Sometimes the best ideas come from outside your industry.
Innovation is incredible. At times, it’s totally unbelievable as it doesn’t have a prescribed formula.
What if I told you, looking beyond your own industry can unexpectedly solve the biggest problems in a jiffy?
I know it can be a little difficult to agree in the beginning. However, it is interesting to know how industries often get ideas from other industries, sometimes from completely unrelated ones.
A very famous Harvard case study is a perfect example. It explains how 3M, a highly innovative company, got their breakthrough from theatrical makeup specialists, amid figuring out a bandage material to prevent infections associated with surgery. They turned the innovation into a multi-billion-dollar business.
Recently, Harbinger conducted a Power Hour titled “Revive Aging eLearning Content with Proven Techniques from Technology Teams.” This webinar focused on combating aging learning content concerns with powerful techniques and fundamentals deployed to resolve tech debt issues.
Hosted by Dr. Vikas Joshi, CEO, of Harbinger Group, the panelists included Apratim Purakayastha (fondly known as AP), CPTO, Skillsoft and Poonam Jaypuriya, VP – eLearning, Harbinger Group.
To set the context, the topic of the webinar was extremely curious, unique, and never touched upon in the past.
Content Aging: The Reality Check
Facing rapid digital transformation and a seismic shift to remote work, companies are more focused on keeping their workforce updated, motivated, and in sync with what’s happening in their industry.
With evolving technology and knowledge, it has become highly imperative for businesses to revamp, redesign, and revive training courses to make them relevant.
Today, old, and obsolete learning content is not only ineffective, but flawed training courses can also prove to be extremely detrimental as it can:
- Pass on incorrect information
- Reduce training effectiveness
- Increase unnecessary cost and workload
- Aggravate user frustration
- And more.
Addressing Content Aging from a Tech Debt Resolution Angle
eLearning producers are constantly occupied and worried about updating courses that have started to look old, failing to engage the learner, or are not delivering value as expected.
It’s time to understand if such kinds of issues have been dealt with in the past by other industries, and if these industries could solve similar issues, it’s possible to overcome content aging with a tech debt resolution strategy. One extreme example here is the obsolescence of code in tech firms. And therefore, our first stop in today’s journey is focused on understanding the concept of tech debt.
The Game Plan
- Understanding tech debt
- Understanding content aging and its indicators
- Strategies to reduce content debt
- Strategies to avoid and manage content debt
Understanding Tech Debt from Experts
Dr. Vikas Joshi asked our panelists a well-rounded question to clear the air on the topic.
How do technology teams manage obsolescence of code? What lessons can we draw to manage aging content?
AP: On the professional front, I face technology debt almost all the time. And at the same time, since I am now also responsible for content production at Skillsoft, we produce thousands of hours of content every year.
Talking about the life of content, the learning material that we produce at Skillsoft has a shelf life of sometimes roughly less than 12 months and for some the shelf life is less than 36 months. Therefore, understanding content debt and how tech debt principles can be used to reduce content debt is extremely intriguing.
There is #techdebt because your code stack is old, or you are using an older language. Tech debt can also be related to performance, time, age, security, and so on. Similarly, the type of #contentdebt varies too.
Tech debt, indeed, is a complicated topic. Also, it’s important to understand that debt is not always bad. Primarily, tech debt is a fundamental conflict between time to market and solid technical foundations. Sometimes, you are lucky to have all the time for a solid technical foundation, but often engineers have to take a few shortcuts. This is exactly how content debt also gets accumulated at times.
Poonam: While I design eLearning solutions for our customers, it’s definitely an extremely satisfying journey to create and launch them in the market. But interestingly, the job doesn’t end there. This is because information gets dated pretty quickly – not just on the content front, but also from the design standpoint.
As learners, we have consumed content in different forms, and even if the look and feel of the content are not up to the mark, one almost feels that the content is of no-good use either. However, from a content producer perspective, it’s essential to think about updating courses from different aspects in order to reduce content debt and make training more effective.
Understanding Content Aging and its Indicators: Early Signs to Identify
Outdated learning content can lead to obsolescence, inconsistency, irrelevancy, additional costs, and unproductive employees within no time.” – after the “Understanding Content Aging and its Indicators: Early Signs to Identify
“Unlike fine wine, content barely ages well. When training programs age or get outdated, they can accumulate a lot of debt and prove extremely unfavorable for several aspects of a business.”
However, before your business falls into this uncertainty, it is essential to identify the red flags that indicate your content is aging (it could also be on the design front).
Here is a list of warning signs to beware of:
- Reduction in usage of courses
- Consistent reduction in course ratings
- A support desk loaded with issues in older content
- Content not accessible on the latest devices or browsers
- Inadequacy of content to serve your users and the inability to inform or guide them to take actions
- And more…
L&D often gets a bad reputation if learning consumes a lot of time of employees and money and yet delivers ineffective business results. As training programs are essential investments toward building product quality, company culture, and a safe work environment, content owners should keep a watch on these warning signs.
Strategies to Reduce Content Debt
Content debt can have several repercussions on business operations as mentioned in the point above. However, certain strategies to manage content debt can be put in place to smartly deal with the issue.
Attack the place where the maximum impact is. This is where data plays a crucial role by helping with primary identification.
Moving ahead, businesses can find courses that are most frequently updated or the ones which are the most used by their learners. Maintaining these courses and doing it right the first time matters, because right there you may have solved a big part of your content debt problem.
Set Up Dedicated Teams
While setting up a dedicated team, it is vital to have the right focus of the workforce on new development and at the same time, a focus on updates.
Here is an example that explains the concept better.
One of Harbinger’s customers based out of San Diego have a large health content library, and an internal team completely dedicated to new course development. As they are in contact with the doctors, it is easier for them to create new content to maintain the courses, and to keep them fresh and relevant.
However, to make sure they do not accumulate any content debt, they have team Harbinger focusing on updates to strike the right balance.
Design Master Templates
This step is more from a development standpoint, where it is essential to have in place a certain development standard for the team. And the one that we follow at Harbinger is designing the master template which helps save the pain of making any change screen by screen. This practice only demands making a change at the template level, making life easy.
At Harbinger, we engage in a lot of automation to help customers fix things at scale. It is extremely useful in executing large content migration projects and reducing manual errors along the way. To give you an example, if a company has several courses in an old format like Flash or PPTs; and the customer decides to go with an LCMS like Xyleme or dominKnow. The biggest challenge for this change would be to migrate old content in the new format rapidly and in the right way. This is where automation becomes an integral part of the solution.
Set Up Systems
Setting up the right system is an element that needs to be looked at from a long-term perspective. One of the common systems that Harbinger has helped customers set up for content management is an LCMS.
Customers should consider this especially if there is a huge library of content that can be reused, needed in various formats, or go through frequent changes. As an example, one of the Harbinger customers in the US had a huge library of Instructor-Led training content spread across hundreds of PPT’s and some part of their content was common and used across multiple courses. On the solution front we worked on setting up Xyleme templates to create nugget-based courses and migrated learning content. So, now if they want to make any change it can be done at one place and can be reflected across multiple courses.
There can be creative and interesting ways of using technology.
For example, one of Harbinger’s customers had a huge library of eLearning courses in Articulate Storyline. They wanted the courses to be available in multiple languages. Harbinger recommended that instead of creating multiple Storyline files with translated content, we switched them to a custom HTML 5 solution and migrated the content into JSON files. The benefit of this was that only JSON files needed to be translated at the backend and the same HTML course could be played in different languages.