DCL/Maintain Content More Easily with Single-Sourced, Modular Topics

Webinar Shares 5 Ways to Automate and Maintain Training Content

In 2014, Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL), DITA Strategies, and Lasselle-Ramsay, leading providers of content development, conversion, and strategy services, conducted jointly a survey to discover educational and training content trends. Over 200 people responded to the survey, and on April 9, 2015, Adam Golove of DCL hosted a webinar with Joan Lasselle and Amber Swope to present a standout finding: although maintaining learning content is a major challenge, content developers can mitigate issues when creating, maintaining, publishing, and sharing learning content.

What Impacts Content Maintenance?

The presenters defined maintenance clearly and simply as "upkeep." They pointed out instructional designers are asked to do more with less. They need analytics that measure more than completion rates, yet are often asked to deliver new product content to market at a quicker pace with a smaller budget and fewer team members than in years past. So, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) create much of the content, but do so in silos without knowing much about customers. This coupled with an increase in translated content for global markets impact the customer experience negatively, which lowers confidence, and ultimately results in lost sales.

How Can We Improve the Content and Maintenance?

Joan and Amber provided suggestions for employing better instructional design to automate and improve learning content.

Content needs to start at the learning objective level, focused on soundly defined audience needs and producing measurable business results. Content can be built to be more modular and flexible so that it is easier to maintain smaller portions and delivered in multiple formats.

To do this, content developers should create a single common source base on XML to structure modules in neutral tool (Amber recommends using DITA). The single source keeps focus on creating and maintaining standalone content pieces -- one version to maintain going forward. This also separates the content from the design, allowing it to feed to multiple media deliverables and devices.

Structured content provides control through the use of standardized content elements and types (reference, concept, process, procedure, etc.). Tasks stand-alone from other topic types and can be published directly to the media delivery type the audience needs. Amber noted that DITA does support many out-of-the box learning content types, such as learning summaries to show what should have been learned and seven assessment types. Developers can create the content in these smaller groups and collect the units in a DITA map, then from the course, reference the content that needs to be included from the map.

Learning content also needs to support multi-channel delivery to meet the needs of users on multiple devices. Developers can choose from and plan for several options, including HTML, EPUB, LMS (SCORM or custom XML), even PDF. The survey found that many companies currently mandate that content teams just port instructor-led slide material into eLearning formats without determining which type of content is best for each environment. The trio described how blended learning can be very effective when the format and material matches learner needs. For example, the mobile phone presents a challenge for a complete course, but could be great for reading a job aid and clicking through interactive flash cards.

Metadata can also help organize and categorize content by relevant criteria, making it easier to adapt, even down to the individual learner level. With an increase in translation requirements, this functionality presents an opportunity for learners to receive content in their native languages.


The webinar concluded with a wide-ranging Q&A with attendees, and a rehash of the discussion that the components shared can help instructional designers customize, adapt, and maintain content to meet various learner needs in multiple formats.

Find more information in the webinar playback. A compiled infographic shows the complete results of the 2014 Educational and Training Content Trends Survey.