How to invest in learning content for your organisation?

Speaking to fellow talent development colleagues at a recent event, I probed them on their organisation’s approach to learning content. Not blended learning (that’s primarily about the method and media). Not digital technology (that’s primarily about access and delivery). But, I was interested in how they make decisions about learning content. When do they build in-house and when do they commission it to an external agency? What about leadership content? What about proprietary, technical content? How do they incorporate all the ‘free’ stuff out there? What about generic content libraries?

After a deep sigh (and it could so easily have been a slight shrug, raised eyebrow or rolled-up eyes), one of my colleagues said something very insightful, ‘With so much technology thrown at me, I don’t know where to begin’.

As you can sense, this is a topic of great interest for me. I have been developing a framework (it’s still work in progress) that helps answer the following question, ‘How should I invest in learning content for my organisation?’. And I would love to get your inputs towards improving this framework.

Before I describe the framework, it’s important to describe three key principles of this framework:

1. Context + Content = Curation: Learning content can come from a wide variety of sources. Employees may learn from watching a TED Talk video on creativity or a YouTube video on excel skills. But how do we steer them away from inaccurate or irrelevant content? And, how do we get subject matter experts to provide the context (‘this is how we want to do it here’)? Highly contextual content, i.e. curated content, plays a critical role in optimising your investment in learning.

2. The Content Pyramid: Take all the learning content in your organisation. Put the freely available content, including the ‘free stuff’, openly sourced, generic content (Udacity, YouTube, Google, MOOCs, COTS libraries) at the base. Next, put the carefully chosen and / or crafted content (user-generated videos, curated content, system emulation, performance support) in the middle. And at the very top, put the content that is hard-coded to support your business strategy and its capability development demands (proprietary or technical content, customised and commissioned content). The resulting shape, in itself, will tell you a lot about your current content investment. Is your pyramid choking in the middle? Is it inverted (heavy at the top)?

3. Do Less with Less: Economic pressures over the last decade have demanded that talent professionals ‘do more with less’. And, in my view, we have responded (some may argue, we have reacted) with reluctant obedience and with technology. Changing this paradigm and challenging ourselves to ‘do less with less’ is the third and final component of getting the most value from your learning investment. The key here is focus – identifying and curating a smaller portfolio of learning content that aligns with business strategy (and does not confuse the learner).

The framework (see Figure) places the content pyramid at the centre. It then places two levers, one on either side of the base of the pyramid. The first lever allows you ‘flex’ the extent of organisational context required in learning content, and the second lever allows you to ‘flex’ the build versus buy decision. This gives you four ‘zones’ to operate your learning content strategy.

Content Pyramid_Shobhit Bajaj v0 3

Zone A: Loaded with highly contextual content, and probably even commercially sensitive, proprietary content, that is built internally. Technical content fits here the best, and therefore this zone is characterised by significant investment of time from your in-house subject matter experts. Do also take into account the opportunity cost of their time spent away from their day-jobs.

Zone B: A rather peculiar zone, as building content in-house for capabilities that have established industry accreditations seems counter-intuitive. Project management skills for example. Increasingly, this zone will gain relevance as organisations continue to ‘adapt’ industry practices to suit their unique methods and tools.

Zone C: Probably the most versatile zone as it can easily span across all the three tiers of the pyramid. You can partner with a content provider for customising the sales methodology to fit your organisation’s strategy. You can equally partner with an accreditation body for continuing professional development.

Zone D: A zone with tremendous potential for positively impacting the ROI equation. With some support and vetting from business subject matter experts, a small portfolio of MOOCs and online libraries can be effectively targeted to meet specific capability development demands. On-demand, job skills accessed from the public domain can be equally identified and targeted. And guess what, it doesn’t cost the moon.

But what about ‘digital’, ‘social’ and ‘mobile’?

I have steered clear from these three trends while talking about content, as I believe these have (should) become core to any learning strategy, particularly in the delivery of that strategy.

So, what’s the shape of your content pyramid?
Are you building too much or too little content?
Which zone are you operating in?

Do share your inputs as I am keen to develop this framework further.

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