Implement An Online Learning Content Strategy

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There was a time, just a few years back, that content meant one thing and courses meant another thing.  Content was videos, PDFs, documents, media files (audio), images, anything and everything that was not a course.  And a course was a horse of course (funny, not).  Anyway, it was a course.

But as we change – evolve in our space, content (the term) has too.  Nowadays, courses slide under content.

We create our own content. We buy 3rd party content.  We outsource someone else to build our content. We surf the net to link and curate content.  We read content.  We explore content.  We place content onto our learning systems.  

We expect our learners, employees, customers, students to access this content.  We assume that following a learner-centric model, heavily seen in any learning engagement platform, that this will work miracles, and thus increase someone’s knowledge – because hey, it is content they are interested in.

We forget though, that not all content is good, or even knowledge worthy.  There is a lot of horrible – informative wise, insight wise – out there. 

We forget that content – in course angle – even micro-level can be awful.  Having someone watch or should watch a 3min video (a piece of content), doesn’t mean they extracted the information.  Unless of course it is an ACDC video, then yes you can be Thunderstruck!

On any learning system, you can or should be constantly assessing the effectiveness of the content, what folks are looking at, how long they are doing it and how often – in other words measuring it.  This is a skill gap analysis that is on-going.

We do a lot of things with content = but no one seems to be developing an online content strategy.  

Today, that is going to change.

What is an online content strategy?

The term itself “content strategy” is not new, but it is not being used in the online learning space, rather you see it in marketing more so (content marketing). 

And yet, upon a further analysis, it is ideal for online learning (e-learning – and yes, I know the umbrella term has changed to mean e-learning courses).

Content Strategy consists of five steps

cst

  1. Create, Find, Develop your content (and for us, where is it going to be housed or located for learners), so I will add, Create, Find, Develop, Place your content.
  2. Analyze your content – What do you believe will be effective?  How so?  What can be done to make it more so?  The analysis is on your end, not the learning system.
  3. Measure your content – Analytical data and reporting on your learning system is located in this step.  It is on-going and requires you to be able to adapt.
  4. Promote your content – This should be happening at the same time – actually at the moment you add any content to any learning system.  And it is on-going.
  5. Optimize your content – Another on-going step, which is built on the measuring angle. 

And I will add another step – REPEAT – as in, – as #6 optimization is occurring, you should be already back onto step one.

Create your Content

Creating your content goes back to earlier in this post.  Build it yourself either via a 3rd party authoring tool, PowerPoint, stick figures and doodles on a piece of paper, words on a page?  Hire someone to build it for you, whether it is a solo person or a custom development shop?  Buy it from a 3rd party content provider?  Purchase it via an LEP – content marketplace or within your own LMS and other learning systems?  Locate it on the web and embed or link to it?  

Within create, as you can see is find.  You have to find it.  Even if you are looking at a content marketplace within an LMS, whereas you search and buy, or select (if free), it is as noted, looking for it.  You look at it. Review it – I hope at least take a test drive on it – then buy or select.  Too many people, especially with LEP and LMSs that have a content marketplace, rely solely on what the is the topic, what are the objectives and some brief description.

They rarely get to actually see the course themselves (I’m referring to the client, not the learner themselves).   I’d argue this isn’t a fault upon themselves, rather it is today, how the system works.  It is rare to find any content marketplace on any learning system, where you as the client get to take a test drive or look at the content, prior to buying it for your learners.

Which is why so many people buy awful content.  For example, one content provider’s entire content library (identified as courses), is text.  That’s right. TEXT only with a couple of static pictures.  They list these big name clients who have it, tell me how much they love it.  I responded back to the salesperson, would you want to take this and more importantly, can you remember all of this?

The answer was no.  I surmise some clients see the data of pure text page and think, wow high completion rates, or they looked at it, so they must know it and retain it.   I read the paper this morning and even with articles of interest, if you asked me right now, how much I remember, I would say minimal.   When I read content, I will often clip parts of it, where I can go back re-read.   

Another vendor has one-page articles if you will, where learners print out and use.  I laugh at the last part, “use”.  Research shows that people tend to recall the first and last point (many of the pages are 1 to 10).   What’s even worse with this angle, is how as someone running training, can I tell the data when you print it out.  Unless I have telekinesis, I won’t. 

Placing your content means where is it being housed? More and more 3rd party content providers are requiring their content to be housed on their servers, with it appearing in either an iFrame within the LMS or LEP OR the learner has to click a link and go to the 3rd party provider’s web site.  Regardless of how they get there – it is still THERE – not on your LMS, LEP, etc. – but on the 3rd party provider’s servers.

3rd party providers will often make the claim that this is better for you – the client – because when they add new stuff, you can get access to it (assuming you bought it).  They also make the pitch that updating the content happens quickly and you do not need to upload a new version.

The last part is a joke.  I always ask content providers how often they cull – remove – their content?  How old is old?  What is their process?  And what do I often hear back,  “we add new content daily or weekly”, “we find that people still access this or that, so as such we keep it,” and other excuses.

Just because five people are accessing Frameshop, software from 2002, doesn’t mean it is popular.  It just means five humans in your system, use it or are stuck with it.   And, getting back to an earlier point – bad content is bad content, regardless if it is new or not.

If you buy through a content marketplace on an LMS, LEP or other types of learning systems, the advantage is that the vendor (LMS for example) is responsible for putting it onto your system, and responsible for making sure it is updated (again, laugh here), and adding new content (again, assuming you bought it).  From a free – content like TED – is is adding it to the system (hidden link from TED itself). 

There are cases of vendors, telling their own clients that when there is a problem with the content – to contact the content provider and not them (you know the ones, you bought it from).  No, do not do that.  You sell it, you require to resolve it.  Not push me around like a ping pong ball.

On the other side of the house, there are 3rd party content providers – including one of the biggest names in the industry – who are doing some questionable things.  Recently, I heard of a case, where a BIG NAME content provider (mostly courses), told a client who wanted to move from an LMS to an LEP, that they couldn’t move their content (courses) over, because it belonged to the LMS vendor.

That is 100% untrue.   First off, this vendor houses it on their own servers, not on the LMS. Secondly, the consumer bought the content – it is your content for as long as your contract exists (a year, two years, or by seats).  If I buy a course for 300 seats in one LMS, then a year later decide to move to another system,  then assuming the contract states it – it is still mine to move.   If I bought it at system X, and then switched to System Y and I do not plan to purchase the same number of seats or I want different pieces and – my contract doesn’t say one way or another what I can do, then they can make the argument – but what is the positive for them doing that? After all, it screams bad business.

Here’s why

a. If you like their content, and you ask to move it over, this means you want to keep their content on your new system.  In turn, this means the 3rd party content provider gets to negotiate a new contract or agreement (pricing for seats may have changed).  They retain their customer, you know how business works, and have a happy customer.

As a consumer though, you have some options – if you do not want to have the 3rd party provider house the content.   You can negotiate.   There are vendors who will say no we can’t, then you negotiate, then they will, even if it is not happening with any other customer on that system.

And you can and must negotiate that if this is the case, they will move the content for you, so you are not uploading this all day and night.   They will contact the LMS/LEP vendor (assuming the LEP allows for upload of content, and some do not), and work with them to load it, and test it to make sure it works.

I always wanted it on my system, regardless of what the 3rd party provider told me or my LMS vendor.  Finally, depending on the content, you have plenty of places to find it.  I mean if it is something rare like “Ebola”, you might be stuck with one or two.

Analyze Content

This is where, consumers – clients need to request (politely) that they get to see the content before buying it, especially when it is purchased in an LMS, LEP, etc.  Some vendors might have teasers – if video, but the majority do not.   If it is a bundle, look at each course.

With Linkedin Learning which comes with all the content via Lynda.com,  you are stuck with what you have.  Percepio from Skillsoft, houses only Skillsoft courses at this time.  But you still pay extra for the courses. Hey, thank you for that.  No, seriously, I don’t mean it.

If you go direct to the 3rd party provider, you can take a look at the content, prior to buying it.  The same should work with an LMS or LEP who offers a 3rd party content marketplace.  And if they do not, and are a big no to you, then you can:

a.  Go to the 3rd party provider, tell them you are looking at buying X from XLMS, and want to take a look prior to doing so.  They should show it to you. After all, selling it is selling it.  But this requires some legwork on your part, and vendors are betting that you won’t – i.e. learning system vendors – this is why, the marketplace exists – find it all right there – without having to look for it.

I like that part and believe that all learning systems should have a marketplace or exchange or whatever they want to pitch it at.  A one-stop shop.  The only concern is have the stuff that is interactive, engaging ideally, let alone stuff folks will want to buy, rather than lots of content which is trash.

The point to analyze is well, to analyze.  I should add, that when people tell me at conferences, how much they hate their LMS,  and we do a deeper dive, and a surprisingly solid number of them hate it because of the courses and content – that their learners are not using, thus they blame the system.  Uh, no, it is your fault.

Measure your content

Simply put, really study the analytical data on the content. How often it is being used? How many times are folks going back into it? How long?  If you have a TOC with your courses and your system has the ability to narrow down and identify the data by chapter – where are they going in the course, how often, how many times? 

In the LEP space, many identify what types of content they looked at. One vendor told me, they couldn’t tell me if they actually read (it was an article).  To me, the only data point from that, should be what types of articles are they selecting or clicking a link to?  But, with this vendor, that was not possible. Bummer.

This is why an LRS can really be useful in any learning system, because it enables you to really drill down on the data – related to the content.  Who is the top influencer might be of value to you, I’m not seeing it, because I want to know about the content and the data behind that  – because it can provide me KPI data, identify skill gaps, if it is B2B/B2C, what folks might be willing to buy – you know upsell here, and thus you build more of it, and so on.

This is on-going.

Promote

Always promote it. If you are adding new content – send out an announcement via e-mail or a newsletter.  Do not just rely on having it appear on everyone’s home page under “announcements”.   IF you are not excited about it, why should your learners be?  Think of it this way, “Recommended” is saying, we recommend you checking this out because it aligns to what you are currently or have completed.   Trending – based on popularity. 

So if you just signed – and added new content from XYZ via a course marketplace on an LMS or LEP, how is your learner going to be made aware of it, especially if you have other already in play?  Promote.

Optimize

Always make it better.  Better content. Better quality.  More engaging. More real-world.  Even with an LEP, where the learner is the driver, with the exception of them going out on the web and finding it, OR them uploading their own videos, etc.  – you as the client – can do all the other items listed above.  There are vendors who are adding video editors, so even with video – yours – not via YouTube, you can do a few things.  And within YouTube they have a creator studio (for free), so if you are posting videos out there, you can do some things too.  Then have it linked to your LMS.

Optimization will drive usage.  This includes by the way, culling the content.  Take out the bad stuff. Replace it.  If you bought a bundle of content via the 3rd party marketplace, remove the stuff that isn’t being used – first find out why (via measure), but if it bores you when you look at it, or is not engaging drop it, like the trash it is.

Bottom Line

Putting in a content strategy for your online learning should be a key step of your process.

It can be concurrent at the same time you are looking at an LMS.

It can be after you buy your LMS, LEP or any other learning system.

If you already have a system, don’t worry, you can still implement this strategy.

Regardless of your situation, an online content strategy will solve a lot of problems down the road.

A lot.

E-Learning 24/7

 

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