valuable mobile learning tool. Other items – like immersive software simulations, for example – may require more thought prior to porting the content to iOS or Android handsets (or perhaps skipping them for more effective uses of resources). These devices do have constraints in terms of screen size, bandwidth and processing power, and in order to match the experience to the target platform, you may have to take these into account in your design process.
On the topic of straight content conversion from eLearning to mLearning, I have mixed reactions. While, yes, it’s great to be free to leverage your content and repackage it for a new class of users in need of it, none of the simple paths to mobile learning I have seen truly put the mobile into the design up front. They may apply a new mobile-friendly skin to the content, sure, but that’s the easy way out. Seldom do I hear of learners impressed by its content delivery. On the other hand, I constantly hear people impressed by Urbanspoon’s scope feature, Path’s streamlined feel on smartphones, or Twitter’s ease of uploading images or adding location data to posts. This sort of smart user experience design, coupled with content strategy, takes work. If page-turning eLearning was a sure-fire way to create snoozeware on the desktop, then it’s death on the mobile side.
If we want to escape that perilous trap, we must plan our path to the mobile learning landscape of tomorrow.
What are you doing to match your user’s expectations to your content? Hopefully, now, you’re considering creating a content strategy.
New Research Report Available on Tappestry: The Mobile Learning App for Connected Companies
As much as 90 percent of what people learn, both professionally and personally, is carried out on an informal basis through social contacts, according to the Center for Creative Leadership. This has placed the CLOs and other managers in learning and development departments at a disadvantage in terms of reporting to their superiors just what skills, knowledge, and interests are available to the enterprise.
Tappestry is the first mobile app to offer a solution to this problem, Float Mobile Learning senior analyst Gary Woodill, Ed.D., writes in his latest white paper, Tappestry: The Mobile Learning App for Connected Companies. “Connected companies need flexible connections among their members for information to be requested and shared,” Woodill writes. “Tappestry is specifically designed for that kind of situation.”
Visit our Research Papers area to download this paper. If you attended DevLearn or CSTD’s conference and trade show, you likely have a free download code.
ASTD Mobile Learning Certificate Program Comes to Chicago This Month
After a successful first program in Virginia, Chad Udell and Float’s vice president of development Scott McCormick will present a hands-on, two-day workshop for learning and development professionals in the Chicago area next week.
Among other takeaways, participants will possess the tools be able to successfully implement mobile learning into their organization and to then calculate the ROI of a mobile learning application.