In my elearning strategy approach, I have a step called “greater integration”. While it encompasses several steps, at core it’s about consolidating your content development and knowledge management. And the key is single-sourcing, coupled with semantics, writing once to populate multiple outputs, with structure and tags indicating what the content is in multiple ways. It’s become a theme in the content community, and is beginning to be explored in elearning as well.
The benefits are that you write less, and you get more flexibility, such as auto-populating your help systems, customer and employee training, and manuals. You also can deliver web, print, and mobile. The costs are up-front analysis and content management, which should be done anyway, and tighter constraints around elements, which requires more discipline.
XML of course helps here, and SCORM does too, but there’s another layer which adds meaning on top of the content: DITA. This allows you to define what things are and are about, which isn’t intrinsic to SCORM, and provides an elegant structure on top of XML. I’ve recognized the potential from work on Intellectricity, an adaptive learning system we built from ’99 to ’01, on a subsequent performance support system that we populated from the same content that was going into the print manual, and most recently on a project moving an organization from content development to online experience. What I didn’t have was any real evidence of it being applied to elearning content, though I know it should.
Reuben Tozman from edCetra Training spoke on the use of DITA at the DevLearn conference last month. I didn’t get to attend his session (too many interesting things at once), but I followed up with him and had a great conversation. His firm did early work on structuring content into models using DITA that got picked up on in several places and got him invited to join the OASIS DITA Learning and Training Content Specialization SC. This is a group working on developing DITA standards for elearning. He was kind enough to help clarify my understanding of DITA’s role vs SCORM (semantics vs packaging), and to mention several examples. Not surprisingly, IBM is working here, but apparently Sun is also.
What with flexible components of software systems being coupled by web services, similarly flexible content components (including media and interactivity, we’re not talking static here) can be coupled by tags and business rules to create custom/personalized/optimized content for individuals based upon roles, tasks, context, etc (see Delivering the Dream white paper, PDF). Even without the customization, however, we can stop the redundant development of content that means that sales training, customer training, and support systems are rewriting the same marketing and engineering material.
The benefits start with efficiency, but the flexibility is the real win. It requires breaking down some organizational silos, but that’s something that should be happening anyway.
I suggest we’ll see more of this in the future. I was touting games a number of years ago, and finally saw it cross the chasm into the mainstream. I’m thinking mobile’s there now. I predict that smart content will be there in maybe a year or two. Who’s ready for the future?