Why you need XML to reuse learning content

In his seminal article Education and Training: the Road Ahead, Joe DiDonatos refers to the 20/30/50 model for delivering and teaching content. In this framework, the most effective and long lasting training results are derived from the following mix: 20% classroom training, 30% e-learning and 50% performance support.

Unfortunately, training organizations are far from delivering to learners this ideal blended learning environment. This is due to the overwhelming tendency to create content for a singular purpose (e.g. instructor-led training) and then recreate that same content for another purpose (e.g. e-learning) using a different tool. It is the Achilles heel of the training industry.

Training organizations need to find a more efficient and cost-effective way to meet the customization and performance support demands of learners. And that means embracing XML for content reuse. The good news is that this is not a new concept, adopting a single source XML framework has proven phenomenally successful in other domains such as product documentation and publishing. The benefits reaped by these industries can be easily applied to learning content. Here is how:

Reuse across multiple audiences

XML allows you to break learning content down into granular elements that can be reused and repurposed in many forms and many contexts. At its most basic definition, XML is simply a way of labeling information by identifying its components and structure. This semantic mark-up gives us detailed access to the content. As a result, applications can now process these pieces in different ways, greatly increasing the usefulness and the value of content.

To illustrate, how a piece of machinery works is something that affects multiple job roles at a manufacturing site. On the flip side, how to operate that piece of machinery is specific to the machine operator and how to draw a sample from that machine for testing is unique to the quality associate. XML allows us to tag these information components as shared or audience specific. Applications supporting XML can process the shared content to appear in all e-learning courses for example and filter the audience specific content to appear only in courses taken by employees in a certain job roles. This filtering can apply to almost any variable, be it departments, brands, product lines, geographies, etc.

Reuse across multiple formats

XML represents data in a platform-neutral, open, and extensible manner. In other words, XML is channel-independent and as such, allows you to deliver content real time in a variety of formats to worldwide audiences. Content maintains its quality, integrity and security no matter how it is delivered – via instructor-led training, online courses or mobile performance support applications.

Research compiled by Chapman Alliance and Brandon-Hall, shows the ratio of development hours to course hours is 34:1 for instructor-led training and 33:1 for converting PowerPoint from this instructor-led training to e-learning. In these instances the same learning content is created twice, once for each output format. By contrast, if course content is created in XML, which separates content from presentation, the output format would be a non-factor. In other words, there would be no need to spend 33 meaningless hours to convert existing content.

The trade off is that content development needs to take on a more formalized approach than most authors may be used to, but the productivity gains that can be achieved using XML are enormous.

Real-time customization

XML gives you the ability to create customized training information by assembling on-demand, multiple pieces of learning content into a single document. In other words, it allows you to “slice and dice”?learning content on-the-fly to create new training products and deliver information personalized to individual requirements.

Content customization is something that the majority of training organizations struggle with due to the excessive cost and resources required to create and maintain hundreds of versions of the same content, but tweaked to individual requirements. XML solves this problem by allowing you to break content down into relevant pieces and tag it for different profiles (e.g. use this compliance procedure for learners located in only the US) and different outputs (e.g. use this graphic if outputting to mobile devices).

Using this XML-base approach, customization is no longer manual. Instead, it’s a completely automated, on-demand and self-service process. One that reuses the same content over and over, simply assembling and distributing it based on a learner’s input.

Instant Content Synchronization

In case it hasn’t become clear yet. XML allows you to create content once and reuse it across multiple training products and outputs. This drastically reduces one of the biggest costs associated with content development: maintenance.

With XML, when a change is made to a piece of content, that edit can be automatically propagated to all training products where that content appears. Eliminated is the need to update the content in print documents and then updating it again in e-learning courses and then updating again in performance support applications and so on. XML ensures content integrity and content timeliness. For companies that are highly regulated, this can even dwarf the massive cost savings achieved from not having to maintain multiple versions of learning content.

Dawn Poulos has over 10 years of experience in the high-tech sector both in the US & Europe. She is the author of several white papers & trade articles focusing on the topics of XML integration, as well as storage, search, and business intelligence. Dawn Poulos holds an undergraduate degree in Finance and Accounting from the University of Cincinnati and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
http://www.xyleme.com

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