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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

LCMS - Warehouse and Authoring

I’ve received some good feedback on my post Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) for Managing Course Assets. One thing is pretty clear, LCMS tools have really headed towards a kind of super Authoring tool and there's a related but quite distinct need for support for a Warehouse. The need for the Warehouse - keeping track of learning content assets across the organization has its own set of requirements.

I would really like to have a dialog (email exchange) with people who are managing large collections of production and produced digital assets in larger organizations who can describe how they are managing it. Know anyone who can contribute to this?

In terms of use of traditional LCMS products towards the needs cited in the previous post, Brenda Robinson and I had a good "discussion" around this - email exchange. The following all come from her, and I've interspersed some commentary:

Requirement: “We need to figure out a way to get information from other departments to make sure we have the most current information available.”

This in very common across all larger companies. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand has, nor do they know whether or not it is current or accurate. My larger customers faced the same problem and use LCMS to fix it. In a true enterprise deployment of LCMS all learning content and original source files regardless of what tools may have been used to develop it are stored and meta tagged in the LCMS central repository facilitating quick and easy search and retrieval. Problem solved because now we know what we have and where it is.

Your reader also points out a common problem in larger organizations of knowing whether or not the content is the most currently available information. Meta tags provide information on where the content came from, who the owner of the content is, when it was created, when the last time it changed etc. Powerful and flexible workflows facilitate content reviews, approvals and provide audit trails. They can also be configured to have content contributors and approvers to digitally sign off on the content for accountability. Another problem solved by LCMS technology.

Brenda is right that this is a classic example where an LCMS can help. However, this is only "problem solved" if you use the LCMS to manage your assets. If you are authoring using several authoring tools with distributed groups doing the authoring, then it's possible but unlikely that they will be willing to use the LCMS to manage all of those other assets. The LCMS can help with workflow and meta tagging. External vendors can work with the LCMS as well. The key is to have appropriate organizational standards and governance in place that people must work against. That said, I've found many large organizations that will operate this way for some kinds of content and manage that through an LCMS, but other kinds of content is built in other ways and does not use the LCMS. This most often devolves into the LCMS being used to manage assets that will be packaged (authored) for distribution.

Requirement: “We need to set up a process to determine all courses the information will impact.” and “We need to make the changes.”

This another example of a common problem LCMS’s solve.

As you mentioned LCMS’s do come equipped with powerful easy to use authoring capabilities. While content can be authored, tagged and stored from any authoring tool the built in ones provide for very powerful content management. Your natively created content can now be managed at the asset level. Let’s say a company has 1000 courses on the LMS and let’s say our company logo has changed. Now imagine having to find every image of that logo and update it. Scary thought eh? J We probably wouldn’t do it. In fact there are many changes to company policy, regulations etc that happen every day and because you can neither find the content or find where in the content the change needs to happen and because it’s a daunting task to do it it’s not done. So what does this mean. It’s means that employee’s very often are working with out of date or incorrect information.

Now let’s take that same scenario and let’s say we have the ability to search for that logo and click a button and every instance of that logo across all 1000 of our courses in our LMS is instantly updated and no LMS administrator had to lift a finger J Let’s say we have a change to policy and need to know what content that change will impact. Now imagine doing a quick search, finding that the change will impact 50 courses, make the update and all 50 courses are instantly updated in the LMS. Pretty powerful eh :) That’s why companies use the built in authoring capabilities when they can. Another problem solved by LCMS technology.

If you use an LCMS in a smart way, then certainly you can help to determine what courses will be impacted by changes. If you are REALLY good, you could even have the same content assets get reused in multiple courses so that a single change can propagate changes out to all the courses. For something like the logo change - if everyone is using exactly the same logo asset from the LCMS, you will be in good shape.

The problem is that a lot of what people want here is that when a policy changes they want to know - what courses do I need to go change and let's go make those changes. In many cases, the relationship between a policy and a set of courses is not well defined. If you know that's the kind of changes that will occur, you can be smart about how you keep track of things (in an LCMS or not). I've seen some cases with things like product descriptions where updates really do flow nicely because of an LCMS. But in many organizations, a policy change comes through and it's a lot of manual work to go find all the courses that have been authored that need to be changed - or more correctly you decide if it's worth it to make the changes with lots of the courses not getting updated. And in the case of a picture of a product - somehow authors have made their own copies to fit into their courses. It's certainly not changing the picture in one place and poof it gets update.

Obviously, the LCMS can provide big time value here if used in a way that supports these changes. But if you have distributed authoring with different kinds of tools (not to mention service providers), it's a lot messier. Again, any LCMS vendor will tell you that all of these things can be done - but will you have the ability to really do it, especially when/if it adds overhead for things that are authored outside the LCMS.

Requirement: “Save the previous version in the archives for discovery requests.”

This is common in highly regulated environments. How do we know what version of content a learner went through? Let’s say we are a financial services company and one of our employees messed up. Our regulator wants to know exactly what that learner was taught. We need to know to defend our company reputation or worse. Let’s say that regulated content has changed 25 times in the last year. How can we locate and retrieve the exact version of content that learner went through on say March 25th 2010?

An LCMS can track, version and archive all changes to content. We would do a quick search in the archive, locate and restore an exact copy of what that content was on March 25th 2010. Let’s say the regulation for how long we keep content information is different for every state or country. In Canada the regulator say we need to keep the record for 7 years. In Germany 6 years etc. Most regulated companies want content to completely disappear soon as possible :) Again easy if you have an LCMS. Set your date once and poof it’s gone. No more evidence that it ever existed!

This is clearly a place where authoring with an LCMS makes a lot of sense. Trying to do this with traditional authoring tools can be done - by saving copies of the produced courses along with their dates on a network drive. But you must manually handle all the policy decisions. And there's still possible issues around lack of electronic signatures and other controls. I.e., how do you "prove" that's the content. The LCMS can help back you up if used correctly.

“Save the current version for future updates.”

With an LCMS you always have the most current version, it’s easy to locate and it is automatically updated where ever it might be.

Again, a very good match for the requirements of an LCMS.

One thing that's quite interesting is the the reader who originally provided the requirements works in an environment where there is distributed authoring with different authoring tools being used. I don't know if that includes third parties authoring as well. They need to decide what kinds of content would be best to author within an LCMS to get the value described by Brenda. And for other kinds of content, will the assets be tracked in any significant way.

Again, please weigh in on this.


jay said...

Tony, I think our vocabulary is limiting our vision on this one. The designation LCMS gets people thinking about courses as if that's all we need to be concerned about.

Mobile learning is not about courses. Informal learning is not courses. Social business is not courses.

Organizations have mountains of information on intranets, in file cabinets, and legacy systems. The LCMS that's required to sort this out is a system that takes content in (in some variation XML) and spits it back out in the format of choice. Automatically. "Show me our XYZ policy on this on my iPhone."

The LCMS is the mediator between raw, marked-up content and formatted, easily accessible information. It needs to address the information assets of the entire organization.

Looking at work as learning and learning as work demands an enterprise-level solution.

If I ran the zoo, I'd start calling the LCMS an ECMS, Enterprise Content Management System.

Tony Karrer said...

Jay - that's a great point. In fairness to LCMS products, they can produce all sorts of content as outputs. That's actually one of their benefits.

That said - if you think about the content being created for professionals in any organization - the LCMS contains relatively little of it. And the ECMS probably does as well.

Because I naturally think about aggregation and curation, I'm wondering if there's both a publishing side and a collection/organizing side to this.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if anyone has tried to use SharePoint as a training materials library? If you have, was it successful for versioning, archiving, setting up alerts for reviewing materials? If it wasn't successful, what were some of the problems assiicated with it?

Taylor's University said...

We are currently using Blackboard LMS (reference at at our university, please do share your experience with us on the LCMS capability at Blackboard LMS. Or alternatively, pleasea advice which LCMS software is good to consider in the market today. Thank you!

Claus R Møller said...

Dear Tony.
We have developed a LCMS solution based on Sharepoint 2010 for maintaining content (text, graphic, pictures and films) in a large number of e-learning modules.

To achieve this we have built a set of Flash templates, which we use for creating the e-learning modules. The Flash template has been built to retrieve all content ( text, graphic, pictures etc.) from a Sharepoint DB in XML format.

We have built around 200 e-learning modules in 9 different languages for one costumer. All together it comes to around 15.000 XML files that are maintained in Sharepoint. We are able to work together with the costumer, subject matter experts as well as translators and QA employees in 9 different countries using Sharepoints built in version control and check in/out system. The costumer are able to run the hole process using Sharepoint, - from initial storyboarding to the final QA. We have customized Sharepoint for the back-end user so they only need few hours introduction to work with the platform. They are able to change whatever they want from a specific text to a more general logo and the result will appear immediately in the final e-learning modules.

The Flash template has been created with a high degree of interactivity, animations and quizzes that can be set up according to the customers design and the specific learning requirement.

We have adopted the concept from the air force. They have always had a very great need for updated technical publications. So they have created a standard called S1000D pretty similar to SCORM, where the basic concept is to break down the information into the smallest self contained unit(XML) and then publish the technical publications on the latest version of every single XML information.

Claus R Møller

Brenda Robinson said...

Jay, LCMS's today also manage mobile and social content.

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting! Your job won't be left unnoticed and unappreciated. It helps me understand much in this sphere. I like the intelligible way you present information so that it became comprehensible, transparent and accessible for ordinary people like me. Well done! Kesha Tickets

Peter Meerman said...

Hi Tony,

Great post and’s my 2 cents.

I’ve been doing lot’s of ‘learning’ work the last 3 years for one of the major global oil companies, and exactly one of the topics I still have not managed to get the discussion on is content management. Although the client is aware of the challenges and room for improvement, the topic is not high enough on the agenda to be really concerned about.

Mind we are talking of an organization where the have a global LCMS fully integrated with the LMS. They also use Moodle as blended learning platform. To make things more challenging, the IT department is running a big Sharepoint programme as well, and the not only work with lot’s of external vendors, but also ‘external learners’, i.e. learners who do not have access to the companies intranet.

I have come to the conclusion that a total management of content is not feasible within the context of learning (thinking of it, would say it might not even be manageable anymore in a much bigger context!). Key reasons for that I think are:
- Ownership: Who owns the content? A company logo is not owned by L&D, nor is that companies critical expertise white paper that’s essential to the course. We see that content is more and more owned by SME’s in the field, who are no part of the L&D team. Moreover, does the L&D team wants to take ownership? I would be very careful about that, as others would gladly hand it over and make L&D responsible for all the work involved in maintenance etc. (before you know it L&D is made responsible for the companies logo...I’ve seen likewise development happen!).
- Change: Change is happening so fast that we should ask ourselves whether it’s worth putting a strict visioning process+rules in place (that will clog the development process big time) for all content.
- Role of content in learning: We see the role of content (or more precise centrally developed content) is declining and we see an emerging trend for more user generated content. I always try to convince my clients to ‘skip’ the phase of trying to centralise all content development, because it will never happen, better to find a balance there.

Key to my point above are the words ‘total’ and ‘all’. We should stop trying to dream up a solution that includes both words. Unless you have a really strong CLO and/or leadership that understands how learning, knowledge and content work together, it’s wasted time, money and resources to try to develop organisation wide learning content management model.

Instead let us ask ourselves: in which cases do we really need formal content development and management processes? From there you can think of what type of content we talk about, where it content comes from, who owns and maintains it? Easy examples here are IRM, compliance and IT application/software training. In addition it does make sense to carefully think and map where all the other content used in learning (could) come from. This will help you to develop best practices and improve the ‘smart’ use of content. Maybe even demonstrates the need for (automated) interfaces to those platform that are used a lot.

My other recommendation is to always engage with IT (if not done already). IT is often the driver (at least in my experience) for ECM programmes (read Sharepoint implementations) as well as your key to establishing IT interfaces.

Hope this helps and let me know if you want to discuss further.

Unknown said...

Hello Tony,
Your post is helpful in articulating our company’s objective to manage the eLearning assets being accumulated now. Peter Meerman’s points on Ownership, Change and Role expounds on some of the problems we now face in establishing a system to handle the growing volume of eLearning Assets.
I think we share Mr. Meerman’s pessimism that this ideal is hardly attainable. In our case, it seems that the problem centers around making the leadership collective understand that they need to pay attention to the importance of organizing (or re-organizing) to make eLearning asset management happen.
My observation shows that we talk a lot about governance and standards. But until a distinct organization is created to staff this function, most attempts will arrive at very marginal results.
Perhaps you can post strategies to address this pivotal concern in the future?

Tony Karrer said...

I understand the complexity and have seen the challenges you describe. It IS about defining governance and standards.

That said, most organizations at a minimum define simple governance structures (centralized and/or distributed) and standards for naming/organizing development and production assets that will live on network drives.

That said - I'm actually having a hard time finding good descriptions of these even though I know I've seen them before.

Christiaan de Visser said...

@Peter, interesting thoughts you express here. I was pointed to your comment by Tony, because we had an interesting discussion over email about the original post.

I completely agree with you on the fact that the power goes to the SME. Tools become easier to use, so it would be inefficient when the SME would learn somebody from L&D how the subject works and that the L&D creates a course (or instructs an external company for that).

Also the need is more towards little chunks of learning that can be consumed at the moment they are needed, instead of a big pile of knowledge in the beginning, be certified and forget about it again.

But I do think there is an important role for L&D professionals to channel all this. In my opinion they are the closest to the owner role, not of the content, but of the value that is delivers. They will become more editors and supervisors, supporting the SME's with look-and-feel and generic structure/consistancy. Also making sure nobody is reinventing the wheel over and over again.

But I can imagine a lot of L&D professionals might see this as a downgrade of their role, they might suggest that it is not even possible to let the SME create the learning.

Peter Meerman said...

Hi Christiaan,

I do not think there's one size fits all answer. I do talk a lot with L&D managers who notice that the role of L&D is changing from content design & development to being more internal consultants that help the business find the best fit for their challenges.

I believe that the role of L&D will be changing depending on the need of the business. Think of strictly compliance learning where control is everything vs high-tech/innovative learning cultures where informal learning is key. I do see this as a definite upgrade in the role of L&D!!!

Without going to much off-topic, what I was trying to convey with my previous comment is that we need to carefully consider scope, before going into LCMS policies, standards and systems. By boxing in the topic, the complex challenges will become less complicated, and much more in control of L&D.