Content Systems and Corporate Learning
A content system is a structured method for consistently creating and sharing the right content for a target audience. That audience can be students, employees, customers, your kids, etc. Content systems can support formal education (instructor or trainer led learning) or informal education (self-guided learning). This post focuses on the role of content systems in corporate cultures that value rich learning environments. New to content systems in general? Learn more about them here.
Content Systems Designed to Respond to Employee Values
If you think salaries and other perks are the best ways to recruit new talent and keep your current employees from jumping ship, you are only partly correct. According to business consultant Melissa Lamson, current workforce candidates are searching for positions with companies that demonstrate an investment in learning. Opportunities to learn and grow are key factors for millennials when they consider what companies to work for. According to a 2016 Gallup report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, 87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important. In other words, your company should be focused on cultivating its learning culture.
A corporate culture that values dynamic learning opportunities will attract and retain knowledge workers. That culture should be built on personalized learning that helps employees acquire and apply new knowledge and skills on a regular basis. Personalized learning is most successful for people who are driven, inquisitive, and motivated—the kinds of employees most of us hope to attract. And even though personalized learning is centered on the individual, you can create a flexible content system to serve your needs while also providing options to appeal to different learners. In corporate cultures that value continuous learning, educators, trainers, and managers act as advisors and facilitators to guide the learning process.
Does My Company Participate in Formal Education?
Yes. Formal education content systems are usually tied to an organization’s training goals. A company’s series of work safety training modules, for example, is a formal content system because the modules are developed and facilitated by a trained educator or instructor. Formal education is typically the go-to communication solution, especially in larger organizations, and I totally get it. If there’s a new federal regulation, workplace expectation, or a new piece of technology, a training session with PowerPoint is both a content system and an easy way for managers to check off a box and document that people were trained.
However, Arthur Harrington, a learning professional with years of experience in implementing learning tools and processes, says that training is not an event, it’s a process. Harrington’s training content system involves:
- Conducting a needs analysis to determine training goals
- Required pre-learning before the workshop or training
- Instructor-led training
- Post-training access to curated content
He suggests, “training organizations shouldn’t take training orders, but should solve business problems.” The result is a personalized learning experience that’s based on employees’ individual needs.
But Is Your Content System Working? Was Any Given Training Really Effective?
Our team develops and builds content systems. We also conduct training sessions to teach others the foundational skills needed to create content. So, I share with you two important insights on how people learn in a formal setting.
First, lecturing is not teaching because, for the most part, after a few minutes no one is learning. Sorry, Sister Tabula, that year of eighth-grade lectures could have been more relevant, more impactful, and more memorable. Lecturing doesn’t work. That’s the reality. I agree students or attendees will take notes, they will look somewhat attentive, and they will pass exams. But a week later, they will forget most of what you lectured and a year or so later they’ll probably forget they even attended your class or training session.
As a side note, lecturing is not storytelling. Stories are an effective method to explain complicated ideas, and stories stick. People remember stories. The type of lecturing I’m referring to here is of the Ben Stein Laffer curve voodoo economics variety, with or without PowerPoint.
Second, if you want students or attendees to retain your content, you must keep them engaged by providing a contextualized learning experience. In other words, give them something to do. Telling them what they should be doing is simply not as effective as having them do it right there on the spot. Incorporate real world activity that combines your lesson with something your learners already know. For example, if you are explaining how to conduct a content audit, have attendees apply your lessons on their own websites during your workshop. Let them experience the process. Let them struggle with it. Let them ask their peers for support while you facilitate. This form of active learning keeps people engaged and improves retention. So have your learners participate in meaningful activity, which includes focusing and reflecting on the process.
Building a flexible content system is exciting, in part because we have so many tools and resources freely available. Many subject matter experts create content systems for formal learning they then share with the public, which means people looking to create a corporate culture that values rich learning experiences do not have to invent or reinvent the wheel. If you want (or have) to provide an opportunity for employees to learn something, you might draw on your own knowledge, existing corporate content, an excerpt from an eBook, and a freely available YouTube video, for example. Depending on how you deliver this content system, employees might access materials at work and then again on their own as they seek out the components that are most interesting or valuable to them. When you pull from content that experts have created and shared publicly, you are drawing on informal learning spaces: places where individuals go to find out more information about something or to teach themselves something.
The informal education space is essentially an endless supply of content. CrashCourse, for example, has close to 10 million subscribers and more than 1 billion views. Last week I learned how to fix my dishwasher, replace the rear tire on my bike, and about impacts and linear momentum just by watching videos. I’m not alone.
The informal education space is incredibly popular. Corporate learning leaders can take advantage of people’s familiarity with and belief in these informal spaces by including materials from them in their own formal content systems.
What Does All This Mean for Personalized Learning and Corporate Learning Environments?
The old ways of teaching and training are changing.
Content systems designed for personalized learning are how organizational leaders create learning cultures that attract and retain employees. No two content systems are the same, but here’s a high-level view of one built for personalized learning. As always, the educator or trainer acts as an advisor to support the learner through the process.
Step 1: Self-Assess – Help learners identify skills or knowledge gaps through a facilitated self-assessment.
Step 2: Create a Personalized Learning Plan – Have the learner create a personalized learning plan to address the skills or knowledge gaps. This is a two-part process. The first part is creating the plan, and the second part is pointing the learner toward the right content. Don’t just send your learner off to YouTube to drown in sea of content. Send them to content you curated or vetted, such as a module from Khan Academy or a chapter from an eBook that clearly distills important concepts.
Step 3: Apply – Give the learner an opportunity to apply new skills or knowledge. This is the real deal. Not a simulation. Not a case study. Have the employee apply something learned in the real world. Of course, there’s risk here if a task is not completed properly. However, a little pressure may help learners feel invested, encourage them to take risk, and help them sharpen their problem-solving skills.
Step 4: Reflect – Allow time for the learner to reflect on the experience. I cycle on an almost daily basis which is when I do most of my reflection. During my rides, I analyze my critical thinking process, which seems to help me move the new knowledge and skills into my long-term memory.
Step 5: Give Expert Assessment – The educator, trainer, or employer should review and assess the learning outcomes with the employee, including tips on how to incorporate these for maximum performance. This assessment may also include additional content the learner could review to strengthen the new knowledge.
Okay, I’m in! What Next?
Consider your end goals for any one skills acquisition or learning experience and begin with the process above. You also might consider banning the old PPT altogether, especially if you or your trainers have Ben Stein tendencies. Where are the gaps in employee knowledge, and what is the best plan for any given employee to close those gaps? How can employees learn and apply skills and concepts in real-world situations, including teaching or training others? Create opportunities for reflection and then additional learning opportunities based on the application/reflection/assessment process. And if you get stuck or think you’ve got a particularly challenging obstacle to skills or knowledge acquisition, let us know. That’s just the kind of content system we like to troubleshoot.