Adopting a Content Strategy for Learning

March 18, 2016 Laura Caines

Do a quick Google search on “Learning Content Strategy.” Go ahead.

It didn’t return much, did it? For some reason, there is very little helpful information  out there on creating and maintaining a content strategy for learning.

The majority of material available discusses content strategies for web and marketing. If you don’t believe me, do a second Google search on “Content Strategy.” 

Why is this the case?

This is because  content strategies were mainstreamed due to the need to manage the large amounts of content on websites. Marketing departments use content strategies to determine what content to provide to prospective customers during their buying research that will ultimately result in a sale. The ability to track detailed interactions with the content inherent to web delivery continuously informs marketers on what content is working and what is not.1  

The parallels between what marketing needs to do – educate, inform, influence behavior, and what learning organizations need to do are unmistakable. However, learning has been a little less strategic in determining what to create and why. We come from a bias that assumes if we create it, it must be necessary. Additionally, the metrics used to measure the success of our content have been less available.  

As learning leaders, we are looking around, desperately seeking help in creating a plan that outlines what technology we will use to author, manage and deploy content. We are also trying to figure out whether our former belief “If I create it, it must be necessary” actually holds true.  The content strategy will answer the questions of who, what, how, when, where and why.  A content strategy will also inform your technology needs and purchase decisions.

Where does the content strategy fit?

High performing learning organizations typically have a learning strategy document already in place. The purpose of a learning strategy is to align the Learning and Development function to the business. A good learning strategy clearly incorporates the objectives of the business in a direct way, so that leaders can see how each initiative will support the business goals.  

Learning Content Strategy

In addition, many organizations have deeper documentation to support their L&D function like design documents and workflow procedures. What we have found is that even in the world’s brightest organizations, documentation jumps from a 30,000 foot overview describing the purpose of the learning function to a micro-view of how to create content or load a course into the LMS.  This leaves a large gap in the middle that results in a lack of understanding as to what content teams should be creating and why.
 

Developing your Content Strategy

The content strategy document bridges the gap between the overview and the how-to. A comprehensive content strategy will encompass those deeper dive process documents, and utilize them as tools for completing content management goals.

Content strategy is the methodology to solve business goals through the systematic design, development, delivery, and maintenance of content.

Before we dive deeper into what a content strategy looks like, let’s clear up any confusion between the learning strategy and the content strategy. We have found that 9 out of 10 organizations have a learning strategy.  Only 1 out of 10 have a content strategy.

To determine what to put into your content strategy document, first consider your organization's learning strategy. Most learning strategies contain the following information:

Typical Elements of a Learning Strategy
•Business objectives and strategy
•Human Resources objectives
•Learning organization objectives (mapped to HR and business)
•Priorities over time: 6 months, 1 year, 3 years
•Statements of ROI, financial impact on key decisions and priorities
•Deadlines and business drivers affecting priorities, key decisions
•Learning organization governance and standards
•Learning organization communication plan
•Change management process and requirements for priorities
•Learning organization roles and responsibilities (current vs. future)

If the learning strategy currently in place does not cover each of these points, plan to include them in the content strategy to ensure alignment between the two. It is necessary to document the goals of the learning function, the priorities over time and the financial impacts of these decisions. 

The benefits of a content strategy

As stated, the content strategy is the methodology to solve business goals through the systematic design, development, delivery, and maintenance of content. The primary benefit is to get the right content to the right people at the right time, and for the right reasons.  But a content strategy is also necessary to get the maximum return on your content investment.  After all, your content is a business asset and the more use you get out of it, the more value it has.  You want your content to be a reusable, scalable and measurable business asset. Proper management of content increases efficiencies, reduces time to market, and enables learning to provide more opportunities for learners to interact with information over time, improving retention and performance.

Kristina Halvorson, CEO of Brain Traffic,  created the original Content Strategy diagram model above.
At Xyleme, we have embraced it and adapted it slightly to show that surrounding the content strategy are the people and organization that benefit from it. 

A well-documented content strategy should include the following information:

Required Elements of a Content Strategy
•Content development process workflow and methodology
•Content management current state vs. future state
•Governance strategy
•Content standards and styles
•Reusable content change management process and requirements for priorities
•Content management roles and responsibilities
•Content management communication plan
 

Summary

Content strategy is most effective when it supports and directly aligns back to the goals of the learning organization. Content is an asset that should be used by the business to improve human resource performance, communicate information across departments, and share a common vision.  It is the job of the learning function within the business to determine how the content is managed, distributed, consumed and used to provide a financial impact that is relevant to the business.

If you are still not sure where to begin, our next blog will help provide answers in gauging your maturity and identifying your learning priorities.

Xyleme offers content strategy consultative services with the Xyleme Platform that enables our clients to identify their business drivers, determine how content and our software can help achieve these goals, and document a content strategy. 

About the Author

Laura Caines

Laura Caines is a content strategist with Xyleme, Inc. She joined Xyleme after working with many clients in learning and development, managing all aspects of the content development lifecycle. At Xyleme she stays on the front line of content strategy and management, developing a program that assists our clients in creating a content strategy that reflects the objectives of the business and L&D. Laura's priority in her career is to help clients manage the business transformations required to provide cutting edge learning, using the latest technology, that meets the needs of the business.

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