In Real Life: Content Is Holding L&D Back

Written By

JD Dillon

July 18, 2017

Is your training content more like beans or ice cream? We’ll come back to that…

Content is a big consideration for organizations that are trying to evolve their learning and performance strategies. Most L&D teams, especially in large enterprises, aren’t starting from scratch. You’ve likely spent thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars building your content library. You’ve pieced together customized curricula that map to job codes across the company. You’ve even categorized your library based on the HR-approved competency list. Sure, half of this stuff was designed pre-2010, but it’s your content. You want to make the most of it! So, if you start to explore new strategies or technologies, you have to consider what may happen to all of that content.

There is, of course, a reason you’re looking for new ways to modernize your L&D practices. No, it’s not your content’s fault, but your content may be a symptom of a larger problem that continues to stifle many L&D teams. The more courses we have and the more topics we cover, the better we can explain our value to business stakeholders. Or at least we thought that was how it worked. We’ve fallen into the trap of associating our value as L&D to our content. But the workplace isn’t school—even if we do throw around the term “university” all the time. We’re no longer judged by seat times, completions, and test scores—even for compliance topics. In real life, the only content that matters is content that has a measurable impact on business results.

Transformation, not evolution

Figure 1: The fundamental mindset shift required of L&D today

Kick-starting the transformation to become a modern learning organization requires a fundamental mindset shift. Rather than put our library at the center of our efforts, we must shift our focus to the individual employee and design a right-fit learning and support experience that enables organizational goals. We must view content within the framework of this experience design and apply new criteria to determine its value. This includes content you already have, as well as new materials you will build as part of your reimagination.

Beans vs. ice cream

Figure 2: Beans—available but not in demand (Pixabay)

Back to the beans and ice cream. Many L&D pantries are stocked with content that fits one of two extremes. In this analogy, beans are materials that are always available for consumption but not all that appetizing or in demand. I’m looking at you, generic soft-skills training! We often spend big dollars to build archives of third-party content for the sake of saying we offer courses in familiar things like communication and Excel 2010. Sure, some people like beans. Of course, they’re better than nothing. But, if you look at your utilization rates, you’ll likely notice employees aren’t knocking down the pantry door for heaping servings of beans.

Figure 3: Ice cream—yummy, but it isn’t good for long (Pixabay)

On the other side of the pantry is the ice cream. This content tastes great and gets awesome feedback—because who doesn’t like ice cream?! However, ice cream also expires pretty quickly, meaning this content is only good for a short time. This can include materials from past product launches, cultural initiatives from five years ago, and systems training you’ve been duct-taping for the past decade. That initial burst of engagement ultimately doesn’t lead to sustained business results, and the content’s usefulness is diminished after initial consumption.

Now, take a close look at the 600 LMS modules that are stopping you from making a meaningful change to your L&D strategy. I’m sure you have several great content pieces in your mix. But, honestly, how many of your courses are a bit beany, and how many are starting to taste like expired, melty ice cream? (I’ll end the strained food-analogy here.)

Assess and replace

As you work to boost your L&D impact, assess your content strategy in order to determine how well it aligns to modern learning principles. Specifically, a modern content strategy must:

  • Focus on providing clear, measurable business value (not completions or passing scores)
  • Be built for agility so content can evolve with the business (not become stuck in the past)
  • Address the capabilities needed to execute complex roles (not focus on job titles only)
  • Abide by organizational resource capabilities and limitations (not the skills of a single developer or vendor)
  • Acknowledge alternative learning content sources (aka, the Internet)
  • Keep pace with consumer experiences (because employees will notice the difference)

Modern learning organizations recognize that library size doesn’t matter. Rather, they leverage smaller selections of meaningful, high-impact content that help individuals and the business achieve their goals.

Here are six steps you can take if you think your content is holding back your L&D evolution:

  1. Forget about your content (for a moment). Blue-sky your learning and performance experience design based on the changing needs of the business and without the hindrance of existing content. Work your way back from future potential rather than worrying about what’s possible right now.
  2. Expand your definition. Modern L&D teams leverage a wide array of content from a variety of sources. Rather than focus on what you have built or bought, include open-source, curated, and user-generated content in your evolving strategy.
  3. Have a frank conversation. Be honest with yourself. What content matches your new experience design and should therefore stay in some form? What doesn’t, and needs to go? Make these calls based on real impact, not Level 1 scores or past expense.
  4. Don’t think rip-and-replace. By no means am I suggesting you toss your entire content library and start from scratch. You may be able to eliminate large chunks right off the bat; however, it’s more likely that you’ll be making small changes over time based on business priorities.
  5. Apply an ecosystem mentality. A modern approach to learning starts with access to shared knowledge. Begin your evolution by finding new ways to connect those who know with those who need. This will help you quickly build a curated collection focused on real needs, not artificial competencies, and help cushion the removal of less valuable formal content.
  6. Never let your content become beans. (OK, one more food reference.) Content management processes are often focused more on accuracy and less on value. Leverage performance data and the wisdom of your crowd to continuously evaluate the value of your content. If an item is no longer deemed useful in helping people solve a problem, what’s the point in keeping it around?
Content will continue to be a big part of what we do as L&D. However, as we shift from a content-centric mentality to focus on the employee experience, we must rethink the role content plays in helping people improve their performance and achieve business goals. Just having something to offer in the LMS isn’t good enough. We must be willing to let go, recognize the limited lifespan of our materials, and base our ultimate value on impact, not catalogue. It’s time to shift our L&D identity from being creators to active connectors within our learning and performance communities.

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