Content as a Service

July 5, 2012 jkatzman

For better or worse, the development of learning content has been a one-way push process. As instructional designers, we create our learning products, package them up with all the content and media, wish them well, and ship them off to the LMS’s – never to be seen again.  Once gone, we lose all connection and control of our content – and this has some obvious drawbacks:

  • Content is replicated to each LMS
  • If there are mistakes, there is no way to correct errors without re-packaging, re-sending, and re-loading the content in the LMS
  • There is no way to protect the IP from being copied or redistributed
  • There is no way to track how the end-users are performing or if they have any feedback about the content
  • There is no way to monitor who is using the content and if the license to the content is being respected
  • There is no way to monetize the content

To make matters worse, for learners, the sole point of access to learning content has been the LMS.

Learners must go through a cumbersome process of logging in, registering for the course, launching the course, then navigating through it to find the bit they are interested in. The courses are monolithic; not designed for rapid access, and don’t work the way we’d hope on our beloved mobile devices. Delivery of learning via the LMS is still, and will continue to be, appropriate for some learning environments, but it is not the whole of learning, and is increasingly out of step with the changing tastes and preferences driven by a workforce armed with mobile devices and versant in social media.

This doesn’t sound very good.

It takes months to create big monolithic eLearning courses that we lose control of once we ship to an LMS.  We have no idea where our content is going, who is using it, or how it’s being used. Mistakes in the content may be forever because the effort to make changes isn’t worth the hassle. Learners’ only point of access to this learning content is via the LMS – which feels dated and clunky and doesn’t work with their mobile devices.

Do not despair. Help is on the way – and that help is Content as a Service (CaaS). The “service” puts your content in a centralized cloud-based repository and provides access to it from applications via an API. Now, you can serve content to any subscribing app – not just an LMS. And the possibilities for highly specialized apps for learning, performance support, and content mash-ups is nearly unlimited.

This requires a bit of radical re-thinking.

No longer will we develop monolithic courses and put them in our LMS. Rather, we create content components that can work as part of a course, but also support other modalities of learning.

A topic, for example, may be part of an eLearning course; or it may be fetched by a field service technician from his smart phone; or by a sales person looking for sales strategy pointers via a tablet; or a student getting their homework assignment from Facebook. No matter the context or point of entry, there is only one instance of the “topic” and with no change to the content, this “topic” can be accessed by any user, on any device, at the moment they need it.

CaaS not only makes the content more flexible and expands the reach of where you can use it, it affords a whole other set of benefits and capabilities that were impossible until now.

Tracking of use and analytics

As users access content from the cloud, a record of who accessed what content, when, for how long, what they did while interacting with the content is tracked and can be reported against. This data set can be used to generate powerful analytic tools that can measure an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and use this information to drive personalization. (In future blog posts, I’ll elaborate on how analytics can drive personalization.)


In conjunction with user tracking data and analytics, the delivery of the content can be personalized to the needs, habits, and preferences of the user. For example, assessment results can benchmark a user’s skill level, and the system can use this information to fetch and make recommendations of appropriate content matched to the learner’s needs and learning style.

Protection of intellectual property

Rather than packaging the content and sending duplicate versions of the course around the world to the host LMSs, the content is deployed to one location that you have total control over. Access to the content service can be authenticated allowing you to govern who can see what content and ensure that the user is respecting the license to the content.

Monetization of content access

With your content in the cloud, and the ability to track content usage by user, you can create new innovative revenue streams for your content. It affords new business models where you can monetize access to content, track usage by user, and charge for per-user usage of content.

Social commenting and improved content quality

Rather than waiting for end-of-course “smile sheets,” your users will have the opportunity to rate and comment on the content as they are using it. They will tell you if the content is good, tell you when there are mistakes, and where there are gaps. This information, in conjunction with usage analytics, will drive a closed loop revision cycle. Updates can be made as problems are discovered, creating a continuous and nimble improvement cycle.

Mash-ups and on-demand publishing

With a library of granular learning assets at your fingertips, you can create content assembly applications that let your users assemble their own learning products by searching, selecting, and sequencing content into new eLearning courses, ePubs, Common Cartridges, QTI assessments, and more. This allows your customers to create customized learning products on-the-fly, and opens yet another new revenue channel for your content.

Anyone with content can see instant value in CaaS. You will be able to put up your learning assets, tag them with metadata and make them globally accessible via a range of devices.  This includes your eLearning modules, PDFs, movies, podcasts, articles, etc.

Furthermore, those that adopted reusable XML content strategy will immediately be able to harness the power and create some very interesting and powerful next generation learning applications. When the content is granular, and has a robust XML, the possibilities for personalization and dynamic publishing application is unlimited.

As we unearth our content from the depths of the LMS and elevate it into the cloud, we will begin to see a new generation of targeted learning applications tuned to the needs of each learner audience and make it accessible anywhere, any time on any device.

Previous Article
Buzzword: Micro-learning
Buzzword: Micro-learning

I was introduced recently to a new buzz word making its way across the...

Next Article
Reaction to IMS Learning Impact 2012 Conference
Reaction to IMS Learning Impact 2012 Conference

We may have all been drinking the same cool-aid, but at the IMS Global...