Extended enterprise training is an endlessly fascinating corner of the learning universe. Why? One reason is training content. It’s paramount for success, but you can’t buy it off the shelf. It is always custom and proprietary. You design it, create it and own it.
This kind of training content isn’t about teaching customers, partners and contractors how to use Microsoft Word or Excel. It’s about teaching them how to succeed with your products and services. And that’s why your instructional content deserves to be treated as a strategic asset.
Training Content as a Competitive Advantage
Most extended enterprise learning professionals come from a background in sales, marketing or customer service – not HR or training. Nevertheless, in 2021 they must also be custom training content specialists. That’s because, in one way or another, every organization really is an extended enterprise learning business.
As a result, superior training content experiences are the new competitive bar. It’s no longer enough to just be in the game when your competitor is outperforming you in measurable ways.
So, how can you level up your instructional content? To help you get started, I’d like to share some first-hand experience I’ve acquired during the last 18 months while building our new premium research and education site, the Talented Learning Center.
First-Hand Training Content Experience
The “TLC” is a membership-based extended enterprise site, driven by a modern LMS that we’ve loaded with a rich collection of proprietary instructional and informational content. It is intended specifically for people who are interested in extended enterprise learning systems and strategies.
Over the past year, we’ve designed and developed almost 300 content items for the TLC, and more than 50 more pieces of content are currently in various stages of production. We’re developing all of this content internally, without third-party help.
To say we’ve become obsessed with training content is an understatement.
I won’t kid you. The early days were rough for Team TLC. With so much to accomplish, we weren’t sure exactly where to start. Program design, instructional design, skill model development, content scripting, authoring, video and graphic production – the list was daunting. I had left many of those skillsets behind years ago. So I braced myself for a steep learning curve.
But fortunately, I broke through analysis paralysis when I remembered our stash of “secret sauce” hidden in plain sight. Over nearly a decade as a learning systems industry analyst, I had built a knowledge base of expertise from multiple sources:
However, I had never organized this intelligence in a way that could guide training content development. So I decided to dig for nuggets of useful wisdom about how to develop a winning online learning business.
I was determined to find the most useful ideas and put them into practice for TLC members. Fortunately, I found what I was looking for, and I’d like to share some of that advice with you.
Training Content Considerations
Below are 11 key content practices and trends that led me through TLC development. I’ve also included links to TLC elements that illustrate these concepts. Hopefully, this will make training content creation smoother for you, too:
1) Skill Models – Most association professionals tell me it’s smart to begin by developing a skill model for each target audience. Then they tie learning objectives, content and assessments to those skills. This process informs learning program strategy, content design and development timelines.
For the TLC, our first two skill models focus on a) professionals who are buying and deploying an LMS and b) professionals who are selling learning systems. This exercise was a fantastic way to paint the big picture. Now, every piece of content we develop has a specific, relevant place in our model.
2) Content Types – Once we solidified our skill models, we had to decide which content types are best for teaching each of the skills. Instructional design 101. Most experts emphasize the need to address diverse learner preferences, behaviors and habits, and the importance of access to relevant content in the moment of need.
This means it’s smart to offer a la cart content in a variety of formats, along with learning paths for those who prefer more context and structure. The TLC follows that advice with content available in a spectrum of videos, microlessons, courses, training plans and certifications. All of these elements are tied directly to the skill model as a learning framework.
3) Authoring Tools – Every training provider must determine which authoring tool to use when building asynchronous content. Many extended enterprise LMS providers now include embedded authoring functionality – not just for assembling content, but also for building content with page templates, interactions and assessments. These tools are easy to use. Plus, they eliminate the need to find, evaluate and purchase a separate authoring tool.
We chose this route, mainly because evaluating a variety of authoring tools was more than we wanted to take on, along with everything else. Concerned about what might happen to your content if you change LMS vendors in the future? To minimize the risk of losing content portability, you can follow our approach. At the DNA level, our content is Camtasia-created video, streamed from Wista and YouTube.
4) Microlearning – Most extended enterprise experts recommend “chunking” content into smaller pieces. But exactly how small? Many say it depends. Think about whatever the smallest “bite” of content is needed to teach one learning objective (skill). In the TLC, we provide microlearning content as short as a 2-minute video clip or as long as a 10-15-minute “microlesson.”
But with so many bits of content, how can you ensure that learners will quickly and easily find what they need? You need a bullet-proof tagging strategy.
5) Tagging Strategy – Here’s my “lessons learned” advice about tagging. When we founded Talented Learning, we never considered content metatags. So over time, our tagging structure sprawled to 1000s of terms, many of which were repetitive (LMS, Learning Management, Learning Management System, etc).
With the TLC, I planned ahead. In a spreadsheet, I created a 35-category tagging system and defined each of the values in each category. For example, our TLC catalog has an “LMS Use Cases” category. There is no variation on that term.
Whenever we publish a piece of content, we assign categories only from the pre-defined values list. With almost 300 pieces of content tagged in this way, our content structure has grown into a thing of wonder and extreme usefulness. As it turns out, our tagging system aligns tightly with our skill model!
6) Content Curation – Microlearning is great, but it quickly becomes overwhelming for learners. Where to start a journey? To simplify that decision process for learners, it pays to do some upfront thinking and preparation.
Curation is the act of sorting through large volumes of training content and presenting it in a meaningful, organized way to streamline the learning process. TLC curation examples include learning plans, certifications and compilations for customer or partner onboarding.
7) Adaptive Learning – Think of this as content personalization within learning content, itself. At its simplest, the content path can show (or hide) certain elements based on a learner’s job, role or organization and demographic data stored in the learner’s profile. More advanced adaptive strategies use skills, competencies, assessments, surveys, timelines and content media preferences to customize a learner’s path.
Our first step towards adaptive learning in the TLC is the concept of use case “hubs” where we aggregate content by use case topics that are most relevant to learners. Our second step will be a certification skill assessment, which adjusts each learner’s path, based on their existing skillset.
8) Webinars – During the pandemic, we’ve all learned that live and on-demand webinars are an easy, cheap, popular content type to produce, promote and manage. With user-friendly tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams, it’s relatively simple to create, present and record a presentation based on PowerPoint slides or any screen-sharing content. Plus, polling, chat and collaboration tools can boost engagement among virtual attendees.
Each month at Talented Learning, we host a live monthly webinar and then catalog the content in TLC as on-demand webinars and panel discussions for our premium members. We also extract webinar excerpts and repurpose them as bite-sized standalone content elements or as microlessons.
9) Video – I’m continually amazed at how easy it is to produce video now. For much of my career, it was too costly and time-consuming for all but the most deep-pocketed training content providers. Now, nearly any smartphone, laptop or external camera makes it easy to shoot and record professional-quality digital footage that is also easy to edit in a variety of tools.
After hours and hours of trial and error, I finally learned how to capture solid video and audio, and then edit the file in Camtasia. But now that I’ve figured out the process, producing new video and publishing it on the TLC site is straightforward, efficient. I’d even say fast. Check out this short video as an example of what I learned during quarantine.
10) Screen-Capture Video – Of course, video doesn’t always focus on a talking head. Instead, it may focus on how to use software, with product demonstrations and guided tours that may or may not include voice-over.
I’ve found that screen-capture video with audio voice-over is much easier to create than video with talking heads. For example, from the comfort of my couch, I used SnagIt to create these videos and publish them on the TLC: “Vendor Shortlister,” Educational Content Overview and Living Vendor Profile.
11) Incentives – Contests and incentives were a surprisingly common theme that emerged from my interviews with experts. Many recommend numerous techniques to create buzz and excitement among external learning audiences.
These incentives can be offered within a learning platform, for example with tools to manage points, awards, badges, levels, “belts,” leaderboards and rewards. They can also be managed with marketing capabilities like free starter content for registered learners, free premium content trials and even giveaways.
Currently in the TLC, we track and award points on the backend of the LMS, and we plan to start publicly rolling out points, badges and awards later this summer.
I could keep going (and in future posts, I probably will). There is so much more I’ve learned in this process – often the hard way. But I’m not done learning. The path was longer and steeper than I expected, and much of the work invisible for a long time. But I’m confident that the TLC is built on a rock-solid skill model, content strategy and technology foundation that we can build on for years to come.
I encourage you to go ahead and explore the links in this post. Once you see these concepts up close for yourself, I hope you’ll be inspired to revisit your own training content strategy and take it to the next level.
Thanks for reading!