Despite major advancements in technology in recent years, the way organizations create documentation, learning and training has not changed much in the past decade. Reliance on traditional office tools such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint still dominates the market.
For the most part, document structures remain the same as they have for many years — linear, with static pages of information saved in individual, one-off files and folders.
But on-demand personalized and curated learning and training information will soon become a requirement for the content consumer, just as it has in marketing and customer communications. To accomplish this, the traditional authoring process for content will have to evolve from a linear approach to a data-driven and structured approach.
The entire process of creating learning and training content is poised for major upheaval and disruption.
Expectations are Changing
With on-the-job time shrinking and remote work gaining steam, customers and employees are pressed for time. Recent events have accelerated distributed and remote workforces all around the globe, causing organizations to re-think and re-imagine ways of delivery.
Josh Bersin calls this “Learning in the Flow of Work.” Organizations will have to prepare for this content disruption by shifting to a data-driven, highly organized, component-driven authoring and delivery methods.
Employees working in the field expect they will be able to look up a specific procedure as a refresher, exactly when they need it. On-site team members expect to access timely, up-to-date and succinct information to help answer a customer’s question. Employees learning new processes and procedures expect timely and relevant on-demand content, such as a short 3-minute reference video.
Help Me Find What I need Quickly
Help Me Grow My Career
Help Me Gather Knowledge Where I need it
From safety procedures to product education to sales training, content consumers want to be able to find knowledge in the platforms they are already using. It is no longer acceptable to trap content in an LMS that learners have to seek out, when individual pieces of content can easily be delivered to multiple channels where consumers are already engaged.
Static pages, slide decks, and PDF documents are standard delivery methods. Authors traditionally create a project from start to finish and publish in a specific format — to be delivered in a different format, the content typically has to be recreated from scratch.
Linear authoring models only work when one just one deliverable or experience type is needed (printed manuals, online courses, PowerPoint presentations, etc.), but what happens when those same pieces of information need to be used in a different format?
Organizations spend significant time cutting and pasting existing content (if they can find it) to publish for multiple outputs and experience types. Ultimately, linear authoring approaches trap content in one format or another, making it difficult to find, reuse and keep content in sync. We like to call this the context explosion problem.
Create Once, Use Everywhere
According to a recent report by Forrester, “the next decade will reveal new cloud-native, and structured approaches to document authoring — and enterprises need to get ready now.”
However, many organizations are just not set up to support this shift.
They adopt a one-and-done mentality to keep up with the latest product release, feature implementation, or procedural update. This leaves organizations drowning in content with the inability to maintain consistent messaging or even aggregate content for specific audiences.
The ‘create once and use everywhere’ mentality is already popular in other sectors (marketing being a prime example), so why hasn’t learning, training and documentation widely adopted this approach as well?
Adopting a new way of working seems daunting, but it’s worth it in the long-term.
Not only will modular, reusable content creation, management and delivery save teams time and money, they also make it possible to easily reuse and share content across the organization. This is where structured authoring comes in.
Structured Authoring Approach
Structured authoring is a component-based way of creating independent and self-contained chunks of content. Instead of a linear authoring approach, it takes a modular approach. Structured authoring sometimes gets a bad rap — authors often view it as non-creative way of creating content.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Structured authoring empowers content creators to focus on developing compelling content, interactions and experiences instead of focusing on the monotonous and time-consuming tasks of lining up bullets, formatting paragraphs or designing the layout. Standard pieces of information like boilerplate language and copyright statements do not have to be cut and pasted or rewritten over and over, they can be reused — improving accuracy and governance across all content.
Writing content in a modular format as opposed to a linear flow also allows authors to build a variety of documents using the same content — rearranging, moving, or removing parts for quicker assembly into different formats and experiences.
Content becomes more flexible and dynamic, saving significant time and effort.
We like to think of this content strategy as “the building block method.”
Although we recognize that traditional tools like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Articulate Storyline, and Adobe Captivate have their place in content production, using WYSIWYG tools to create, centralize and distribute content at scale always falls short.
These tools only perpetuate one-off, singular use documents that lock content into specific formats. Evolving to a more flexible and component-based approach gives content consumers an avenue through which they can find and consume content when and how they need it.
This can only be achieved through a structured authoring model.
Preparing for Content Disruption
Content will only keep growing and content platforms will keep expanding.
To be successful, organizations must treat content as a competitive advantage. Linear authoring and delivery must be phased out and transformed into a data-driven, intelligent, component-based, structured approach. Putting the customer and employee experience at the forefront means establishing a new way of working.
To tackle this change and get ahead of forthcoming content disruption, we recommend starting small to build a foundation, and then expanding to additional teams and departments, refining as you go.
Making this shift and tackling content disruption isn’t easy, but organizations that do it successfully will gain a huge advantage in the marketplace.
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