Can content creation really be rapid?

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The state of play

There has been a lot of hype around rapid content creation over recent years.  Most of it has been around tools and how effective (or not) they are.  For big company L&D professionals it’s a really interesting question.  On the one hand there’s the need to ensure employees are capable of using the tools and operating effectively.  On the other is the need to turn things around very quickly.

Rapid content creation tools seem to be the answer but they have a few challenges:

  1. There’s a learning curve.  This is fine if you’re an eLearning developer, but not so fine if you’re a busy subject matter expert
  2. There’s a misnomer in their names.  They should be called: Quicker content creation tools.  They’re certainly more rapid than doing it manually, but that doesn’t mean they’re quick.
  3. Vendors have realised that what a lot of subject experts want to do is import PowerPoint presentations they’ve already made.  So we end up with mountains of narrated PowerPoints with a quiz.  This isn’t learning.
  4. Most people have seen superb content created using these tools, but don’t realise that this content has been created by teams of highly skilled developers and designers, cost a lot and took a lot of time.  The chances are that you (big company L&D type person in your small and understaffed team) can’t do that.
  5. There is a huge danger that for speed what ends up being created is page turning eLearning.  No one wants to do it, but we get blinded by the tools and forget about the learning and instructional design.  Or we can’t do the learning design we want in the tools, so we give in and do it the ‘old’ page turning way – because any content is better than none right?

It’s all looking a bit grim for rapid content creation then.  The tools often distract us or drive us in the wrong direction.  The learning and instructional design is often pushed out because we can’t do it or it takes too long.  To cap it all off, we also have all the normal challenges of expert reviews, changes, amends and rewrites to deal with too.

So rapid content creation in the way it’s currently being done in a lot of places is hard and rarely successful.

Is there a different way?

Content creation can be extremely rapid as long as all the elements that make up learning development are rapid.  Once you have a business challenge to address you can very quickly work out outcomes and instructional design.  From there you can can move quickly into development and generate content iteratively using some well defined formats.  You can also get reviews and champions created almost instantly.

It’s easy to say, but how do we do this?

The key is having a structure to work in and a firm hand guiding the process.  So what do you need?

  1. First of all you need the right people in one place.  The right people are some high performing end users, some subject experts and an L&D person.  Right here you have your expert resource, your testing base, your review panel and the learning and instructional design expertise.
  2. Next you need a neutral facilitator.  This can be the L&D person or it can be someone else.  They’re going to drive the generation effort.
  3. Then you need commitment for a fixed period of time.  We prefer 5 days for this.  Commitment means that they will not be called out to other work, that they won’t be constantly needing to ‘just check their emails’ and that they’ll focus.
  4. You need space.  A conference room is ok, as long as it’s big enough to hold twice as many people as are in your generation team.  They need space to move around, think, cry, practice, brainstorm etc.
  5. You need some kit.  This depends on what you might want to produce but it could be as little as whiteboards and laptops and as involved as cameras, lights, microphones etc.  (But you don’t need a studio – you’d be surprised!)

Once you’ve got all that, you follow a process:

  1. Define the challenge that you’re going to address.  Make it a business challenge with some really measurable outcomes.
  2. Do the high level design.  Everyone is given post-it type notes and must write down what they need to know or do to meet that challenge.  One idea per post-it.  Everyone sticks them on a whiteboard in any order.  Don’t try and group them.
  3. Now you group them.  The experts on the team stand up and seek to group ideas together, putting ones they don’t think are important to the side.
  4. Next the users on the team stand up and ratify the experts opinion.  Remember these guys have experience at the sharp end, so their view will be different.
  5. From this, you’ll have a good view of the topics and sub-topics that you’re going to want to address, all nicely grouped.
  6. Next the L&D people stand up and seek to understand and chunk the topics and sub topics, asking questions about how learning is evidenced and what effective performance looks like.  Once that’s done, you’ve got your high level design.
  7. Then you do your detailed design.  Experts and users are paired off and given a topic or set of topics to cover.  Their job is to go down into detail and get to a bulleted list of what needs to be covered in each topic.  They’re not writing content yet, they’re just breaking it all down very small chunks.
  8. Once that’s done, they present it back to the group.  Everyone discusses and a final detailed design is agreed.
  9. From here the L&D person comes in and works through the detailed designs in front of the group deciding and agreeing formats.  These are going to be the actual outputs that will be generated by the end.
  10. Next up is scripting.  Using the formats agreed, experts and users are paired up again and start writing the scripts that will be used for each small chunk of learning.  The L&D person acts as the expert here for writing and content creation guidance.
  11. When scripting is done, all scripts are passed to other pairs for ratification, sense checking and obvious error checking.
  12. You’re now into production.  You take the scripts and create the learning.  Record your screen captures, audio and videos.  Create your (very small) PowerPoints, visual assets and take-aways.  As you’re going through it, the L&D person acts as support.  They guide and mentor the users and the experts to create the content.
  13. Once that’s completed, you all come back together and review what’s been done.  Use the learning and test it.  Because it’s all in small chunks, it’s easy to change and amend.  You should do that now.
  14. Finally, the L&D person uploads all the relevant content to an easily accessible place and you all celebrate a successful generation effort.

Why this works

This structure works well in a number of areas:

  1. It creates learning content really quickly
  2. It’s great for learning content that needs to be correct and effective, but doesn’t need to have really high production values, isn’t very complex or has a fairly short shelf life.  We’d suggest spending more time on those types of projects.  We can help.
  3. It creates a set of champions at the same time.  The members of the generation team become champions of the learning.  They’re heavily invested in the learning and will want to help others use it
  4. Everyone learns.  The users learn the detail from the experts.  The experts get a glimpse into the user’s world and challenges.
  5. All content is reviewed and ratified by the correct people – users and experts.
  6. Content can be easily changed and amended at a later date, because it’s all in small chunks.
  7. L&D are able to deliver rapidly and effectively to a real need, really quickly.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting information and guidance on how to create, manage and run a learning creation workshop that gets you from a business challenge to good quality learning content in just a single 5 day workshop.  We can run these workshops for you.  Find out more here.