On Friday, I had the pleasure of a conversation of Kris Rockwell, CEO of Hybrid Learning for my in-process mobile learning book. I’d sought him out because of how he was developing mobile. Using content models to separate out the content from how it gets rendered for display, he’s creating more flexibility across devices. This combines two of my passions, and is part of a performance ecosystem strategy.
Hybrid uses DITA, a standard for wrapping definition around content, to develop their content. He presented powerful arguments to use this open source topic-based approach. For one, being open source, you’re not locked in to a proprietary format, yet backed by IBM it’s well supported. Second, it’s lightweight, compared to say S1000D (which I hadn’t heard of). And, of course, it’s portable across systems, meaning your solution doesn’t die even if your vendor does!
The use of a specification for such description around the content being developed is something I argue for regardless of mobile delivery or not. When you wrap more rigor, and more semantic granularity around your development process, you’re well on your way to an organized content governance process. For instance, if you design into a template even for the quick one-off requests that often come through the door in learning units, you are more likely to be able to reuse that content elsewhere, and, conversely, draw upon available content to shorten the development time. Done properly, the if you update the source one place, the changes should propagate throughout the relevant content! There are lots of cost efficiencies being found in documentation with this approach, and it should percolate into elearning as well.
What Kris is also finding, however, is a real advantage in content portability across mobile devices. Content so developed can easily be re-rendered for different devices, if they don’t already have the capability to hand. He argues convincingly that designing for a device is a bad approach, and designing for device-independent delivery gives you the power not only to hit more platforms but also more flexibility for new platforms that emerge. In short, your content development costs are amortized across more delivery options and ‘future-proofed’.
There was a lot more of interest in the conversation, including layered exploration (a “drill down” navigation style) and the potential for ordinary cell phones (dumbphones) to be viable delivers of instruction. But that’s a topic for another day. The take home for today, however, is think content models as well as mobile.