The Road Ahead – Trends for Learning in 2018 – Content
Content is King?
There are those who will argue that content is and always was King: though, depending on your focus, it does seem to have taken a back seat for a while now. Today, ‘content’ wrestles with some of the ‘newer kids on the block’: learning experience (LX) coming to the fore, for example, or the coupling of the ‘content’ word itself almost invariably with the word ‘curation’.
But content per se may be coming into its own again – although perhaps not necessarily as we traditionally saw it. Content (and the many ways to create and deliver it efficiently) is now directed to a new type of recipient, the consumer learner.
The learner of former times has morphed into a consumer who, molded by technology in the retail world, expects a quick, easy, and on-demand learning experience. This consumer chooses their content from a selection of suppliers in a variety of forms including YouTube, Google and Twitter alongside more formal learning platforms, as they seek the right learning ‘product’ for their specific needs of the moment.
The continued proliferation of increasingly user-friendly content development tools means that it is easier than ever to create learning content. In cases where rapid deployment is imperative, these efficient and author-friendly tools mean that many L&D departments have the capability to create some content at an adequate level in-house. Many organizations, however, have small L&D teams and require support with their content needs, sometime to effect a rapid turnaround, but also for high-end custom solutions that call for careful needs analysis and clever, creative design.
The evolution of agile learning experience platforms comes with an opportunity: there’s not much point in having a platform or tool without content, and factors such as increasing demand for more and more regulatory content (with shorter content shelf-life) mean that more and more content must be produced and delivered in ever shorter timeframes.
Two points emerge from this. First, with heightened competition for learners’ time and attention, the content bar is raised: content must be engaging and meaningful for learners to use it. Second, we need to develop content that is not just for a once-off learning intervention. A continuous learning model must consider content for delivery and reinforcement over time, so that new knowledge and skills are activated and maintained through content spaced over the learning calendar.
‘Content’ implies a wide range of formats and the ideal medium depends on the learner’s context and moment of need. A simple, straightforward PDF or document may serve that well; or a video- or audio-based micro-learning resource might deliver, while a game or AR/VR interactive course may serve other purposes.
The quality of content is at the heart of user and learner commitment and engagement. As more and more content becomes available, much of it free, users need to make choices about what’s really worth taking: quality of content rather than quantity becomes the deciding factor.
Curation comes of age
The aforementioned ‘curation’ and user-generated content also qualify as ‘hot once more’ topics. Content curation has come of age, not least because people frequently fail to learn, not from lack of content, but from trying to survive and thrive in a constant deluge of the stuff.
The curation of a few years ago – voluntary, generalist sharing of relevant articles and information – has become something more considered and strategic at an organizational level and all employees can play their part in recognizing, rating and sharing learning and meaning to a wider work audience. Curator skill sets are frequently highlighted, and while technology and AI enabled curation tools will deliver, they are almost always augmented with this human touch, bringing value, sense, meaning and context to the goods. As organizations become flatter in structure, individuals’ roles as content and insight providers become even more relevant. An article in Chief Learning Officer1 described a group of industry analysts arguing for organizations to explicitly facilitate the creation of a network of experts to share wisdom in this way.
Yes, some content may be becoming more commoditized, but it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Many L&D teams and businesses are looking for guidance and support to deal with the potentially overwhelming demands of fulfilling content needs, with managing and delivering content in ways that genuinely add value and bring positive returns.
There are also some shifts in the type of content areas of interest. With the themes of automation, AI and robotics taking up more and more news space, it’s been suggested that some exclusively human skills will become more and more important. An FT article2 highlights how workers need a ‘New Smart’ to work in this era of smart technology, with business leaders needing to be able to operate at the highest level of critical and emotional thinking. Curiosity and open-mindedness will be key, along with knowledge and skills in areas like psychology, design thinking, creative skills, and data science. With this, we can anticipate increased interest in these and other softer skills areas such as negotiation, presentation, performance management, mindfulness and others. Workers will need to ‘reskill and right-skill’3.
In addition, there is the need to equip workforces in industries that are experiencing disruption, especially digital transformation, with the skills to navigate working in these areas, and an understanding of the new digital environment they work in. FinTech, for example, has implications not just for those who bring specialist technical expertise to financial organizations, but to anyone working in the financial sector who needs to have an appreciation of how financial technology can help them do their jobs and solve problems, as well as equipping them with the skills to continue to adapt as the nature of their work changes.
Regulation also continues to be a hot content area, with increasing regulation placing more demand for content and learning to support the ever-widening reach of regulatory bodies. This raises another interesting challenge: how, in businesses where regulatory training is consuming almost all training time, learners can take on other learning requirements, such as the skills mentioned above that are needed to future-proof their careers.
Actively managing the firehose of content learners face, facilitating access to the right content at the right performance moment, and empowering learners to manage and share their own learning, will continue to energize those involved in learning and performance, creating both opportunity and challenge.
It‘s possible content might still be King.
Intuition’s series The Road Ahead: Trends for Learning 2018 looks at the changing face of learning and, against that backdrop, examines what we see as the most significant emerging digital learning trends.
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1 https://www.clomedia.com/2018/01/25/network-experts-content-curation-insight-curation/ A Network of Experts: From Content Curation to Insight Curation Joe Arets, Bob Danna, Charles Jennings, Laci Loew