Whether your organizational development goals are focused on training or performance support in the flow of work, we’ve known for a long time that learning and performance assets must be customized for the preferences of the learner in order to improve outcomes. Our current system of learning asset creation allows us to create core learning assets as described in these (abbreviated) steps:

    • Define overarching business and learning strategy.
    • Define curricular objectives and competency or task-based learning paths to support learning strategy.
    • Create core learning assets aligned to the learning strategy (e.g., PowerPoint presentations, supporting job aids and performance support tools, formative and summative assessments, etc.).

Everything is fine up to this point, but take a moment and picture what learning and development (L&D) professionals have historically done to achieve differentiated instruction and content personalization:

    • Assess the needs of specific learners or the context in which tasks must be performed.
    • Make a copy of the core learning assets (i.e., a copy of the PowerPoint presentation to be used in a webinar).
    • Customize the core learning assets to best meet learners’ needs.

What happens with those customized copies? Often L&D professionals save them locally — outside of approved systems — and go back to them again and again. This creates a few problems:

    • Incorrect information is presented to learners when instructors keep working from their locally saved copies and miss the latest updates.
    • Keeping instructional content up-to-date is time-intensive and expensive, as making even a small change (like the name of a product) will take a long time if it has to be changed in multiple copies of every learning asset.

Reusable learning content provides a technical tool that enables L&D professionals to achieve differentiated instruction without the inefficiencies and additional risk associated with managing copies upon copies of learning assets.

What is Reusable Learning Content?

Reusable learning content is not a copy. Here’s a simple example: Most organizations deliver annual security training that explains the basics of phishing and password security and most of that content could be delivered effectively with the core learning assets described above. But often phishing attempts are customized to your organization — employees will receive an email or a text message made to sound like it’s coming from their manager. The training will be much more effective if scenario-based learning also uses the name and title of the learner’s manager.

To achieve this, we would need to make (and maintain!) unique copies of the learning assets for each manager in your organization. This means one of two things: Either the cost outweighs the benefit and we don’t deliver personalized instruction, or we quickly create an unsustainable volume of copies.

When the core learning assets are created, we define which elements of the learning assets have reuse opportunities. We also define which parts of the learning assets would benefit from personalization. In this example, we would create personalized content for scenario-based learning. The scenarios would exist as discrete, reusable content items which are then mapped to the core content.

What Changes Do I Need to Make to My Learning Content?

It will take some foundational work to determine what kind of content you’re working with and how it all fits together. Let’s explore some practical steps to take your learning content management to the next level. While walking through these steps, remember that the reuse opportunity varies with each piece of content.

Find and Assess Your Content

Take an inventory of the content you have. Try to capture all the places it may live, whether that’s a centralized repository, instructional designers’ desktops or a shared file system. Once you’ve gathered the content, complete an audit of the quality. Is the content in good shape? Does it need an update? By determining what content you have to work with, you can give yourself an idea of what needs to be done to get content to the quality you need it.

Decide What You’re Designing

Drawing on the previous example, maybe for one department you want to deliver a training that includes the basics of phishing and password security, while for the software engineering department, you include those two topics, but you also add a topic on code security. This is where you can define the reuse strategy for your organization — how is the content being reused by the standard copy/paste method? What are commonalities across training or across instructional materials?

Define Your Reusable Content Model

Think of a reusable content model like a template. When you’re designing a new training, you follow a certain template that determines that you need a student guide, an instructor guide and accompanying slides. Within the instructor guide, you know you need an objective, lesson content and a section where you apply the lesson content to the real world. The reusable content model is a blueprint for the discrete parts of the learning content and defines where they will fit into instructional materials and types of learning. Rather than copying and pasting the content between the student guide, the instructor guide and the slides, the reusable content model defines that the relationship exists between these three and then uses the same piece of content across.

Build Your Reusable Content

Make sure your content is consistent: If you use the same framework in your student guide, the slideshow and the instructor guide, but then the framework in the student guide has different bullet points, the framework in the slideshow has a light blue compared to the dark blue in the other two versions, etc., you’re not actually using the same piece of reusable content. You need to standardize one model that is used across these different things.

Assemble Your Training

It’s time to combine the content pieces. Bring together the pieces of reusable content that you defined earlier according to your reusable content model to create the collateral you need. You now have a better idea of what you have, how it fits together and is reused and where the opportunities are to personalize the content for the learner. With the help of metadata, you can automate some of this assembly process so that your instructional designers can focus on personalization.

What Technology Do I Need?

Gone are the days when a single learning management system (LMS) was sufficient. The specific tools you’ll need will depend on your learning strategy. However, regardless of what tools you select, each product you buy or build should be critically evaluated for where it sits on a spectrum from closed to open. If a vendor’s tools only work within their own closed ecosystem, be wary. No learning technology ecosystem can handle all the complex demands of learning strategy and enterprise content management.

Designing Learner Experiences

Depending on the specific needs of the learner, different learner experiences may be called for. This may require multiple distribution channels for your content. Here are a few examples:

  • Instructor Led: For some instructional strategies, learners may need to interact with a trainer in a classroom or webinar. In those instances, we may publish learning assets to be leveraged by the instructor.
  • LMS: This is the optimal learner experience for formal learning, management of learner profiles and building transcripts and certificates.
  • Learning and Performance Portals: Often necessitated by the need for accessibility by an external audience, or a way to present discoverable learning paths that dynamically assemble learning content from multiple content repositories.

Assembling Optimal Learning Experiences

Learning assets are first designed to align with learning objectives and the reuse strategy is defined by the content engineer. After learning assets are designed, they are created by content developers and multimedia specialists. After this, learning assets are organized by knowledge management experts who ensure the right metadata strategy is applied to correctly map the right learning assets to the right learners.

Increased Efficiency and Improved Performance Outcomes

Organizational performance improves when learning assets are contextualized. With the proper content reuse strategy, individualized learner needs can be met without burying your team in an avalanche of learning assets. This decreases the cost of maintaining content, decreases the organizational risk of presenting incorrect or outdated information and empowers your learning team to spend their time delivering better learner experiences rather than muddling through outdated content technology and processes. It’s time learning organizations move away from copies and duplicate content and toward reusable learning content.