Today’s learners are surrounded by digital content on screens. Whether using a smartphone, tablet, TV, laptop, gaming system or the GPS in your car, information can be found on nearly any topic within a matter of seconds. Many of us have become accustomed to the consumer-grade experience of finding the perfect video on YouTube to learn how to do something. Search engine optimization aside, how do learning professionals need to approach creating digital content that captures the attention of learners who need to integrate the learning into their work in an organic way?
Let’s examine four key areas content creators must focus on when developing learning solutions grounded in how, when and where the modern learner wants to engage with content.
- Create Personas to Humanize Your Target Content Consumer
When a training initiative fails, the problem can usually be attributed to misunderstanding the target audience. The misunderstanding can come from a lack of information, but it can also be blamed on a failure to humanize the target audience.
Knowing the target audience is crucial when developing effective learning content. Performing a proper audience analysis means engaging in the process to uncover the target audiences’ specific characteristics and barriers that prevent them from achieving the desired behavior change. Unfortunately, the audience analysis is usually the first step that gets skipped when faced with time crunches and unrealistic deadlines. Without the information captured in an audience analysis, learning professionals end up playing a guessing game to determine the necessary behavior changes, learning objectives and strategies that are relevant to their audience.
Beyond gathering demographic information, creating targeted personas allows content creators to discover the habits, preferences, pains, expectations and motivations that inform better decision making regarding the treatment of content.
When creating ideal content-consumer personas for a target audience, something shifts in the way designers and stakeholders approach decisions regarding the training design. Suddenly there is a clear picture of who the learner is and how they will use the training to solve a problem, answer a question or learn a new skill. Using personas can help ensure that the content created is not simply a good idea in theory; personas also ensure the content is realistic and useful for the person doing the work.
- Apply Basic Standards to Make Content More Accessible for Everyone
Content loses its value if learners cannot access it. Accessibility standards improve the usability and overall user experience for all users, including learners with disabilities. This means taking a holistic approach to thinking about usability and accessibility. Here are some basic dos and don’ts to consider when making content more accessible:
- Provide alternate text that describe graphics.
- Write instructions that are clear and concise.
- Offer captions and transcript alternatives for audio and video.
- Include descriptive titles on pages for navigation.
- Place large chunks of text on graphics or in videos.
- Use color only references for navigation.
- Use “Click here” when linking to content (hyperlinking the title makes it decipherable by screen readers).
- Organize and Structure Content to Make It Intelligent
Intelligent content is the key to delivering the right content, to the right learner, at the right time and for the right reasons. Intelligent content is a term used in content marketing that describes the way content is organized and structured, allowing it to be more readable and efficient for both humans and machines.
An easy way to think about how content is organized and structured is to think about it in chunks, sequences and layers.
Content chunking is the method of outlining content into short, bite-size pieces that are easier to manage, easier to remember and easier to find. Think of each chunk of content as a single thought, idea or subtopic. This way of organizing content also helps when sequencing the information for delivery. Layering refers to where subjects belong in the sequence, from simple to more complex levels of mastery.
- Label, Describe and Tag Content to Make It Discoverable
Intelligent content is structured to be more efficient in delivering the just-in time learner what they need. To make the right content more discoverable, content should be categorized with meta labels, descriptions and tags.
More than likely, you are already creating some forms of metadata to describe, tag and label the content you publish. However, if not done intentionally, you may not be using your metadata to its full potential. Labeling content correctly can automatically create useful metadata, but keep in mind that the quality of the metadata determines how it performs. Having a consistent metadata strategy is a powerful way to make content more discoverable for the learner in their time of need.
Why Does Metadata Matter?
Metadata matters because algorithms are written and work based on the metadata that is available. Having good metadata will help to ensure that your content will be delivered when it’s needed. Metadata happens behind the scenes and, when it works right, it isn’t noticed; it just works.
To start thinking about a metadata strategy, start small and focus on building consistency. Here are some areas to include when considering a basic metadata strategy:
- Titles: Writing effective titles isn’t easy. Make sure the content has a meaningful title and subtitle that contains relevant keywords. The title is often displayed as the first line in search results. Therefore, titles are important in helping content consumers decide if your content is what they need.
- Descriptions: Think back to the last time you bought a book. You likely took a moment to read the back cover before deciding if it was worthwhile. Descriptions are essentially the back cover of your content.
- Date: Include the publish date to help users determine timeliness and relevance.
- Author: Include the content author’s name and contact information.
- Tags and keywords: Enter relevant keywords that describe the content. Tags are often displayed in search results and provide content consumers with an idea of what the content is about. Tags may also direct consumers toward your content and help the them find it.
Putting It All Together
As content providers in today’s digital culture, it is necessary to rethink our role in how content is designed to meet the needs of today’s learners. Focusing on these areas with the just-in-time learner in mind will help your company create content that is ready for any digital technology to serve it up when, where and how it is needed.