Years ago, the information that training, documentation, and marketing professionals created for their respective audiences contained very distinct and recognizable characteristics. Personnel with differing skill sets and talents in each of these departments developed the content with various intentions.
However, today’s global and digital information landscape requires training, documentation, and marketing practitioners to rethink and repackage information for their demanding and wired audiences. In a world that is saturated with digital content, your customers want information that informs, educates, and solves their problems at the critical moment of need. If you’re a training, documentation, or marketing professional, and you want your messages to resonate with your audience, you must now view your role through the Learning Lens. Think of yourself as an engaging educator – not just a content creator.
Blending the disciplines and delivering learning content
Thanks to the speed, ubiquity, and accessibility of information distribution on the Web, customers expect a company’s online communications to have value and relevance to their lives. In addition, the nature of information retrieval on the Web is pushing all manner of online experiences to become less prescriptive, less rigid, and less controlled. As a result, training, documentation, and marketing efforts are harder to distinguish from each other and bear more resemblance to self-paced learning.
Let’s look at each of these three areas more closely:
Traditional training has been a scheduled event at a particular location, led by an instructor in a designated classroom. This kind of training can be time consuming and costly while lacking the continuous learning and reinforcement that employees need to advance and maintain skills over time. In order to meet the learning objectives of today’s mobile and distributed workforce, training professionals are converting classroom curricula into self-paced eLearning courses and making content more accessible and applicable.
Installation guides, user manuals, and other types of printed documentation are increasingly replaced with information sought online on Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, and countless other discussion boards, blogs, and portals where customers and experts exchange information and advice. Documentation is no longer confined to printed pages that are shrink-wrapped with the product. The concept of documentation has expanded to include just-in-time self-help resources of all kinds such as knowledge bases, chat forums, video tutorials, eLearning courses, interactive games, and live Webinars. Customers expect product learning experiences to occur wherever and whenever the need arises – in the least amount of time required and in the most convenient way possible.
Traditional advertising and promotional messages are increasingly ignored by prospects and often viewed as annoying interruptions to their busy day. As a result, marketing practitioners are investing more time and money in the development of non-promotional content – such as white papers, case studies, how-to videos, best-practice articles, and other such tools that deliver value. Prospects are alerted to these information assets through social media channels, and they consume these resources when and where they need them. This new marketing approach is referred to as “inbound” or “content marketing;” it's about informing without interruption and educating without pretense.
New proficiencies needed
In order to form meaningful and productive relationships with customers and employees, content producers in an organization should produce materials intended to inform and educate rather than simply promote or saturate. Content providers need to address the learning needs of their customers and meet those needs quickly before they are abandoned for better sources. As a result, the success of an organization is increasingly dependent upon the effectiveness of the content it produces. And this effectiveness is directly related to the learning qualities invested in the content.
Developing content that is oriented toward on-demand learning requires professionals working in training, marketing, and documentation to develop new proficiencies. In the past, documentation experts might have specialized in technical writing, trainers might have focused on face-to-face presentation skills, and marketers may have directed their efforts toward successful copywriting. Today, however, all three professionals need to develop skills related to Web technology, multimedia formats, instructional design, information delivery, content management, and learning strategies such as blended learning, unstructured learning, and social learning.